Paintings in the Movies: Art within Art


I’m fascinated by the game of mirrors and metalinguistic reflections reverberating from the use of art inside art inside art inside art, and all the implications and possible interpretations that result from this spiraling labyrinth. More precisely, this post is about famous paintings that feature in movies either as a direct element of the plot, or, more subtly, as an aid to help compose the fabric of the subtext. I’ll cover 3 interesting instances of clever uses of famous works of art and artistic style in the movies, which always cause a jolt of pleasure in the viewer who recognizes them, and, as a consequence, is able to connect the dots and understand the references.

1. The Skin I live In, by Pedro Almodovar, 2011. Let’s start with this brilliant and fairly recently Almodovar, which was heavily criticized when it first came out for its alleged shift of style from what the director had been famous for. Well, if these critics meant the movie adds layers of complexity to Almodovar’s previous works, I couldn’t agree more. However, if they are implying the movie was not funny, I don’t think they got it. It’s hilarious, although in a somewhat dark way. In addition to the humor, one important aspect of the movie is the theme of the contrast between culture and nature, between what is innate and what is fabricated and handed down by civilization; how far can one go to change what is considered natural? Without going into too much detail about the plot of the movie, let’s just say it’s about a surgeon who thinks it’s OK to recreate the human skin in order to improve it. And he tests his theory on an unlikely guinea pig: the man who allegedly abused his daughter, and whom he has turned into a woman, through an unauthorized gender reassignment surgery! Too weird? Maybe. But the point here is to discuss the symbolic meaning of the painting that decorates the surgeon’s mansion in Toledo, and keeps popping up in the scenes where he goes up and down the elaborate staircase: The Venus of Urbino, by Titian, 1538. This painting summarizes the main theme of the movie: the idealization and beautification of the real world. In this case, a beautiful goddess, with flawless white skin, concocted by an artist, conveys the impossibility that she could be recreated outside of this imaginary world. She will not leap off the painting and exist in real life.

The Venus of Urbino, by Titian, 1538

The Venus of Urbino, by Titian, 1538

 

2. Skyfall, by Sam Mendes, 2012. By far my favorite 007 movie. Everything works perfectly to make this a classic: action-packed opening scene, dreamlike credit sequence showcasing Adele’s song, a lot of fighting and shooting throughout, stunning locations (London, Istanbul, Shanghai), sophisticated dialogue, superb acting. And, as the underlying theme, we are to led to confront the universal and always worrying issue of the inexorable passage of time and how human beings cope with it. The main theme is made explicit in an anthological scene (see video clip below) where an aging 007 meets his new and young quartermaster: Q. They are both at the National Gallery in London contemplating Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, 1838, which depicts an old ship being tugged somewhere to be destroyed. These are the best lines of the blistering dialogue that ensues:

Q:    Old age is no guarantee of efficiency.

007: And youth is no guarantee of innovation.

Do I need to explain anything else?

Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, 1838.

Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, 1838.

 

Q meets James Bond:

3. Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese, 1973. In this movie the symbolism does not come from showing a specific artwork. However, you can tell the cinematography and art direction are heavily influenced by the style of Caravaggio. You seem to be watching the application in movies of Caravaggio’s artistic principles: Scorsese, just like his baroque predecessor, depicts the contemporary world (1973 New York) of the Italian Mob, shown in beautifully staged scenes where the technique of chiaroscuro or tenebrism predominates. Every scene seems to have the lighting coming from a single or, sometimes, two naked light bulbs carefully placed to focus on the foreground, where the action is taking place. The background is dimmed or blackened in shadows. The characters seem to behave as modern versions of Caravaggio and his mates themselves, rambling through the dark streets of VII century Rome (1973 New York) after nightfall, going to taverns (bars, and pool joints) and whorehouses (stripclubs). They are constantly gambling, getting involved in brawls and fights, some of those – in the movie – nicely choreographed to the Rolling Stones or the Beatles songs. In addition to that, you hardly ever see a shot without an element of the Catholic iconography featuring prominently in the setting: images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, crucifixes, photos of the pope and the interior of churches themselves. What would we call this? Post-modern baroque?

Caravaggio's Cardsharps, 1596.

Caravaggio’s Cardsharps, 1596.

Let us know what you thought of this post: write your feedback on the comments section of the blog.

 

NOTE: If you are into art, you may consider checking out our eBook series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

 

 

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching English with Art: Caravaggio


Click on the image below to download the eBook from AMAZON.COM

You will never have bored students again.

Click on the image to download the eBook

Click on the image to download the eBook

Watch the promo video clip:

http://youtu.be/Evuvs5AouQY

Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath


Most of you will be familiar with the biblical story of David, the young shepherd boy who offers to defend Israel against the Philistines, their greatest enemy, by battling single-handedly their champion, the giant Goliath, more than 3000 years ago.

The confrontation took place at a valley separating opposing hills, where each army lay. Both armies were in a deadlock as, to reach the enemy, they would have to come down the mountains where they were perching, cross the valley below and climb the opposite hill, thus making themselves vulnerable to the enemy on the higher ground.

David with Head of Goliath by Caravaggio, 1610

David with Head of Goliath by Caravaggio, 1610

Goliath proposed then that the battle should be decided by two warriors alone coming down at the same time from their respective camps and confronting each other at the bottom of the valley.

Nobody on the Israeli camp felt they were up to the challenge. Goliath was, after all, a fully armored giant armed with a spear and a sword, ready for heavy infantry combat. David, however, surprised Saul, the king of Israel at the time, by asking for permission to battle the Philistine himself. David refused the armor and weapons offered by Saul, explaining he was not used to them. He was a shepherd and his successful method for defending his flocks against lions and wolves had always been a simple sling to throw stones.

Both warriors came down. Goliath was expecting a physical fight. David, from a distance, simply put a stone on his sling, rotated it as fast as he could and threw it at the giant, hitting him right in the most vulnerable spot between his eyes. Goliath fell down and David cut his head off with a sword. The Philistines ran away.

Caravaggio was on the run for having killed a man and had been banished from Rome at the time he painted this work. So it seems obvious that he could easily relate to the theme. He was also trying to get an official papal pardon for his crime, and the fact that this painting was given as a gift to Cardinal Borghese, the papal official who could help him with this, seems like a useful strategy to meet his objective.

In the painting, we can identify clearly the main characteristics of the style of the artist, a combination of tenebrism (or chiaroscuro) and naturalism. Such characteristics are: the use of a biblical/mythological theme in which the characters portrayed ara painted from contemporary models; the theatricality and dramatization of the representation (this could be a scene out of a play or a movie); the strategic lighting of the painting, focusing harshly on the subjects and darkening everything else; the brutal realism of he scene.

This painting has been interpreted in many different ways. My favorite interpretation, though,  is the one that says this is a double self-portrait. David would represent the younger Caravaggio, whereas Goliath, the contemporary one. The fact that David does not look like someone who is celebrating a victory, but looks depressed and worried instead, can mean that the older Caravaggio regrets the fact that all the potential he had in his youth for realizing great things was wasted and destroyed by his volatile and abrasive personality. Food for thought.

We will be getting back with more interesting facts about Caravaggio’s stunning paintings in another blog post. Watch this space.

To purchase the available titles of our eBooks series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART:

Click on the links below to go to AMAZON.COM and buy your ebooks:

1. Teaching English with Art: Matisse  http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1kP

 (30 speaking and writing activities based on famous works by Henri Matisse)

2. Teaching English with Art: Picasso  http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lA

(30 speaking and writing activities based on famous works by Pablo Picasso)

3. Teaching English with Art: Caravaggio  http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1mL

(30 speaking and writing activities based on famous works by Caravaggio)

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 VERY CURIOUS FACTS ABOUT CARAVAGGIO’S PAINTINGS


Did you know…

Young Sick Bacchu (1593/1594)

Young Sick Bacchus (1593/1594)

1. …that Caravaggio’s Young Sick Bacchus (1593/1594) is in fact a self-portrait. The artist looked at himself in a mirror while he painted it. The reason he looks kind of sick is that the painter himself was convalescing from a disease, probably malaria, at the time, and had just left hospital.  Bacchus’ greenish lips and opaque eyes reflect his unhealthy condition.

 

The Death of the Virgin (detail)

The Death of the Virgin (detail) (1606)

2. …that the Church was shocked at this painting – The Death of the Virgin (1606) –  as they recognized the model Caravaggio used to depict the dead Virgin Mary. She was in fact a well-known courtesan whose bloated body had been dragged out of the river where she had drowned. Caravaggio used common people he saw in his contemporary Rome streets and also at the places these people usually hung out, such as taverns and brothels in the turn of the 16th to 17th century, to represent biblical and mythological scenes which would have taken place centuries earlier. I had a chance to see this painting myself at the Louvre and can attest, from first hand experience, to its fascination.

 

The Supper at Emmaus (1606)

The Supper at Emmaus (1606)

3. …that some people find it strange that Jesus is depicted in this painting – The Supper at Emmaus (1606) – as a much younger person and without a beard at a moment that would have taken place after his resurrection. However, Caravaggio was inspired by the Bible itself to make this choice. In the Gospel of Mark (16:12) we read that the apostles did not recognize Jesus when he first appeared to them after his death, for he had a different form. The painter thought it would be logical to depict this new “form” as a younger version of Christ himself.

 

Lute Player (1596)

Lute Player (159that

4. …that for many years there was doubt about whether the person depicted in this painting – Lute Player (1596) – was male of female. But, by the kind of shirt he is wearing and the fact that it’s open almost down to his bellybutton and yet showing no sign of cleavage, we can be pretty sure it’s a man. The Castrati (castrated, in English) were famous for their beautiful voices and very popular at the time, so this could be one of them. The effects of the hormonal changes that the body of a castrato goes through correspond to those we see in the painting, such as the hairless skin and swollen face.

5. …that experts believe the arrangement of flowers and the fruit depicted to the left on the same painting were not really done by Caravaggio. They differ significantly from his typical style. They believe those elements were added at a later stage by the Netherlandish painter Jan Bruegel.

We will be getting back with more interesting facts about Caravaggio’s stunning paintings in another blog post. Watch this space.

To purchase the available titles of our eBooks series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Teaching English with Art

Teaching English with Art

Watch our Caravaggio promo video:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

OUR BLOG “LINGUAGEM” HAS HAD A GREAT FIRST YEAR!


HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE.

Please find below some official stats sent by wordpress.com on the blog LINGUAGEM. We’ve had a great first year. Thanks for the support and we will back stronger than ever in 2015.

BLOG LINGUAGEM: 2014 official stats

BLOG LINGUAGEM: 2014 official stats

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 8.48.34 PM Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 8.52.35 PM

 

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

Sample activities from the eBook TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: PICASSO


Image 2: Acrobat on a Ball. 1905

Acrobat on a ball, Picasso

Acrobat on a ball, Picasso

Activity 4: speaking. Level A1/A2

  1. Describe the picture. What’s the predominant color?
  2. This is a painting from Picasso’s Rose Period (1904-1906). Everything is kind of pinkish. How was Picasso feeling during this period? Why do you think so?
  3. What does the color pink remind you of?
  4. Who are those people? What’s their relationship? Where do they work?
  5. The girl can stand on a ball. This is difficult to do. What else do you think she can do? Can you do anything difficult? What?

 

Activity 5: speaking. Level A2

  1. What’s this girl like? Tell us about her personality. What about the man?
  2. Describe the girl physically. Now describe the man.
  3. What do you think she likes doing in her free time? What do you like doing in your free time?
  4. Do you like the circus? What do you usually see in the circus?
  5. Pair work: students are divided into A and B. Student A lists the positive points of a circus. Student B disagrees and says why.
  6. Make a poster of a circus (a drawing or a collage or both) and present it to the class.

Activity 6: writing. Level B1/B2

  1. Write a composition imagining what your life would be like if you worked for a circus. Tell us about your job. What you usually do. The different kinds of people you work with. Do your relatives work there too? Who? (Do some research on the Internet to find out what kind of life circus people live. Use your own words in the composition. 400 – 700 words).
  2. Read your partner’s composition. Help her correct some mistakes and ask questions to help her write a more complete and better composition. Then ask her to help you with yours.

For more info about the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: Click on the link below to go to AMAZON.COM and get your ebooks: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Click on the image above to access the KINDLE STORE: Teaching English with Art: Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell

Click on the image above to access the KINDLE STORE. Teaching English with Art: Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell

Au revoir Jorge Sette

Teaching English with Art (video)


Teaching English with Art: the ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNING materials you have been waiting for:

 

 

TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MATISSE. Click here for more info: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1kP

 

TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: PICASSO. Click here for more info: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lA

 

‪#‎matisse ‪#‎picasso ‪#‎fauvism ‪#‎cubism ‪#‎moma ‪#‎tate ‪#‎teachingenglish ‪#‎language ‪#‎learningenglish

Teaching English with Art: Picasso


Click on the image below to download your book FROM AMAZON.COM

You will never have bored students again.

Teaching English with Art: Picasso

Teaching English with Art: Picasso

 

For other eBooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, please click here:

http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Check out the video clip  on our eBooks below:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Cubism: the most revolutionary art movement of the 20th century


Pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Cubism is one of the most revolutionary and seminal art movements of the 20th century. It has its origins in the post-impressionist paintings of Paul Cezanne, and aims at depicting reality in a non-naturalistic way, being considered the seed of the abstract paintings developed later on. Cubism in its more innovative and radical form lasted from 1907 to 1914, when the First World War broke out.

The end of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century were marked by great technological innovations that cried for an art form that could express these fast changes and new times. Traditional art, based on realistic works, which had been perfecting the use of perspective since the Renaissance, could not compete with the innovations of photography and film. They would be a mere replication of these more accurate methods of showing reality.

Portrait of Fernarde by Picasso, Pablo. 1909

Portrait of Fernarde by Picasso, Pablo, 1909

In an attempt to grasp the essence of the times, Picasso started to move towards more simplified depictions of objects and the human form, trying to represent simultaneously the different angles from which they could be seen, not only from a unique perspective. He started to flatten his images, making use of geometric shapes (such as cubes, hence the name of the movement) and deconstructing reality by slashing the image into different planes, producing, thus, an effect which had a more intellectual than sensorial impact on the viewer.

The iconic painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is considered the first Cubist work of art. Primitive art, such as African masks and Iberian sculptures, played an influential role in the development of Cubism. This first phase of the movement is usually known as analytic cubism, characterized by the use of dark, almost monochromatic color hues, and growing to a point where the deconstruction of reality became so radical that the viewer could hardly identify the object or person depicted. The second phase, synthetic cubism, was a lot more energetic and colorful, including the technique of collage, where real-life two-dimensional materials, such as colored paper, newspapers or even hair ribbons, were glued to the painting.

Bottle, Guitar, and Pipe by Picasso, Pablo

Bottle, Guitar, and Pipe by Picasso, Pablo. 1912

It’s hard to pinpoint when Cubism really finished, although we usually place it in the historical period between 1907-1914. It actually did not end, but transformed itself and evolved into other styles in the following decades.

Even today we can identify strong influences of Cubism in architecture, design and, of course, the arts in general.

NOTE: If you teach languages, you might want to check out our series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ENGLISH available  from AMAZON.COM: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Teaching English with art

Teaching English with art

Au revoir

Jorge Sette