The Moment of Caravaggio

Julian Bell writes:

The upright canvas, some 4’6’’ by 3’, stood on Salvator Rosa’s easel, prepared with a burnt umber ground. The painter first attacked it, as far as I can see, with a black-loaded brush, dragging a jagged stuttery line almost from top to bottom. That was to be the rock edge of Etna’s crater. Where the volcanic glow was to fall, Rosa slapped on a queasy mid-tone mix of sienna and smalt blue; capped it with brisk blurts of white; later, knocked the resulting rock planes back into readable order with red and yellow glazes. But that vertical divide of his, tumbling and forking in ever crazier lurches, still retains a lightning urgency. Here you meet the gestural painting of the 1660s, as vehement and imperious in its own way as the art of Clyfford Still.

(LRB 2 December 2010)

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