Many art historians believe that the High Renaissance was a short period between 1490 and 1527 in the Italian States. It was characterized by a renewed emphasis upon classical tradition, and the expansion of patronage. During the Baroque period of art, the exploration of the human nature, the realm of senses and emotions was very crucial. The Baroque vision of the world is dynamic and dramatic; figures are depicted with the utmost vividness and richness through the use of rich colors, and dramatic effects of light and shade.
In the following paper I am going to compare and contrast Antoniazzo Romano’s Virgin and Child with a Donor (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) of c. 1480 and Carlo Dolci’s The Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) of c. 1635. These two paintings are more than 155 years apart, having some characteristics in common and others that developed thorough out the years.
Although Carlo Dolci’s painting of the Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Antoniazzo Romano’s Virgin and Child with a Donor are hundreds of years apart each focused on depicting religious icons, they both still kept in line with the traditions of their era. The communication of emotions in each painting is very clear, understood, and felt. Throughout time, emphasis and interest in the human body developed thus portraying a more naturalist look. Human nudity and beauty was also an important factor. The nudity of the Child embodies spiritual and abstract meaning of nature.
Human nudity symbolizes purity, truth and innocence. We can comprehend that in the paintings of Romano and Dolci human nature and love are complement of each other. In both paintings the Virgin is represented as Christ’s mother, the viewer can sense a loving, caring, and compassionate mother. In Antoniazzo Romano’s painting, the Virgin is holding her son as he walks on a white surface probably a table. The close approximation of the figures and the way they are interacting makes it seem as if the Virgin is fondly of Christ.
We can see that the Virgin is protecting her child by keeping her hand behind him as he walks just in case something happens. The child is also portrayed as loving his mother, he placed his hand close to her neck as if not wanting to let go. Both the Virgin and Child stare at the viewer with an intense gaze. In Dolci’s painting, the Virgin is holding her son as he walk on her lap. I feel that the symbolic meaning of the delicate and fragile Child in Dolci’s painting represents the birth of Christ. The facial expressions of the Virgin and the Child have a great sense of love and joy.
We can actually feel the love and the unbreakable bond between them. The tilting of the Virgin’s head demonstrates the closeness and inseparable connection of the Virgin and the Child. The Virgin is portrayed in a deep and long devoted thought, probably thinking of her new born child and the journeys to come. To the left we can see Saint John the Baptist as a child kneeling and praying to Christ Child, in return, the Christ Child blessed him. I express this because the Christ Child fingers are crossing and pointing upwards as if in giving blessings to those who surround him.
The biblical and symbolic meaning of both babies in the painting represents a religious theme in the Bible. Antoniazzo Romano painted The Virgin and Child with a Donor using tempera and gold leaf on wood. Because of the medium used the painting appears patchy and color seems to be brushing off. The modeling of figures, use of halos, and the use of gold leaf emphasizes a Byzantine flavor. The use of gold leaf was for the religious figures to appear out of this world, more sacred and spiritual. Halos were used in order to signify the importance of such.
The frame appears to be influenced by the classical roman style and showing a decayed composition, it is a simple but well adorned frame. The engraving at the bottom of the frame reveals a prayer about the Virgin. There is also a smaller painting of a seagull that is separated from the main art. I believe that such might signify the purity of the virgin. Observing Romano’s painting the first thing that comes to mind is the oversized images of the Virgin and Child in comparison with the Donor. The symmetry found is an indicator that the artist based it on the Byzantine art style.
There is also a presence of a goldfinch with a red spot in his head, it is assumed to symbolize the resurrection of Chris along with the suffering and death that comes along with it. If we observe Antoniazzo Romano’s painting closely it seems as if the painting itself has light coming in from the upper right corner displaying perception of shadow at the bottom of the Child’s feet. The pose of the Child gives a sense of movement, becoming more naturalistic than that of early 15th Century. The faces and skin tone are also more natural than those found in earlier art.
Romano’s Virgin is dressed in a deep blue robe with gold outline over a red garment, while the Child is wearing a translucent dress. The Intense and contrasted colors found in Romano’s Virgin are from Sienese art style. The Golden halos brush strokes are circular, and created with punches pressed into the gold leaf, this differs from the rest of the painting which is painted using lines. While both painters depicted the Virgin and infant Christ, Romano includes a portrait of the donor, and Dolci includes infant St. John the Baptist.
Comparing these two works of art, we can see an increasingly level of artistic genius throughout the years. Dolci’s Virgin and Child with Saint John was painted using oil on wood and is a much smaller scale painting than Romano’s Virgin. Dolci’s images have softer contours which fade into the shadowed background. We can see that the painter is separating from the rigid outlines that were seen in earlier years. Color is a main component that differentiates these two paintings. The different use of media is what attributes to a dramatic contrast between the two paintings.
In Dolci’s painting the use of color is more intense, the bright and radiant of the colors stands out of the painting. When I was observing Dolci’s painting, the intensity of the colors is what drew my attention even before the solid figures formed. The rich, radiant colors play an important role in the intensity of the light and movement of the painting. The wrinkles of the cloth give a feeling of movement in the painting. And the colors give us the feeling of warmth. The blue and red cloth is very rich and bright, reflecting the light off of it.
The process of chiaroscuro is being used among the red and blue cloths, giving them a soft grasp of reality and naturalism. Dolci portrays his painting with an eye that insisted upon beauty and righteousness. His painting is painted with an exquisite finish and delicate colouring. Observing Dolci’s painting, we can view that he decided to arrange his figures in what seems to be a pyramidal composition. By doing such arrangement Dolci places emphasis in the Child Christ. When I was observing the painting my gaze landed upon the background images of the Virgin and Saint John the Baptist first, and then my gaze shifted towards the Child Christ.
The figures have an effect of threedimensionality, and feel as if they are interacting with our space extending beyond the borders of the frame. The use of modeling of light and shade gives a better three-dimensional effect and depth to the painting. The use of tenebrism causes the painting to be more dramatic due to the harsh contrast of dark next to light. I believe Dolci used tenebrism in order for the viewer to connect to physiologically to the painting. There is also a hidden glowing light coming from behind the Virgin and the Child Christ.
If we look closely we can see a ring of gold light around the Virgin’s head, and light radiating on top of Child Christ. During this era the superficial form of light rather than the use of halos was employed. The significance of light symbolizes the presence of the Divine or God. The use of light and the ring of gold light over the heads of the Virgin and Child Christ does not prevent the painter from emphasizing the emotions and human character of the figures.
While these two works of art, Antoniazzo Romano’s Virgin and Child with a Donor and Carlo Dolci’s Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist, may differ from one another, they also share some qualities. The interpretation made of these two works were merely for comparing them to how art and each painter progressed as time passed. It was found that many didn’t want to break from the old and actually incorporated some details of the old with the new. Over the centuries, picturing religious events in the form of artwork was still very popular and important. However, the style in which the events were pictured changed.