In 1816, François-Joseph Navez Recasts Bellini as a Realist

THE DAILY PIC: A pupil of Jacques-Louis David re-imagines Renaissance pictures.


THE DAILY PIC: The scholar Thomas Crow showed this image, the 1816 Saint Veronica of Milan by François-Joseph Navez, in last week’s Mellon Lecture at the National Gallery in Washington. He was discussing the painter Jacques-Louis David and his pupils, but something else struck me when this went up on the screen: That this is an attempt by Navez to extract information about reality from Renaissance pictures, then rebroadcast it in a more illusionistic form. In other words, Navez looked at the paintings of Giovanni Bellini and his peers and treated them like photographs of some lost, alternate reality he could draw on–as though their stylizations and pictorial devices gave news of how the world, some world, really might look. Then he took that “news” and used it to make his own painting, which is even more proto-photographic than the Bellini. He’s added a kind of timeless “reality effect” to Renaissance paintings that usually look both fairly unreal and entirely of their moment. But here’s the important thing: I think that, by accident, Navez has captured how Renaissance art felt to its original audience. Looking at a Bellini, the citizens of Venice saw something as real as a Navez, or as a National Geographic cover. (Collection of the MsK museum in Ghent, Belgium)

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