1. Details


Hello my dear friends! Today I would like to start a new column which, as you can see, is called ‘Details’.

Actually it is the last element of an ideal triptych which comprises ‘Un certain regard’ and ‘Signatures’ which are already part of this section.

But what is it that holds together this ‘trilogy’, as we might call it?

The point they have in common is observation, the way we observes a painting, or a sculpture, or a work of art in general.

As we know, any art work of the past has a meaning of its own, it has a message for the observer.

In ancient times, any item created by man had a function, it conveyed a message, everything was always made with a purpose whether it be religious, moral or political.

For instance, a statue representing a female or a painting depicting a bucolic scene was always linked to some episode that was known to the people of the time and it always conveyed a message.

And every type of fruit or legume has an allegorical meaning, as does the posture of the fingers of a hand or the colour of an object.

Everything, I reiterate, refers to something that the artist (or the customer) intended to share with us.

The subjects were taken mostly from the Bible or from the Greek and Latin classics, but there were also works representing historic facts or political messages some of which we understand while others remain obscure.

As Federico Zeri tells us, the past is past and is dead for ever.

And so, many references and meanings of a work that were clear to the contemporaries of the artist, may be meaningless for us, and we can only reinterpret the work according to our modern mindset and sensitivity.

In this connection Zeri quotes the famous statement by Benedetto Croce according to whom each history is contemporary history.

In order to understand this statement all we need to do is observe the current TV programmes that speak about art.

Well the focus is systematically on the personality of the artist

So, it’s a way of seeing ancient history based on our modern way of life that is all focussed on gossip.

Generally, no serious analysis is hardly ever made of a work of art, of its meaning and of its raison d’etre.

All this is undoubtedly more complicated because, as we all know, the levels of interpretation of a painting are many and of various types.

From the historic/artistic/stylistic, to the symbolic or alegorical and even esoteric.

To close this parenthetical element and to give you an idea of what used to happen in the past I would like to quote a passage from a beautical book I am reading whose title is ‘Solo Ombre’ (‘Only shadows’.) The author is Alvar González-Palacios, an art historian, but above all he is a great connoisseur of what is rather simplistically referred to as the Applied Arts.

The chapter is on Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany who was a lover of the arts and incredible collector of works of art, in particular of ancient marble sculptures. Gonzàles-Palacios speaks about the arrangement of his collection and tells us that the positioning of the items ‘…was studied with great care, according to a program that took into account not only the golden rules of symmetry, composition and perspective, but also complicated esoteric principles, that are difficult to explain, based on astrological and symbolic interpretations which had also been a passion of his father, Cosimo I.

Returning to our ‘Details’, there are works in all styles and from all the different eras: from Flemish Renaissance artists, to French modernists, from Orientalists to Baroque still lifes.

Well, having said that, I would like to invite my patient readers to play a ‘game’, which is this: read a painting starting from a very small detail, a detail that perhaps may escape a superficial reading, and try to grasp the meaning of the painting, its coded message.

But, as children teach us, playing may also be a damn serious thing, and I’m sure that by analyzing certain details, we can also learn many things, but above all we can wander freely with our imagination.

And so, I invite you along with me to imagine what ever did the man trapped by his feet do, to deserve such torture.

Or, whatever do those strange creatures emerging from a goblet represent, and who is holding the porcelain cup in his hand?

Who will live in Cezanne’s house in Provence?

And to whom does the big hand portrayed by Picasso belong to? The title does not help us, we only know that she is a “Femme au chapeau blanc

And continuing: who has eaten those delicious looking oysters?

And that menacing sword, has it been used against anyone? Against whom? And why?

We will never get answers to these questions, and maybe it’s better this way.

It is better not to know in advance for whom St. Peter’s key will be used, or how much pain is to be endured to sweat blood like the Jesus of the title.