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I thought that we could look at a fabulous Christmas painting by Caravaggio the Adoration of the Shepherds.

Created: 1609

Medium: Oil paint

Caravaggio's Baroque work is starkly different and revolutionary from Renaissance predecessors. To start, these divine figures are represented as ordinary people of the times. They are barefoot with ordinary robes. There is no divinity in the barn, either. There is no holy light source to shine the entire scene and make it overly-apparent that a divine event is occurring. Instead, the background is extremely dark with only a small single light source. It seems as though the space was lit by a single candle, as it might have realistically been during the actual event. We know that in the biblical account, Mary and Joseph were extremely poor. Their halos are almost barely seen, in contrast to the ornate halos of the Renaissance. Other than the halos, the clasped hands of the shepherds is the only thing hinting of any religious importance in the painting. There was nothing overtly marvelous about the birth of Christ. Caravaggio renders this aspect perfectly. Caravaggio's compositions are also non-classical: he arranges his figures along imaginary diagonal lines rather than a perfectly center linear composition like the Renaissance. There is a box of tools in the foreground, presumably Joseph's since he was a carpenter. There is a single roughly baked loaf of bread as well, to reiterate Mary and Joseph's poverty. There is nothing pre-arranged in the painting. It looks like a photograph that would have been taken in the exact moments after Christ's birth. Stylistically, Caravaggio used a technique he was famous for developing called chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is a contrast between dark and light. Using this technique heightened the drama of the work to make it seem raw and magnify the emotional aspects of the work. Chiaroscuro forces the viewer to focus on the figures and the event rather than other things going on in the background.’ Have a look at the hands in the painting - they are great - they seem over large - but they work very well as they follow the diagonal down to the carpentry tools in the bottom left of the picture. Have a look at the lights in an abstract sense and observe this sense of pattern - again down towards the carpentry tools. As with the Bruegel paintings he uses a golden rectangle which is of course deliberate. I have also added my calculations around how he used the overall (almost) golden rectangle to compose the picture - I divided the size of his canvas by ten, to enable me to work this out to scale in my sketchbook - I attach my workings out.

I also attach an article about the relationship between Celia Paul and Lucian Freud . Celia Paul is a fabulous artist in her own right. Tearful secret of Freud’s young muse

I also attach again a link to our Christmas Exhibition at the Arts Centre - I have had some great feedback about the high quality of the work!

Links : via our website - and on Youtube

I do hope that we will be able to resume our classes sometime in the New Year - at least there is a vaccine on the horizon!

May I wish you and your family all the very best for Christmas and the New Year,


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