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Georges de La Tour and the Enigma of the Visible

Georges de La Tour and the Enigma of the Visible

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Georges de La Tour and the Enigma of the Visible

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281 pages
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Dirilis:
Nov 7, 2017
ISBN:
9780823277452
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Deskripsi

Not rediscovered until the twentieth century, the works of Georges de La Tour retain an aura of mystery. At first sight, his paintings suggest a veritable celebration of light and the visible world, but this is deceptive. The familiarity of visual experience blinds the beholder to a deeper understanding of the meanings associated with vision and the visible in the early modern period.

By exploring the representations of light, vision, and the visible in La Tour’s works, this interdisciplinary study examines the nature of painting and its artistic, religious, and philosophical implications. In the wake of iconoclastic outbreaks and consequent Catholic call for the revitalization of religious imagery, La Tour paints familiar objects of visible reality that also serve as emblems of an invisible, spiritual reality. Like the books in his paintings, asking to be read, La Tour’s paintings ask not just to be seen as visual depictions but to be deciphered as instruments of insight. In figuring faith as spiritual passion and illumination, La Tour’s paintings test the bounds of the pictorial image, attempting to depict what painting cannot ultimately show: words, hearing, time, movement, changes of heart.

La Tour’s emphasis on spiritual insight opens up broader artistic, philosophical, and conceptual reflections on the conditions of possibility of the pictorial medium. By scrutinizing what is seen and how, and by questioning the position of the beholder, his works revitalize critical discussion of the nature of painting and its engagements with the visible world.

Dirilis:
Nov 7, 2017
ISBN:
9780823277452
Format:
Buku

Tentang penulis

Dalia Judovitz is National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of French at Emory University. Her books include Subjectivity and Representation in Descartes, The Culture of the Body, and more recently, works on Duchamp and modernist aesthetics.

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Georges de La Tour and the Enigma of the Visible - Dalia Judovitz

GEORGES DE LA TOUR AND THE ENIGMA OF THE VISIBLE

Georges de La Tour and the Enigma of the Visible

DALIA JUDOVITZ

FORDHAM UNIVERSITY PRESS

New York 2018

Copyright © 2018 Fordham University Press

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher.

Fordham University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Fordham University Press also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic books.

Visit us online at www.fordhampress.com.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Judovitz, Dalia, author.

Title: Georges de La Tour and the enigma of the visible / Dalia Judovitz.

Description: New York : Fordham University Press, 2017. | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2017022682 | ISBN 9780823277438 (hardback) | ISBN 9780823277445 (paper)

Subjects: LCSH: La Tour, Georges du Mesnil de, 1593–1652—Criticism and interpretation. | Visual perception in art. | BISAC: ART / History / Renaissance. | RELIGION / Christianity / Literature & the Arts. | PHILOSOPHY / Aesthetics.

Classification: LCC ND553.L28 J83 2017 | DDC 759.4—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017022682

to Hamish Caldwell

To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

Shakespeare, Sonnets, XXIII

CONTENTS

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. The Enigma of the Visible

2. Spiritual Passion and the Betrayal of Painting

3. The Visible and the Legible

4. Flea Catching and the Vanity of Painting

5. Painting as Portal: Birth and Death of the Sacred Image

Epilogue

Notes

Selected Bibliography

Index

Color plates

ILLUSTRATIONS

Color Plates

1 Georges de La Tour, The Hurdy-Gurdy Player, c. 1628–1630; or The Hurdy-Gurdy Man, oil on canvas, 162 × 105 cm, c. 1631–1636, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes. Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY.

2 Georges de La Tour, St. Jerome, oil on canvas, 157 × 100 cm, c. 1628–1630, Musée de Grenoble; or Penitence of St. Jerome (also called St. Jerome with Halo). Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.

3 Georges de La Tour, St. Jerome or The Penitent St. Jerome, oil on canvas, 152 × 109 cm, c. 1630–1632, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Photo: Erik Cornelius / Nationalmuseum CC BY SA.

4 Georges de La Tour, The Magdalene at the Mirror, c. 1635; or The Repentant Magdalen, oil on canvas, 113 × 92.7 cm, c. 1640; National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

5 Georges de La Tour, The Magdalene with Two Flames, c. 1640–1644; or The Penitent Magdalene, oil on canvas, 133.4 × 102.2 cm, c. 1640, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

6 Georges de La Tour, The Magdalene with the Smoking Flame, oil on canvas, 118 × 90 cm, c. 1636–1638, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation. http://collections.lacma.org/node/238963. Signed lower right: G Dela Tour.

7 Georges de La Tour, The Repentant Magdalene or Penitent Magdalen, also known as The Repentant Magdalen with the Night-Light, oil on canvas, 128 × 94 cm, c. 1640, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.

8 Detail of still life from Georges de La Tour, The Repentant Magdalene or Penitent Magdalen, also known as The Repentant Magdalen with the Night-Light, oil on canvas, 128 × 94 cm, c. 1640, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.

9 Georges de La Tour, St. Peter Repentant, also known as The Tears of St. Peter, oil on canvas, 114 × 95 cm, 1645, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1951. Signed upper right and dated: Georg de la Tour inve et pinx (?) / 1645.

10 Georges de La Tour, The Denial of St. Peter or St. Peter’s Denial of Christ, oil on canvas, 120 × 160 cm, 1650, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes. Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY. Signed and dated: G. de la Tour in et fec MDCL / 1650.

11 Georges de La Tour, The Dice Players, oil on canvas, 92.2 × 130.5 cm, c. 1650, Preston Hall Museum, Stockton-on-Tees. Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY. Signed on the left of the board of the table: George De La Tour Invet et Pinx.

12 Georges de La Tour, The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, c. 1630–1634, oil on canvas, 97.8 × 156.2 cm, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. AP 1981.06.

13 Georges de La Tour, The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds, c. 1630–1634; or The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds (Cardsharp), oil on canvas, 106 × 146 cm, 1635, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Gérard Blot / © RMN–Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY. Signed lower left: Georges de la Tour fecit.

14 Georges de La Tour, The Fortune Teller, oil on canvas, 101.9 × 123.5 cm, c. 1630–1634, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1960. Signed upper right: G. De La Tour Fecit Lunevillae Lothar.

15 Georges de La Tour, St. Jerome Reading, c. 1624; or St. Jerome, oil on canvas, 63.8 × 47.2 cm, c. 1621–1623, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015.

16 Attributed to Georges de La Tour or his son Étienne de La Tour, The Education of the Virgin, oil on canvas, 83.8 × 100.3 cm, c. 1650, The Frick Collection, New York. © The Frick Collection. Signed: de la Tour f.

17 Georges de La Tour, The Dream of St. Joseph or St. Joseph’s Dream, oil on canvas, 93 × 81 cm, c. 1635–1640, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes. Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY. Signed: G. De La Tour.

18 Georges de La Tour, The Discovery of St. Alexis or The Discovery of the Body of St. Alexis, oil on canvas, 158 × 115 cm, c. 1645–1648, Musée historique lorrain, Nancy. René-Gabriel Ojéda / © RMN–Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY.

19 Georges de La Tour, The Flea Catcher, oil on canvas, 120 × 90 cm, c. 1630–1634, Musée historique lorrain, Nancy. Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY.

20 Georges de La Tour, Boy Blowing on a Charcoal Stick, c. 1638–1642; or Boy Blowing on a Lamp, oil on canvas, 61 × 51 cm, c. 1640, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon. Philipp Bernard / © RMN–Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY. Signed top right: De La Tour f.

21 Georges de La Tour, A Girl Blowing on a Brazier, oil on canvas, 67 × 55cm, c. 1645, Private Collection, United States. Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY. Signed.

22 Georges de La Tour, The Newborn Child, oil on canvas, 76 × 91 cm, c. 1645, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes. Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.

23 Georges de La Tour, The Adoration of the Shepherds, oil on canvas, 107 × 137 cm, c. 1645, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.

24 Georges de La Tour, St. Sebastian Tended by Irene, oil on canvas, 167 × 131 cm, c. 1649, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.

25 Georges de La Tour, St. Sebastian Tended by Irene, oil on canvas, 162.6 × 128.8 cm, c. 1649–1650, Gemäldegalerie Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Photo: Jörg P. Anders.

Figures

1 Detail of a fly from Georges de La Tour, The Hurdy-Gurdy Player, c. 1628–1630; or The Hurdy-Gurdy Man, oil on canvas, 162 × 105 cm, c. 1631–1636, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes. Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY. 18

2 Detail of a book from Georges de La Tour, St. Jerome, or Penitence of St. Jerome (also called St. Jerome with Halo), oil on canvas, 157 × 100 cm, c. 1628–1630, Musée de Grenoble; Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY. 48

3 Detail of a pointing hand from Georges de La Tour, The Dream of St. Joseph or St. Joseph’s Dream, oil on canvas, 93 × 81 cm, c. 1635–1640, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes. Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY. 61

4 Detail of hands from Georges de La Tour, The Flea Catcher, oil on canvas, 121 × 89 cm, c. 1630–1634, Musée historique lorrain, Nancy. Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY. 70

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This project on the enigmatic nature of vision and visibility in Georges de La Tour evolved over a long period, building on my earlier work as a French seventeenth-century scholar on questions of subjectivity and representation. It reflects the influence of Louis Marin and René Girard along with that of other French philosophers and theorists such as Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, and Rodolphe Gasché, who helped lay the initial philosophical and aesthetic foundations for my approach to art. Funding from an American Council of Learned Societies Contemplative Practice Fellowship Grant, a University Research Council Grant, and a subsequent sabbatical grant from Emory University helped support the book’s development and writing.

Short papers presented at conferences laid the groundwork and helped shape and sharpen the book’s key concerns. It is with pleasure that I acknowledge the conference organizers’ invitations, the participants’ insightful responses, and subsequent editorial inputs. They include Robert Williams, Thomas Frangenberg, Michael Baxandall, and Georges Didi-Huberman at a conference on the beholder at the Warburg Institute; Helen Hills, Penelope Gouck, Michael Schwartz, Josef Immorde, and Christine Battersby at a conference on passions at the University of Manchester; Agnès Guiderdoni-Bruslé, Ralph Dekoninck, Nathalie Kremer, Herman Parret, and Jan Herman at a Louvain conference on the limits of imitation in Brussels; Walter Melion, Lee Palmer Wandel, Steven Kessler, Vernon K. Robbins, Jean Campbell, and Glenn Gunhouse at a conference on incarnation at Emory University; and Cristopher J. Wild, Walter Melion, Celeste Brusati, and Hall Bjørnstad at a conference on vanities at the University of Chicago. Walter Melion’s intellectual generosity and collegial support have been outstanding throughout. The book manuscript also was enriched by the thoughtful comments and suggestions of Charles Altieri and Véronique M. Fóti and by the input of an anonymous reader.

My special thanks go to Thomas C. Lay, who has skillfully shepherded the book through the publication process and provided helpful suggestions and timely support, and to Eric Newman for production, Ann-Christine Racette for design, Robert Fellman for copy editing, and Katie Sweeney for her marketing efforts. The initial preparation of this manuscript is indebted to the editorial talents of Jane Watkins, who helped streamline and clarify the manuscript’s prose, and to Kent Still’s generous bibliographical help and technical expertise. Dan Yu’s extensive assistance with research, editing, and securing illustrations has proved invaluable throughout. Starra Priestaff, Matt Roberts, and Gina Westbeld provided research and image support for the conference papers that laid the preliminary groundwork for this book project. Additional thanks are due to Taylor Adkins, who enthusiastically provided translation and other editorial support, and Jane Friedman for indexing.

My deepest gratitude and love are to my husband, Hamish Caldwell. His love, intelligence, and wit inspire and sustain my work on art and the cultivation of life itself as an art of living.

GEORGES DE LA TOUR AND THE ENIGMA OF THE VISIBLE

Introduction

The familiarity of visual experience leaves us mute inasmuch as it is so blinding.

—MAURICE MERLEAU-PONTY

Celebrated for their aura of mystery, Georges de La Tour’s (1593–1652) pictorial works continue to solicit critical interest and public fascination.¹ At first sight, his paintings suggest a veritable celebration of light and the visible world. From his diurnal works, bathed in an almost unnatural white light, to his nocturnes, illuminated by candles or torches, opening up the darkness of night to a visionary space of devotional meditation, the representation of light has become the very signature of La Tour’s pictorial practice. Anthony Blunt remarked on the notable absence of traditional seventeenth-century pictorial subjects and genres in La Tour’s works: Unless—as it is not impossible—whole categories of his paintings have disappeared, he painted no historical, mythological or allegorical pictures and no portraits.² The absence of these conventional genres marks a radical departure from the pictorial subjects and idioms that dominated seventeenth-century French painting. Moreover, unlike his artistic peers Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) and Claude Lorrain (b. Claude Gellée, 1604–1682), La Tour did not paint landscapes, skies, water, or clouds but focused exclusively on the depiction of light and the human figure.³ This lack of reference to the external world is compounded by the extreme sparseness of interior spaces, devoid of material belongings or vestiges of decoration.⁴ The impoverishment of subject matter magnifies the prominence accorded to light and the human presence that dwells within it. The imposing scale of the human figure (depicted at half-length or nearly life-size) counters the beholder’s gaze with stately magnitude. This emphatic foregrounding of the human figure achieves a diminishment of distance but does not bring the beholder any closer to resolving the mysteries that continue to haunt La Tour’s paintings.

Scholars have traditionally distinguished La Tour’s daylight works from his nocturnes based on differences in treatment of light and subject matter. It has been argued that his paintings represent two different ways of looking at the world: a profane mode, indebted to popular genre scenes of daily life; and a sacred mode, influenced by the traditions of devotional painting that gained resurgence in the wake of the Catholic Reform. However, a closer survey of La Tour’s works reveals some notable exceptions, including sacred daylight scenes (the Albi Apostles and St. Jerome) and profane nocturnes (the payment of taxes, dice players, and the flea catcher), thus inviting further inquiry into the role played by light.⁵ His treatment of light is marked by a rhetorical quality that draws attention to its tone, reflections, and affective ranges. The daylight works are characterized by a light that looks so bright as to suggest theater: It is a light that emphasizes its own artifice, since its brash unreality attests to the excess of its illusionism. The nocturnes are suffused by the flames of candles, lanterns, or torches, lending the countenance of fire to faces and hands and making them glow like burning embers in the dark. How are these portrayals of illumination to be understood, given the opposition between the theatrical depiction of light, which emphasizes its deceptive character, and its contemplative manifestations, where light functions as a figure for spiritual expression and transformation? And do these contradictory modes of display also imply a reflection on the nature of vision and its relation to the visible?

The questions raised by La Tour’s depictions of light are compounded by the visual appearance of his paintings, whose emphatic naturalism solicits the viewer’s attention. More commonly associated with genre painting, this realistic approach was deemed surprising when transposed to sacred works. Indeed, as Philip Conisbee noted, La Tour’s veristic approach to religious subjects was original in French art in the 1620s.⁶ La Tour’s pursuit of likeness between image and the natural world bears the influence of the Catholic Reform’s call for the revitalization of religious imagery in adopting a more accessible pictorial style designed to affect the beholder emotionally through its simplicity, intelligibility, and realism.⁷ La Tour built on Caravaggio’s (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1571–1610) and his followers’ depictions of religious truths in forms bearing a more direct relationship to everyday life but avoided the accusations of scandal or breaches of pictorial decorum that hounded the reception of Caravaggio’s work.⁸ However, La Tour’s use of naturalism proves deeply innovative, since he did not merely cast religious subjects in the midst of ordinary people but rather recast religious figures and scenes in settings whose insistent ordinariness calls into question the conventions of the sacred image. The excessive verism of his pictorial style solicits our attention and invites scrutiny as regards its artistic, theological, and philosophical implications. La Tour’s treatments of light and shadow are neither dramatic in their effects nor otherworldly because unlike Caravaggio he deliberately incorporated the representation of light within the framework of the picture. Moreover, he exposed its artifice by displaying in his paintings the implements required for the production of light, including candles, oil lamps, lanterns, torches, or coal sticks.⁹ By bringing into view the physical apparatus for the production of light, La Tour emphasized its human appropriation and transfer as well as highlighted its sensuous and material manifestations.

Expressed through faithfulness to the rendering of things seen, La Tour’s naturalism is not a mere stylistic conceit, since it reflects a baroque worldview imbued with metaphysical determinations. Rupert Martin has argued that the naturalism of seventeenth-century art is inextricably bound up with a metaphysical view of the world. It is for this reason that the familiar objects of visible reality may be looked on as emblems of a higher invisible reality. But that transcendental world can in turn only be apprehended through the faithful rendering of things seen.¹⁰ It is important to keep in mind that this allegorical attitude is prevalent not only in naturalist depictions of sacred images but also in genre paintings, which ostensibly present a realistic portrayal of everyday life.¹¹ The familiarity of the visible world is evoked in order to conjure another reality whose invisibility transcends the realm of sensuous experience. Indeed, the challenge extended by La Tour’s works is in depicting what painting cannot ultimately show: namely, spoken words, audition, the passage of time, shifts in states of consciousness, and changes of heart. Their suggested but elusive presence tests the bounds of the pictorial image and the beholder’s capacity to see. Closer study reveals that La Tour’s ostensible pursuit of resemblance between image and the visible world also disguises reflections on painting as craft, based on its duplicative powers, illusionism, and deceptive qualities.

Understood as a mode of thought (rather than merely as an illustrative technique), this allegorical attitude continued to be popular in the seventeenth century.¹² Paulette Choné has demonstrated the influence of emblem books in shaping the allegorical imaginary of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in Lorraine, thus providing an important resource for understanding La Tour’s use of symbolic imagery.¹³ Other important sources, such as Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend (an influential compilation of hagiographies), devotional tracts, and iconology handbooks also prove helpful in illuminating the allegorical meanings associated with the iconography of La Tour’s paintings. However, acknowledgment of La Tour’s debt to the allegorical traditions of early modern culture is merely a step toward elucidating the ways he mobilizes pictorial imagery through verbal cues in order to redefine through use its meanings and patterns of signification. La Tour’s emphasis on the importance of the word to his pictorial enterprise is figured through his repeated representations of books and acts of reading.¹⁴ Keeping in mind that baroque allegory entails the crossing of the borders of a different mode, particular attention is devoted to exploring the interplay of pictorial and verbal devices as they test the boundaries of visual and verbal representation.¹⁵ Marking the intertwining of the senses prior to their emergence in the modern period as autonomous faculties, this crossing of the eye and the ear necessitates cross-disciplinary analysis.¹⁶ Based on Walter Benjamin’s contention that baroque allegory is not convention of expression, but expression of convention, La Tour’s reliance on the interplay of word and image is in question insofar as

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