Sunday, 30 December 2012

Strangely Similar...

It just struck me today how two of my favourite paintings that I've mentioned previously in my blog are in fact strangely similar, and yet so completely different.

Take a look and you'll see what I mean.

Here's Caravaggio from this article

Caravaggio Judith Beheading Holofernes, (Oil on canvas, 1598)

..and three hundred years later here's Degas from this article.

 Edgar Degas, La Coiffure (Oil on canvas, 1896)

Now I'd never have thought of Degas and Caravaggio as being in any way similar before, but see what I mean...?

I know they're two completely different subjects - one is a violent beheading with three figures and startling chiaroscuro, the other is a calm domestic scene mostly in red tones with only two figures -  but just take a look at the composition.

In each, one figure lies submissively on the left, and a standing figure carries out the action of the piece on the right.

In the Caravaggio, Judith holds Holofernes' hair and cuts the throat with a red surge of blood.  In the Degas, the maidservant holds the hair and wields a comb through the red swathe of hair, in an act that seems to be producing a certain amount of pain as well as pleasure.

In both, the loops of the circles of the arms of the two main protagonists form a rhythmical figure of eight across the painting. 

But the oddest thing of all linking the two pictures is the loop of red curtain hanging from the top of both paintings.  In both it signals an enclosed, shallow, intimate space, like a theatre set, something almost womb-like. 

It's an oddly disconnected piece of drapery in both - in the Caravaggio it writhes in an agitated convulsion, echoing the blood and pain of the brutal act.  In the Degas, it hangs in sensuously suggestive folds.

Did Degas have the Caravaggio at the back of his mind when he painted his blood-red painting?  I have no idea.  

All I can say that it strikes me that there are strange resonances between them both, and now that I've noticed it, it gives a whole new sub-text to Degas' painting for me! 

No comments:

Post a Comment