Domenico Beccafumi, Painter of Steam

THE DAILY PIC: He broke the rules of Renaissance art–because there weren't any.


THE DAILY PIC: I rant about how museums are so obsessed with money-spinning, attention-getting special exhibitions that they ignore their permanent collections–and then I write a daily column that’s almost entirely built around temporary shows. In the most pleasant of penances, the next few Pics will all be drawn from the lovely collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, where I recently had the good luck to spend some time. Today’s image was painted in around 1527 by Domenico Beccafumi, one of the most neglected and idiosyncratic of Renaissance artists. It depicts the miraculous appearance of St. Michael to Pope Gregory the Great, at the moment when the archangel decided to take pity on Rome and curtail the plague his boss had sent. Even (or especially) in sacred pictures, Beccafumi raises the emotional temperature by pumping in aesthetic heat. His steam-filled style goes against our standard notion that the Renaissance was all about recasting the sacred as real and material and solid. Which just goes to show that our standard notion isn’t broad enough to cope with what actual Renaissance artists made, in their ignorance of our notions.

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