Physical Torture & Psychological Stress (Christianity in Valentin de Boulogne)


More than the secular genre scenes of Roman low life, the biblical paintings are almost all over the top at the big  Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio show still on view at the Met. A successor of Caravaggio and himself quite the bad boy, Valentin (1591-1632) was a major player, a master of a new realism, on the art scene in Rome. You’ll note the artist’s early death. Full of physical torture and psychological stress, the biblical paintings are super violent and unsettling, the figures, as suggested on one of the wall panels, brought uncomfortably close to the surface of the image. Killers go about their work with grim determination. That seems to be the dominant religious theme. Everyone looks pensive. There is not a moment of solace, no sign of relief. I’m not sure how this happened, but the color red predominates in all of the pictures I shot. It disrupts somewhat the realism, or draws it out, the bright garment adding a flash of color that wraps its figure in raw life. And then there’s all that muscle, the muscle of the martyrs and their executioners. The models are so young. Their animate youth brings something extra horrible to the violence on view.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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