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Luca Fa Presto...

Flight into Egypt, 1685

Luca Giordano was born in Naples on October 18, 1634. Having studied under an aging Jusepe de Ribera, he earned a reputation for his versatility and speed, hence the nickname "Luca Fa Presto". He travelled all across Italy and also lived in Spain for a period, absorbing the influences of past painters to fuse his own style of vivid colors with dynamic compositions. Giordano is not easy to categorize in the sense that his art is not always times the influence of Ribera is strong, while in other works there are touches of Titian, Veronese, Correggio, Carracci, Da Cortona and even Caravaggio. As with many artists, a deadline can often determine the quality of a work and in the case of Giordano his work can range from tightly rendered anatomy and figures in wonderful composition to brushwork and figures that seems so rushed it verges on amateurish. Giordano's philosophy was that a popular painter was a good painter and that color trumps design. What is clear about Giordano is that despite his shortcomings, when he was good he was brilliant.

Flight into Egypt was one of many versions he painted of this subject, and it is this version that is probably his best. Note the vivid colors on Mary to contrast with the subdued tones of all the other figures. The rest of the figures have a right diagonal lean to direct the eye towards the right where Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus are embarking on a boat for Egypt to flee from the decree by Herod that all male infants were to be killed. The figure on the bottom right is twisting his body in Mannerist tension, with astute attention to muscular anatomy. Giordano uses both warma and cool colors in the sky behind them, with cherubs guiding them along the journey. The colors are arresting here, but it is Giordano's use of movement and drama that make the composition so effective.

Luca Giordano - Crucifixion of St Andrew
Crucifixion of Saint Andrew, ca.1659

Here Giordano is channeling Ribera in a painting that really needs no explanation. Note the loose brushwork which is almost palpable. Here the secondary figures seem to be something done by his workshop, almost as an afterthought, without much thought into what purpose they serve in the painting except to react. The distant figures in the background appear to have no purpose in the painting at all but to fill up space, and probably would have been better left out. At any rate, it is the brushwork and anatomy on Andrew here, along with his inspired face, that saves this painting.

Luca Giordano - The Fall of the Rebel Angels - Google Art Project
The Fall of the Rebel Angels, 1665

One of his best pieces, this is an incredible work of Baroque art that showcases what Giordano could achieve when he focused all of his powers into one theme. A subject that was more common with Bruegel and Bosch, the Archangel Michael drives out the rebel angels from Heaven with his flaming sword. Giordano arranges the rebel angels as grotesque demons piled up in an asymmetrical triangle. Zoom in on the Archangel Michael to see breathtaking brushwork and color. The placement of those checkered-patterned yellows and greens between the blues and reds is something I have never seen before in costume. Note how his legs are painted in totally different color temperatures due to the left leg being in shadow. The skin tones of the rebel angels is also incredible, with deep darks and cool greys, and warm accents on their necks, hands and feet. Look up above and the baby angels are painted gracefully in direct contrast to the demons below. The background colors are haunting and complex, arranged in three separate areas from angelic to heroic to damned, from yellow to gray to fiery red. Here Giordano has outdone himself in a big way, over three hundred years before the fervent imagination of a fantasy book cover artist that would dominate this style of art...Frank Frazetta.

Luca Giordano 025
Isaac blesses Jacob, 1654

A relatively simple composition with all three figures lined up in a row, Giordano uses color to distinguish the characters in the scene. Isaac is painted with magnificent brushwork, in particular how in the left forearm he captures the extensor muscles in subtle greys that turn very warm as they follow into the hand. I love the shadow of the beard he paints on his chest area on the sternum. Giordano uses a greyish yellow for the drapery of Isaac that also contains some skillful blending and deep shadows.

MDAS san juan bautista de luca giordano
Preaching of St. John the Baptist,1702

Stunning chiaroscuro with a convincing sense of space, Giordano gathers listeners around a very majestic St. John the Baptist (although it appears to be Christ himself), depicted for the first time as very muscular and sculptural. Giordano seems to be fusing Correggio with Caravaggio, and oddly it works. The flowing robe of John is visually captivating. A hauntingly dark sky looms behind them with traces of faint yellows and greys. Unfortunately I could not find a larger image for an example but to see it more clearly check out this version here.

Giordano is chameleon-like in how his style varies from one painting to another, and if there is one consistency it is his use of color to heighten drama. The influence of too many painters as a detriment is a valuable lesson here in the formation of one's own style, yet at times when Giordano concentrated his powers he was in a league by himself.


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