Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The art of "Gabriel's Inferno" and "Gabriel's Rapture"

There are countless wonderful pleasures awaiting readers of “Gabriel’s Inferno” and “Gabriel’s Rapture:” the characters, the story, the music, the trips to exotic locations....

And then there’s the artwork. Some of my favorite scenes in the books showcase classic pieces of art with fascinating histories.

“Dante’s Inferno” is one of the greatest literary works of all time, of course, but I also love how SR references many outstanding paintings. He often uses them to help us visualize or understand a scene. When Richard scolds Scott in “Gabriel’s Inferno” for being cruel to Gabriel, he points to Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” It’s easy to see the connection between Richard’s love for his troubled older son and the painting which movingly depicts the Biblical parable.

In one of the most touching scenes in “Gabriel’s Rapture,” Julia shows Gabriel a picture of “The Vision of St. Francesca Romana,” which portrays St. Frances gazing with love at a baby held on Mary’s lap. Julia tells Gabriel it reminds her of his daughter Maia in heaven, being cared for and loved by Grace. “Vision” was painted by Orazio Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque artist who was strongly influenced by Caravaggio for most of his career.

The scene inspired me to find out more about Orazio Gentileschi. (Parenthetically, it should be noted that this is probably also SR’s intent: to inspire us to explore and learn more about world masterpieces.) Orazio had several sons, but his daughter, Artemisia, was his most prominent offspring. An important painter in her own right, Artemisia also painted in Caravaggio’s style of stark realism. The more I read about her, the more fascinated I became with her life and accomplishments.

Among her earliest and most proficient paintings is “Susanna and the Elders” (1610), a depiction of the Biblical wife Susanna (Shoshanna), a virtuous woman who was sexually harassed by male elders. She was only 17 years old when she completed it, and the color, composition, and technique seem so beyond a teenager’s capability that for years many thought it had been done by her father. 

In 1612-13, Artemisia painted “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” another Biblical scene which depicts the Jewish widow Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes with the assistance of her servant. Holofernes and his army had taken siege of Judith’s village of Bethulia. He passed out drunk after ordering a feast in celebration of her great beauty. Judith took advantage of the situation to murder the general, and the people of her village triumphantly turned back the Assyrians after Holofernes’ death.

The painting is graphic and gruesome, with Judith determinedly holding his head as she uses the knife. The painting is often seen as an allegory of the triumph of Judaism over its enemies.

The subject matter of victimized women has unfortunate parallels to Artemisia’s own life. While still a teenager, she was raped by Agostino Tassi, her art instructor. Tassi was a contemporary of her father’s; in fact, Orazio had appointed Tassi as his daughter’s teacher. When Tassi did not marry Artemisia as promised, Orazio brought the case to court. It was the first recorded rape trial in history; transcripts of the proceedings are still in existence. Artemisia was forced to give evidence and was reportedly tortured for it. Although Tassi was found guilty and was exiled from Rome for five years, he was back in the city within months, apparently after bribing officials to let him return.

Artemisia married Pierantonio Stattesi, a Florentine painter. At the age of 23, she became the first woman to join Florence’s esteemed Academy of Design. Her painting style became more individualized, and rather than paint the portraits or still life that were common for painters of her time, she continued to draw upon historical subjects. She was associated with the Medici court, and painted frescoes celebrating Michelangelo in the Casa Buonarroti.

Brilliant, determined, astute and extraordinarily talented, Artemisia Gentileschi is a woman for the ages. If you are interested in reading more about her, I recommend “Artemisia” by Alexandra Lapierre. It is a fictionalized biography of her life, and very well written. You can find out more about it here:


Unknown said...

Thank you for explaining what is depicted in the beautiful masterpieces mentioned in our favorite story.Sylvain Reynard has inspired us in so many. It is why he is loved and my favorite author.

Unknown said...

This post is excellent gals! I love to read up on the history of art and everything really! The level of knowledge that Mr. SR has for so many subjects and has shared with us is really something else. I am so glad his story found me and I in turn found an amazing group of friends. :) He is my favorite author (next to my dear Jane Austen) I cant wait for whatever else he has instore for us in the future!

Elena said...

Thank you for this wonderful post, Mango. I love all the literature and art references in Gabriel's Inferno and Gabriel's Rapture and, like you said, I love that SR inspires us to learn more about the masterpieces mentioned in the books.

Rembrandt's "The Return of The Prodigal Son" is truly a beautiful painting. What I like of it is also the way Rembrandt decides to position the different figures in the painting. The son of consistency stands on the right on top of a few steps. It's like he has to let the prodigal son take centre stage, but he is also positioned higher than him, as if he wants to show that he believes he's better than his brother. On the other hand ,though, he's not angry or furious. He just frowns -- he shows disappointment, but he knows that his father has already made his decision-- he'll welcome back his other son.

Also, the son of consistency hasn't been put near the father and the son, but on the far right. If we didn't know the parable, we could wonder who the well dressed man was. We can clearly see that the two figures in the centre are father and son but could we say the same about the old man and the man on the right? It's like the son of consistency has to swallow his pride and face the fact that he could not be recognized by the observer as the other son. Plus, he has to let the observer's attention be focused on the two figures in the centre.
I think it fits the scene in Gabriel's Inferno perfectly.

Thank you, Mango, also for highlighting Artemisia's paintings. They're amazing. I'm looking forward to reading "Artemisia". I'm adding it to my TBR list :)

I really enjoyed this post! Looking forward to more!

Jenn said...

I love these types of discussions. Thanks to Mango for this wonderful post. :)

Dr/ Ahmed Arfa said...

great post :)

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