Monday, December 7, 2015

Orvieto and the Apocalypses according to Luca Signorelli

This is the last and most formidable part of our report on Il Duomo di Orvieto: the Apocalypses Series of Affreschi, initiated by Beato Angelico and executed by Luca Signorelli, in the Cappella Nuova or Cappella di San Brizio. 

Satan counseling the Antichrist

The affreschi of La Cappella di San Brizio follow a narrative line that includes four terrifying chapters:
  • The Coming of the Antichrist,
  • The End of the World,
  • The Rising of the Dead, and
  • The Last Judgment
The fall of the Antichrist

Anguish at the End of the World

When I saw the Cappella di San Brizio for the first time, I made an enormous miscalculation of when Luca Signorelli performed this masterpiece, coming to the incorrect assumption that it had been executed sometime in the mid-16th Century, based on the style.

The looks of fear and uncertainty at the End of the World

I had ignorantly assumed that Luca had received strong influence from Michelangelo, Raffaello and Giuglio Romano.

The Rising of the Dead

After I starting reading Giorgio Vasari famous work (Vite de' più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani), I realized that this Luca Signorelli was working on the death of Moises on the walls of the Sistine Chapel almost a quarter of a century prior to Pope Julius II giving his first assignment to Michelangelo to paint the vault.

Christ Supreme Judge

At this point of time (1480), no one had ever painted the human body with such grace as Luca Signorelli, and no one had ever handled the feelings of human dread with such intensity. At several points of the Chapel of San Brizio, the figures seems to come out of the affreschi and into the chapel.
Demons carry away the Damned
On a personal note, I feel that these affreschi, after 500 years, carry the strength and persuasion for anyone with doubts about their lives and conduct, to rethink their behavior, if not for love of God, than at least for the dread of eternal damnation. You might want to create a fuller atmosphere for your reflection, listening to the ancient Latin hymn which deal with the prophecy of the last days: Dies Irae: Dies iræ, dies illa, Solvet sæclum in favilla, Teste David cum Sibylla ! Quantus tremor est futurus, quando judex est venturus, cuncta stricte discussurus ! ("Days of wrath, those Days, Centuries are dissolved in dust, as David with the Sibyl are witnesses, How Great will be our terror in the Future, when the Judge comes, with his strict discourse.")

Those who have lived a life as slaves of their passions,
perish at the hands of the merciless.
Luca Signorelli however is not just a painter aimed at instilling fear. His dealing with love, with the eternal paradise and with the crowning of the saints is as attractive as his portrayal of damnation is foreboding.
The crowning of the Saints
The most dreadful aspect of damnation is the decision between right and wrong, heaven and hell, is of our own free will, of our own doing, or of our own undoing, and this aspect of remorse and despair is wonderfully portrayed by Luca Signorelli. He has added the visual content for Dante Alighieri's Divina Commedia.

The crowning of the Saints

Who was Luca Signorelli? As Giorgio Vasari tells us, he was born in Cortona, and he studied under Piero della Francesca. We know a considerable amount about his work, but very little of his personal life. So what can we learn know about Luca by looking at his affreschi? He was first and foremost, a master at sketching. His brushstrokes are long, fearless and without trepidation. reminiscent of Giotto, but with a handling of chiaroscuro, of perspective, beyond any master of the quattrocento before Sandro Botticelli. His long fiery brushstokes full of contempt for the demons as if he were listening to Richard Wagner's Flight of the Walkyries, while his drawing of saints and angels are done with patience and delicate care for every lock of their hair and every tone of their complexion. His freedom of stroke and earthy tones are reminiscent of the 20th century Mexican muralists, like Orozco and Diego Rivera, and their feeling of tumultuous chaos.

The Apocalypses by Jose Clemente Orozco on the vault of the Jesus Nazareno Church, Mexico
Special note. Unless where otherwise stated, every photograph in my blog, are photographs which I have taken personally. However, in this case, it is strictly prohibited to take pictures in the Cappella di San Brizio, and I, as a lover of art, try to always show respect where I am indicated of these prohibitions. So for this picture, I took pictures from the book, Mirabilia, Il Duomo di Orvieto, e il Giudizio Universale di Luca Signorelli, M Mirabilia, Orvieto,  Quarta Edizione, 2013, to which I render credit as a source of my own resized photographs.

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