light, shadow

 

a lot has been said and written about the godfather films. but i can see why these are films that audiences keep returning to. if i ever happen to catch them playing somewhere i always get sucked right in.

recently while looking at some of rembrandt's paintings i began to think that i had in the back of my mind a cinematic reference that somehow matched the color and light quality that was unique to the renaissance painter. i realized that gordon willis' cinematography for the godfather films was it. they not only echo the classic red, brown and black palette rembrandt was known for, but the use of light and shadow is particularly striking. like rembrandt, willis seems to start with dark and add light, carving out shapes and revealing them bit by bit. the hooded eyes are also similar, sugesting these characters have something to hide, and so they seem to shrink back into the shadows or halfway emerge from them.

 

aristotle, the bearded man, and the syndicate by rembrandt van rijn

stills from the godfather, directed by frances ford coppola, 1972

creepy renaissance paintings

 

i came across these two portraits while thumbing through several books on renaissance paintings. i was struck at first by the unusual countenance of both subjects. but while the grotesque nature of the paintings initially drew me in, i was further intrigued by the level of detail and artistry involved in each work. renaissance portraiture of course being a high mark in history for the technique and skill devoted to depicting above all else, beauty, i was a bit confused.

as it turns out leonardo da vinci was very interested in "grotesque heads" and had a collection of drawings devoted to such subjects. the painters of these portraits were working in that tradition. and i find it fascinating that there are quite a many of these types of paintings from the period which challenge notions of grace and beauty. the woman in the second painting titled "an old woman," may have been one duchess of carinthia who was said to have regarded herself a figure of fun and thus dressed purposefully in what even in the sixteenth century would have been considered outlandish. incidentally she was john tenniel's original inspiration for the duchess in his alice in wonderland illustrations.

 

domenico ghirlandaio, "an old man and his grandson," about 1490

quentin massys, "an old woman," about 1513

images from renaissance faces: van eyck to titian