Thursday, December 8, 2011

Caravaggio Mathias Stomer


Christ Among the Doctors, 1630
Mathias Stomer (Dutch, c. 1600-1650)
Oil on canvas
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Thomas J. Stamm, 6-83

This Northern Baroque painting depicts the only biblical account of Christ's youth, that of the Christ Child with the doctors, or scholars, in Solomon's Temple. The scripture recounts a journey that Jesus, as a twelve-year-old boy, and his parents made to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. When the festival concluded, Mary and Joseph began their trip home, unaware that Jesus had stayed behind. Returning to the Temple, Mary and Joseph witnessed the astonishing sight of their young son sitting among the great learned doctors, explaining theological doctrine to them. Stomer has captured this climactic moment. The adolescent Christ stands, surrounded by the doctors who react to His teachings with stunning emotion and variety: one figure fervently searches in his book to see where Christ's new doctrine could be written, another pensively considers His words, while another doctor appears to be arguing with Christ. As viewers, we witness this momentous occasion along with Mary and Joseph, who traditionally are present in depictions of this theme. Stomer, however, has excluded Christ's parents from his painting, focusing instead on the reactions of the doctors. Further, Stomer has placed the viewer in the same position as Mary and Joseph, as a witness to this foreshadowing event in the history of Christianity.

Matthias Stomer belonged to an important group of painters from Northern Europe inspired by the art of Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio. Stomer drew upon Caravaggio's style and his own Northern training to produce work that exemplifies the dramatic, intimate, and momentary nature of the Baroque. Christ among the Doctors illustrates typical Baroque characteristics including sharp contrasts between light and dark shadows, dramatic gestures, and heightened naturalism (notice the dirty feet of the kneeling doctor in the right foreground).

...Caravaggio "put the oscuro (shadows) into chiaroscuro."[31] Chiaroscuro was practiced long before he came on the scene, but it was Caravaggio who made the technique definitive, darkening the shadows and transfixing the subject in a blinding shaft of light. With this came the acute observation of physical and psychological reality which formed the ground both for his immense popularity and for his frequent problems with his religious commissions. He worked at great speed, from live models, scoring basic guides directly onto the canvas with the end of the brush handle; very few of Caravaggio's drawings appear to have survived, and it is likely that he preferred to work directly on the canvas. The approach was anathema to the skilled artists of his day, who decried his refusal to work from drawings and to idealise his figures. Yet the models were basic to his realism. Some have been identified, including Mario Minniti and Francesco Boneri, both fellow artists, Mario appearing as various figures in the early secular works, the young Francesco as a succession of angels, Baptists and Davids in the later canvasses. His female models include Fillide Melandroni, Anna Bianchini, and Maddalena Antognetti (the "Lena" mentioned in court documents of the "artichoke" case[32] as Caravaggio's concubine), all well-known prostitutes, who appear as female religious figures including the Virgin and various saints.[33] Caravaggio himself appears in several paintings, his final self-portrait being as the witness on the far right to the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula.[34]

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