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Piero della Francesca (1410/20-92), the Nativity, c. 1475. Tempera(?) on wood, 124.5 × 123cm

The winding landscape on the left and the position of the Christ-child, lying apparently helpless on the ground, suggest that Piero was aware of the way Flemish painters treated Nativity scenes. In fact, the Fleming Joos van Ghent had worked at the court of Federico of Montefeltro where Piero was employed. Nevertheless, the cool morning light and the Olympian stillness may seem typical of the southern Renaissance. The choir of singing angels have something about them that recalls the Athenian Acropolis and the Caryatids of the Erechtheion. While these musings are subjective, they are supported by Piero's known interests. For example, he wrote a book on the 'regular' bodies (the basic geometric structures that some have thought to correspond to the 'essence' underlying all existence) and their supposed relationship to the human figure; interests of this kind lay at the heart attempting to connect the central fact of Christian theology, the Incarnation, with the calm rationality of Classical thought, as had St Augustine of Hippo centuries before.

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Caravaggio (1571-1610), the Calling of St Matthew, 1592-95. Oil on canvas, 315 × 315cm

The response of the Catholic to the growth of Protestantism took the form of a movement now known as the Counter-Reformation. Its characteristic expression in art is the Baroque. The style brought together a passionate interest in naturalism with an equally compelling belief in the power of dramatic presentation. It was a theatrical art, which sought to convince those tempted to change their faith that the Roman Church was and would remain the only custodian of religious truth. If Protestantism seemed gloomy, Catholicism had no alternative but to assert its fundamental optimism. So Caravaggio, one of the most important figures in the Roman Baroque, presents us with a remarkable stage effect, in truth far in advance of anything that one could have expected to see in the contemporary theatre. Christ's entry into the house of Matthew, the money-changer, could have found no more dramatic expression, and the two well-dressed young bucks anchor the picture to the reality of the sixteenth century. In all this, Caravaggio seemed to go too far and too fast for his contemporaries and his work was slow to achieve the enormous influence that came later.

錄自John Spencer, The Art History Study Guide, Thames and Hudson, 1996, p. 104, 120.

文藝復興和巴洛克兩個時期的藝術,可謂西方美術史必要的認識。其原因前文有提到,是沃夫林的《藝術史的原則》一書所帶來的深遠影響。所以我從《藝術史研究導覽》(The Art History Study Guide)選了兩個作品以為比對。一是法蘭契斯卡(Piero della Francesca)的《聖誕圖》,一是卡拉瓦喬(Caravaggio)的《馬太蒙召圖》。兩張圖可以從畫面風格上看到清楚的差別。在法蘭契斯卡的時期,精確的人體描寫和準確的透視法則是當時繪畫能力優劣的重要依據,因此,法蘭契斯卡的人物清晰明朗、比例適中,後面的破屋和遠景亦交待出作者處理空間的能力。但到了卡拉瓦喬的時候,空間和人物形象的掌握已經是畫家應有的基本能力,委託人需要更具張力的畫面,巴洛克時期的繪畫便開了有了強烈的動態和戲劇性的光線(後來學者提出這兩個時期之間有個過渡的「矯飾主義時期Mannerism」,但此處先不論及),營造出一種動態瞬間的凝結,呈現戲劇化的效果。

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