Monday, March 30, 2009

Raphael, Study of Soldiers in The Conversion of Saul, ca. 1515–16
At the Met
An amazing drawing, though it's amazing also how the low resolution almost makes that hard to see. An object lesson, quite literally, in the principles and poetics of the High Renaissance: simultaneously static and full of motion, a perfect but lightly held balance of action and reflection, observation, representation, and free craft. Rigor seemingly without tension, or tension seemingly without its affect. Imagine a performer on a tightrope or balancing on a sphere, and walking with the casual gait of someone on flat solid ground.

The figures fly off the page, yet they're anchored as solidly in place as they would be seated and face forward in a Byzantine mosaic. And they demonstrate this incongruity, this absolute, categorical, conflict while responding to our anxious questions with courtesy and concern: as if to ask us what is wrong. A Stendhal moment occurs when a work pulls you so strongly at once in both of its directions that your mind is overwhelmed. I went back to this drawing three times over the course of an afternoon and felt dizziness and chills each time.
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