Public Relations Intern
Maybe it’s the Italian blood that runs through my veins, but I am a sucker for Italian baroque art. Baroque art is characterized by extreme light and dark, exaggerated movement, and religious figures portrayed as the everyday person. The Roman Catholic Church typically commissioned baroque art to persuade viewers to convert back to Catholicism during the later part the Protestant Reformation.
In the heart of our West gallery hangs The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence (1625/30) by Massimo Stanzione. Saint Lawrence was a deacon of the Church of Rome and a victim of Emperor Valerian’s persecution of the Christians in the mid 200s CE. Saint Lawrence was believed to be roasted on a gridiron, which Stanizone portrays in this large oil on canvas.
The background is incredibly dark with an intense spotlight on Saint Lawrence. The movement is exquisite. He is surrounded by busy men preparing to burn him alive, the heavenly baby angel is flying toward him with a black cloth (note that Saint Lawrence is wearing white), and he is reaching up to the sky as he falls back on the gridiron, as if calling out to The Lord himself to take him. He doesn’t look at peace, though. He looks scared, and it’s this emotion that The Church used to persuade Romans to convert back to Catholicism.
It was incredibly taboo at the time to portray a higher being in such a raw way. How could Saint Lawrence be scared to die? Should I be scared to die, too? Thus was the persuasive reasoning used to convert Italians back to Catholicism.
Baroque isn’t just a movement; it’s a portrayal of humanity at its best and worst. It’s light and darkness. It’s good and evil. It’s common but uncommon. It’s artistic proof that the most creative people must see differently, and there’s beauty and truth in that.