Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Art as a Creative Endeavor : Caravaggio vs Rubens

The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio, 1602-04

The Entombment of Christ by Peter Paul Rubens, 1612-1614

Peter Paul Rubens painted the altarpiece for the same church, Santa Maria in Vallicella in Rome, that hired Caravaggio to produce the chapel painting "The Entombment of Christ." He must have seen Caravaggio's work and been impressed. Or he thought he could improve it.

Interesting how faithful Rubens copies parts of Caravaggio's work but he also dramatically changes the composition. The man at the left in red (John the Evangelist) is moved significantly in pose and in position although his hand remains positioned on Christ's wound. The head of Christ is changed, as is the head of Nicodemus, holding Christ's legs. The hair of both have changed. The Italian Caravaggio had given them black hair while the Flemish Rubens gave them lighter hair I would guess to make it more relatable to the local audience or more relatable to himself. The color of Nicodemus' clothes is also changed.

The stone slab is more unfinished and painterly in Rubens' version. Rubens omits the plant at lower left.

Rubens also omits the woman with her arms upraised (Mary of Cleophas) probably because when people look at Caravaggio's version they connect her with the stout man legs below her belonging to Nicodemus. Mary Magdalene with her hand to her head and her head down is modified only slightly. The older woman would be the Virgin Mary which Rubens changed radically and added another woman beside her. Personally I like Caravaggio's Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene in parallel next to each other with their heads bowed down together like a visual stutter.

Rubens painted several variations of the subject, perhaps the subject for future post.

As a bonus, Caravaggio's entombment of Christ as drawn by Paul Cezanne
The Entombment of Christ by Paul Cezanne

An attempt to show the scale of the paintings. The Caravaggio appears larger than life size.

below the fold is an animated gif comparing them

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