Saturday, July 29, 2006

Philippe de Champaigne

Here's my favorite painting from my visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum last week (which is not to say that it will be my favorite next time)

It's got that insane rationality that is such a wonderful feature of the Roman church -- so precise -- so logical -- and so nutty -- culminating in this utter confliction of the iconoclastic prophet/chieftain of the desert (Moses) being depicted as a French scholar/saint in his library.

There's that delightful sense of analysis: things being broken down into their constituent parts --- and then the parts being reassembled using the principles of structure that have been discovered.

(and I like that nod to the mistranslation of Moses being "horned" when he came down from the mountain. As you might recall -- Michelangelo gave Moses two real horns protruding from his skull -- while Philippe seems to be hedging his bets. His Moses could have horns -- or maybe just a saintly halo)

It's the high-level of orderliness that is so distinctive -- reaching down into the structures of appearance (light over skin over flesh over bone)and composing them into sweet, poignant chamber music --- that is so fine in the detail and so grand in overall effect. Can you really see this Moses leading an illiterate rabble of fleeing slaves accross the desert ? This is an intelligent, sensitive scholar of the 17th Century, pondering the great spiritual issues of his time.

And nobody does hands like Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)-- that delicate sense of fleshiness. These are hands for playing a musical instrument -- not for swinging a battle axe.


Blogger Gawain said...

Champaigne is an amazing painter, I would love him more if he had had not the penchant for HUGE religious paintings (i mean, 12 m long monstrosities) which... scare me.

July 29, 2006  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

I like the detail of having the Decalogue written as if on paper with a pen. And M's rather distrustful look--or is it reproachful?

That trompe-l'oeil ledge at the bottom seems a recurring feature of portraiture of that period, I've seen it before.

August 04, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

To Gawain: if those huge religious paintings scare you -- I think that means they are doing their job. Repent! Keep the Ten Commandments -- and stop going to pagan dance festivals !

To Conrad: Expressions are so problematic for those poor souls who want to talk about the meaning of paintings -- since they are open to such a variety of sincere interpretation.

You see M's look as distrustful or reproachful -- but I see it as filled with fear and self-doubt.

August 04, 2006  
Anonymous marly youmans said...

I'm with you. Climbing up mountains and reaching God is a scary thing! Besides, fear and self-doubt entirely fits with the biblical account.

I love the way you describe the chamber music.

Chris, tomorrow I am going to do a piece about Mountshang on my blog (doing a 12 Readings for Advent series), so be sure and come by. htttp://

Definitely need to come by more often. You are so amusing. Pagan dance festivals!

Sorry I have been away so much. Things have been waywayway too busy, and I have six books coming out, three of them poetry(!) That way lies insanity, but I go tripping down the path anyway.

December 22, 2010  
Blogger chris miller said...

What could be more merry - than when one blabbermouth loves another!

Thanks so much, Marly, for appreciating my meandering blog.

Whenever I'm posting, I always have you in mind -- even if you haven't visited for a season or two.

December 23, 2010  
Anonymous marly said...

Aw, that is sweet! Come by and see in mid-afternoon--and merries to you!

December 23, 2010  

Post a Comment

<< Home