Skip to main content

Crespi, Painter of daily life

Giuseppe Maria Crespi - La cuoca, the kitchenmaid
La Cuoca, 1712

Giuseppe Maria Crespi also known as "lo spagnolo" (the spanish one) because his clothing apparently had a spanish style, is a unique painter both for his technique and subject matter. It's difficult to compare him to anyone from his period, (except for Alessandro Magnasco, who painted more dramatic landscapes) . His brushwork was quite loose, his figures in haunting chiaroscuro, and his relentless sense of experimentation are what make him fascinating to study. Several years back I remember looking at this painting of his at a local art exhibit:

Allegory of the Arts, 1730

and I remember being hypnotized by it's pseudo-mannerist elegance, deep blues and Crespi's characteristic indistinct facial features. I love how the fold of her robes flow toward the canvas, along her wrist and curls back toward herself. Note how she is painting a sculptor sculpting (Pygmalion and Galatea) to pay tribute to that great art form. And the harp behind her represents music also, but symbolically personifies spiritual harmony that comes from painting. Amen.

Searcher for Fleas, 1720?

Despite a decidedly monochromatic palette of browns in this painting, Crespi uses detail to make us feel like we are in the room with this woman. Again, his soft indistinct face of the woman is sweet and tells the story of poverty as a way of life in a way that is not shocking or melodramatic. The bold use of orange is a brilliant choice— eye-catching and intense but also gentle and unassuming. She has one shoe off on the floor while still wearing the other, impatiently trying to find the flea inside her shirt. Crespi takes an ordinary scene and with details and color tells a story in a way that pulls us into their lives, a rare thing for a Baroque painter in his time. I think of how many realistic painters today like to leave background elements fuzzy or completely darkened, when it is always the background which pulls the viewer in and creates the setting for the story unfolding.

Popular posts from this blog

More Old Master Drawings

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.
Robert Henri

Charles Louis Müller, A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864

Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful.

Anton Raphael Mengs, Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755

One of several Academic nude studies by Mengs, this …

Guercino il Magnifico

Self-Portrait of the Artist holding a Palette, ca.1635

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino was born on February 8, 1591 in Cento, a small city near Ferrara. He is one of the great masters of the Italian Baroque and poet of painters. Noted for his speed and efficiency, Guercino also worked in a number of mediums with equal passion whether ink, chalk, charcoal, or oils. His nickname, which means 'little cross-eyes' in Italian, derives in part from an apocryphal childhood accident where he supposedly awoke from a deep sleep as a child from a loud scream that caused his eyes to cross. Another story says something was thrown into his eyes. At any rate, he was self-taught as an artist from as early as nine years old and by his early teens was discovered by the eldest of the Carracci where he would spend some time at the Accademia Degli Incamminati before venturing out on his own. Despite his apparent 'handicap', his vision and talent would make him a giant that few…

Old Master Drawings

Drawing is not the form; it is the way of seeing the form.

A male nude from behind, c.1630 Gian Lorenzo Bernini

In this blog I talk about painting but the importance of drawing cannot be understated of course, and I believe we can learn just as much from studying their techniques of line and strokes as we can from brushstrokes...more in most cases as the drawing is more expressive and intimate. It reveals the personality and character of the artist.

The above drawing apparently comes from the period of Bernini's teaching at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, one of four from the exact same model. This drawing is fairly big for a study, at 55.6 x 42cm (21 x 16 inches). Consider Michelangelo's study for Libyan Sibyl, is only 28.9 x 21.4 cm (11 3/8 x 8 7/16 inches), a small study for a fresco which would be painted several times larger than life size. I can only guess that Bernini was teaching a big class and that maybe his work was on display for students to study, or it ma…