The Softness of an Icon

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The Dead Christ Supported with Angels by Rosso Fiorentino, 1524-27 in the William I. Koch Gallery of the Museum Of Fine Arts Boston represents the Mannerism style of 16th century Italian Renaissance. (MFA wall label) The mannerist painters of this era used color and light to enhance and bring attention to different features of the human body. In addition, artists created three dimensional effects by bending and shaping their figures and positioning them in a new unique ways on a two dimensional surface. Paintings during this period in art history were incredibly dramatic and detailed; due to the introduction of oil paints which were "built up" on the canvas using many thin layers of color that created a glazed look. These layers of oil gave artists a chance to convey a kind of perspective and depth that tempera paintings and frescos of the Early Renaissance could not. Artists also brought elegance and thoughtfulness to gestures and expressions made by these figures that were often elongated and twisted into unique and unrealistic positions. Backgrounds and foregrounds were not as much the focus of these paintings; rather Mannerist painters dared you to be very aware of the FEELING in their works by crowding a space with as much movement as possible, and in some cases, painting "extreme close-ups". Christ is depicted here as a fiery redhead who's body is so tremendous that it appears to be almost too large for the panel he is painted on. In fact, he is so large that the delicate crown of thorns on his head is barely visible. Rosso has made a conscious decision to show the Messiah in a very human way, but certainly not perfect or ideal. His muscular, languid body practically drips off the panel. We know he is "supported" by Angels because of the title of the painting, but is he? If not for the gentle, yet improbable bend in his foot, we might think him to be floating in this space. Another thing Rosso has done is to show only the lance wound and not...
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