Noli me tangere

A comparison of the baroque naturalism of Alonso Cano and the baroque classicism of Anton Mengs After last week’s comparison of two paintings of Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, this week as an Easter meditation I offer something similar, but this time each painting is of the scene when Mary Magdalen sees Christ in the garden and he tells her not to touch him – noli me tangere.

This time the offerning in baroque naturalism comes from Alonso Cano, the 17th century Spanish artist who had the same teacher as Velazquez, Francesco Pacheco. Cano is perhaps more well know for his wood carvings in polychrome (ie painted in many colours). The baroque classicist painting of the same subject is done by the German artist of the 18th century called Anton Raphael Mengs.

Baroque classicism (as exemplified here by Mengs) seeks to evoke more a sense of the classical heritage of Western culture and, inspired by Raphael the artist of 100 years before, often look as thought they are staged scenes from a Shakespeare play set in ancient Rome. Stylistically, there is always more colour and the edges are sharper and cleaner – sometimes this can tend to give them a more sterile and less lively feel, although I don’t get this feeling with Meng’s painting shown here. In contrast the baroque naturalist style use monochrome and broad focus much more and has a more vigorous, spontaneous feel. My preference generally is for baroque naturalism although I in this case I like both examples equally. To the modern eye, although once pointed out we can distinguish between the two streams, they still look similar. At the time though, each school thought of itself as very different from the other. Each saw theirs as the more authentic form of sacred art and and would be openly rude and dismissive about the other.

After the Englightenment the two streams of baroque art separated and became the Romantic and Neo-Classical movements. The developments, although subtle, were nevertheless destroyed the baroque and with it an authentic Christian tradition in sacred art.

Paintings: above and bottom, Anton Raphael Meng; immediately below: Alonso Cano

David Clayton

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David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at thewayofbeauty.org.

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