Analysis of the Painting Dying Mazzini

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Formal analysis of painting The Dying Mazzini

Is death always painful?

In his 1873 portrait, The Dying Mazzini (30 1/8” X 39 ½”, Providence, RISD Museum), Italian realist painter Silvestro Lega captures the final hours of Mazzini Morente’s life. In this painting, rather than depict the terror of death, a topic which people dislike and always associate with separation, fear, agony and sadness, Lega shows an incredibly peaceful and serene scene of dying Mazzini. With his eyes closed, Mazzini lies on a bed and is propped up against a pair of white pillows. His whole body is wrapped up in a piece of gray plaid shawl with only his hands exposed—left hand softly resting on his right. In this essay, I will show you how Lega successfully built this tranquil scene of death through his careful manipulation of colors, texture and composition in the painting, so that viewers do not feel depressed when standing in front of it.

The color tone of this painting is generally cool and muted. Lega paints the background with large pieces of pale blue and green, which occupy almost half of his work, and the beddings are uniformly white; even the plaid shawl covering on Mazzini’s body is cool gray. Generally speaking, cool colors tend to have a calming and comforting effect upon people. Since this painting is addressing to death, it is reasonable that it might evoke some negative feelings, which against Lega’s purpose of creating a peaceful death scene, so he ingeniously utilizes the visual comfort that cool hue generates to neutralize and balance the sad feelings that are associated with the topic of the painting. This is one reason that this work looks so tranquil and the viewers do not feel depressed in front of it; even it is a work with such heavy theme. Yet it is also very interesting that Lega does use some warm colors on this painting—Mazzini’s crimson sleeve. Is Lega breaking the balance here? Well, we can interpret it metaphorically. As the name...
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