Saturday, August 02, 2008
Landscape in The Assumption of the Virgin
Misty hills which might almost be a photograph. Zoom out to include the details of trees and a building and the painting looks more like a late eighteenth century oil sketch, a picturesque view of Italy:
Zoom out further and the landscape includes a scattering of figures. Seeming less realistically painted, they stand looking down at the river in attitudes of calm, echoing the slim trees. The pale blue sky and gentle curve of the river give the scene a beautiful delicate atmosphere. The painting now seems older - it dates from the early sixteenth century.
Zoom out again and the landscape is revealed as a backdrop. The painting is The Assumption of the Virgin by Milanese painter, Bergognone (active 1481–1522). The cloud is part of the figure of the Virgin and drifts free of the distant view, the brown rocks in the foreground separate the religious drama from the peaceful scene beyond.
And here is the full painting,a large vertical altarpiece, in which the landscape is completely dominated by the figures. I've not come across Bergognone in any writing on landscape art. The fact that Italian Renaissance landscape painting takes place in the interstices of Biblical and mythological stories make it quite easy to overlook even the places or imaginary views painted by those artists who do receive their due in histories of landscape art - Bellini, Leonardo, Titian... But peer into the depths of the less famous works in public museums (like the Met, where I photographed this painting), and you can be transported to some surprising places.