Sunday, February 26, 2006

Thoughts On the Last Day of an Exhibition: Drawings From Leonardo to Titian at the Getty

Jacopo Bassano
"Christ Driving the Money Changers From the Temple"
17 3/16" x 21 3/8" black and colored chalks on blue paper circa 1570
Getty Collection

Jacopo Bassano's "Christ Driving the Money Changers From the Temple" is a remarkable drawing. Rich, swirling masses of colored chalks are rubbed and shaded onto a colored sheet of paper defining a light filled atmosphere as much as a biblical scene. The freedom of execution in this preliminary study seems to speak directly to the Venetian love for complex coloristic effects.

Jacopo Bassano learned much from Titian. Titian's oil paintings are richly layered with unique pigments from around the world that were readily available because of the Venetian Republic's long maritime reach. With access to these powders, which would be ground with linseed oil to form paint, Venetian artists such as Titian and Giorgione were able to lay out singular colored atmospheres. In essence Titian at his finest was thinking in color.

In this drawing Bassano is applying Titian's painting technique to chalk on paper. Rich oranges, saffrons and ruddy browns define the interior of the Temple and evoke an impression of crowded warmth. Pearly greys mark the architecture and frame the cool blue patch that recedes into an image of distant sky. Blurred, shadowy figures rush from the warmth into this singular blue.

Intended as a study for a religious work, the drawing is not entirely abstract. Within its swirling color fields, what Huston Smith has termed "a universal grammar of religion", speaks to us across the centuries. The story of Jesus in the Temple is not truly an indictment of usury but instead a call for a new world in which animal sacrifices would no longer be needed:

"Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the Temple, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables."
(John 2:13-16)

In Bassano's drawing, ghostly figures flee from the warmth of their dated and violent practices of sacrifice into an open spiritual space that demands respect for life.

*The exhibition From Leonardo to Titian ends today at the Getty Museum.

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