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The landscape according to Caravaggio

December 29,2013 - 01:32 PM

They say that Caravaggio painted
As though he were inside a dungeon
Or a room deep within a tavern,
Where the illumination comes
Not from the sun but from a lamp,
Which is unseen and seems embedded
Into the very fact of being —
The women, children, men and horses,
Whose physicality is such
As to invite a curious finger,
Which makes his most reproduced painting,
“The Incredulity of St. Thomas,”
Somewhat a statement of his art.

Well then, what can we say of his
“Rest on the Flight into Egypt,”
In which he chose to yield himself
To do a sort of landscape painting,
Conceding to the sky a role?
That Biblical journey to Egypt
Offered for Caravaggio’s useThe moment when Joseph decided —

After a glance at Mary and Child —
That it was time to take a breather.

I’ve come across the many legends
That grew out of this episode
And Caravaggio must have known
One or two stories of the kind —
For instance, how the Family
Found a spot in a grove of trees,
Which the Child ordered to bend down
And lay their fruit on Joseph’s hand,
Their roots forthwith to yield a spring
For them to drink from and be filled.

Save for the trees, none of these stories
Finds telling in this lovely painting,
Lovely because of its translucence,
No matter if a bit stylized —
A coiffured Mary and the Infant
Sleep with their heads touching each other,
An indication of how long
The journey so far travelled was,
And deep the dreams must be for them,
Speaking of which the wakeful Joseph,
Here shown as usual, an old man,
Has never run out of — in dreams
God spoke to him, and through an angel,
Such as the one that we see here —
Young, winged, draped in linen,
Which functions but as a fig leaf —
And this, the presence of the angel,
Playing a vintage violin
As Joseph holds up before him
Sheet music from the Song of Songs,
Hints at this being a dream, too,
Or an interpretation of
Something that has already happened,
Which, whether old or new, all art,
If it be true, is all about,
And in this work of Caravaggio’s
All else is past — except the sky,
Odd for someone like Caravaggio,
An artist who made use of darkness,
Which here he had at last to part
To show a glow out of the gloom,
A sky that came to light towards
The morning of the Resurrection.

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TAGS: art, Christmas, painting

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