Friday, November 27, 2015

Mountains rising like teeth from the plain

Whilst in the Courtauld Gallery earlier this week to see the Peter Lanyon exhibition I had a look at the permanent collection and spent some time wondering at the landscape background in an early sixteenth century painting by L'Ortolano, Woman taken in adultery.  Instead of a simple grass bank behind the figures, there is a blur of green in which leaves seem to float like seaweed.  To the left, deep blue rocks frame what appears to be a fast flowing river, looking as if it had been photographed with a long exposure.  There is another painting attributed to L'Ortolano down the road at the National Gallery (below) in which these effects are less marked, but where areas of grass and rock, painted in short Renoirish strokes, bear some resemblance to the surface of water.

L'Ortolano, Saints Sebastian, Roch and Demetrius (detail), c. 1520

The Met own an Adoration of the Shepherds, about which the curators remark 
that 'as in so many Ferrarese paintings, the landscape is enchanting, with itsmountains "rising like teeth from the plain," as they were once described.'  There is a disquieting contrast between the pastoral middle ground and those strange storm-cloud like forms rising from the land beyond the water.  Some more of these billowing mountains can be seen in the Fitzwilliam's St John the Baptist (right) and the Galleria Doria Pamphilj's Nativity with Saints.  In these too they contrast with serene, sunlit scenes just behind the main figures.  At this time painters in Ferrara such as L'Ortolano, Garofalo and Mazzolino seem to have come under the influence of Northern landscape painting. You find rock formations rearing above the landscape in paintings by Joachim Patinir, but they usually resemble shards of ice or crystals.  L'Ortolano's look as if they have surged briefly into life and could soon blow away, like a summer storm.

L'Ortolano, The Adoration of the Shepherds (detail), before 1527

L'Ortolano, Nativity with Saints (detail),1520s

No comments: