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May 13, 2020

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Raffaelli Notre Dame.jpg

Notre Dame, Paris
Jean-François Raffaëlli

Other than three months instruction under Jean-Léon Gérôme, Raffaelli had no formal painting training. He was an actor before deciding to be a painter and was able to exhibit one of his landscapes in the Salon. His style and subject matter was closer to the Realists than traditional Academicism, however; he depicted his era and its people as he saw them. This caught the attention of Edgar Degas who invited Raffaelli to exhibit with the Impressionists. Monet got pissy about letting a non-Impressionist into their space though, so he refused to exhibit that year.

While considered a Realist, this work is definitely impressionistic. The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris seems to be a favorite subject for Raffaelli as he paints it many times from different vantage points over the course of his career, in different styles and media. Monet has a very famous series of images of Rouen Cathedral that Raffaelli might be referencing, but Monet’s Rouen works are a series, these of Notre Dame are not. This may have been a response to Monet’s snub or Raffaelli’s experimenting with Impressionism because of his direct exposure to it, but it’s hard to say. I could find no date for this specific work.

I have never been to Paris so I cannot comment much on the geography or experience of seeing Notre Dame live. I’ll leave that to the better-traveled members of the Horde to expand on those themes. I had to rely on Google Maps street-view for reference.

Raffaelli is using a majority of the stylistic elements to create a dazzling portrait of the great Cathedral, especially light. While there are clouds in the background, there are none over the city itself, allowing the sun to light up the scene. It seems to me that Raffaelli is shining a spotlight on the heart of Paris—its historical, political and spiritual center. The shadow to the left is small and insignificant; I barely notice it. The brightness of the rest of the work renders it almost invisible.

The angle of the sun is high. The time of day is sometime around midday, summer. The light is warm and bright, enhancing the next element: color, specifically blue and white. The composition is divided into stripes of alternating these hues, three of which converge at the middle left. The two white stripes frame the cool blue of the Seine. This blue is repeated in the sky and Cathedral.

These three stripes also compose the bottom half of the painting with the bridge acting as the centerline of the work. The entire top half is dominated by the Cathedral itself. The building stretches from this centerline almost all the way to the top frame of the work. Its lines and textures are rendered in strips of blue and white, just like the work as a whole. These strips mimic the brushstrokes used to create the sky, but the textures in the church are more defined than the gentle, feathery blends of the clouds. Finally, the blue and white areas mirror each other—where the area is mostly blue, it has white flecks, and where the area is mostly white are blue flecks. This unifies the work.

Raffaelli also contrasts lines. The whole bottom half is dominated by horizontal or near-horizontal lines. They lazily recede into the distance or criss-cross each other to create a quiet grid on which details are placed. Above the centerline, the lines become vertical. I think this helps to emphasize the central Gothic structure in the center. Gothic architecture is a riot of verticality. The idea was to lift your eyes (and soul) upwards towards the sky, heaven and, ultimately, God. The verticality also expands the interior to allow for more space, ventilation and light. Notre Dame is silhouetted against the sky. This allows for the church to be prominent without being large. It can sit in the background, using the same colors as the rest of the work, and still be the focus of the piece. Like a queen on her throne at the far end of a crowded hall, Notre Dame still reigns over the scene.

Raffaelli completed this work by adding a green horizontal stripe through the center. This breaks up the monotone palette, but keeps the cool, bright summery feel. Any other color would look odd, and be way too distracting. For example, change the season to mid-Autumn when the leaves are turning, or even starting to turn. Any other color besides the adjacent green would overpower the brightness of the white or the purity of the blue, and destroy the tranquility of the work. The green is kept to small areas and acts as accents to the main view. They add life, especially since the humans are almost unnoticeable here.

Finally, for me, I like the juxtaposition of the Gothic architecture, the classical bridge and the modern city. Together they tell a complete story of Paris, its history, and its culture up to this time.

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posted by Open Blogger at 09:30 AM

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