Friday, May 10, 2013

Spanish Baroque (pt. 4)

Also appearing in Spain during this time were the works of Jusepe de Ribera, who also toured and worked in Italy.  This painting, if not his crown achievement, is at least well-regarded in the art history circle of scholars and art critics.  This is The Blind Old Beggar, a painting based on a Spanish novella that had been newly published at that time, called The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities (published in Spanish).  In the story, Lazarillo is told to have come from humble beginnings.  As a boy, he was given to a blind man for adoption.  Their relationship was not a good one, and the boy was unhappy.  He eventually adopted the old man's shrewd cynicism, despite his extreme dislike for his guardian while serving under him as a child.
In Ribera's painting, the background is dark, perhaps to signify the pair's unpleasant relationship.  The boy stares out from the painting with sharp eyes as if he is looking at the world cynically, like the old man.  The boy's eyes are probably the most moving aspect of the work.  The painting uses dramatic lighting and realism to paint an old man and a young boy standing together in the shadows.  They juxtapose their surroundings, and they juxtapose each other.  Their faces contrast against the darkness; the old man's wrinkles contrast to the young boy's smooth skin.  Everything, it would seem, is at disunity, two or more worlds clashing together in tension and unrest that makes the painting so dramatic.  Again, the boy's facial expression and the look in his eyes, while culminating the emotion in the painting, is, I would argue, one of the most profound images in the history of art.

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