Italian Old Masters

Too much has been made of Stella’s interest in Caravaggio round the time of Working Space. It’s pretty hard to find anything in Caravaggio useful to abstract art, and in a way his very strongly felt space is a bit of a distraction, because what is most important about his work is not the space but the time, namely the way that he turned the slow process of panting into an instantaneous experience, one time and one place. He had many devices to make it happen, but the most important is simply that he worked quickly and directly. Still, each piece must have taken many days, so they are montages of different moments, and the skill is in melting them into one single thing—an impression of a moment captured. Kind of like a photograph. So I can see Caravaggio’s relevance to Jeff Wall, for instance, but to get from him to Stella, or any other abstractionist, requires a few mediations, and some deeper thinking about time. Following on an earlier post, the space is emergent, a function of the artist’s work in and with time, it’s not the fundamental thing. As it happens, Stella has a stronger interest in other artists, particularly Correggio.

Michelangelo Merisi da Carravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew c.1600

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew c.1600

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