Sunday, August 24, 2008

Martyr to Rainbows

The Italian Baroque printmaker Pietro Testa (1611-1650)--his work is inset below--was obsessed with color and light, according to his biographer Baldinucci. He had a fatal fascination with moon rings, sun dogs, halos, reflections, and especially rainbows.

One night in 1650 a doleful accident befell him. He was standing on the bank of the Tiber, drawing and observing some reflections of the rainbow in the water, when, whether because he was jostled, or because of the softness of the slippery bank, he tumbled into the river and drowned. (from John Gage, Color and Culture)

Testa was perhaps the first martyr to the rainbow. Over the next few Sundays, I’m going to take a closer look at rainbows: what they’ve signified through art history, what causes them, and other curious phenomena.

8 comments:

chrisbellinger said...

A interesting post, John Constable was fond of rainbowes, there is a interesting link to theV&A Musum, London http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/5079-popup.html
Also turner was born at a time whrn there was a halo tound the sun

Timpa said...

Very interesting! I have yet to see a painting where a rainbow doesn't somehow "cheese" up the whole thing, no matter how brilliantly it was painted (even by the romantics)! I look forwards to it!

Drew said...

This should be an interesting couple of posts. I'd have to agree I've rarely seen a rainbow used well without it adding a slight cheese factor to it, but if anything could prove me wrong, it'd be this.

As a funny side, here's a video I found that shows us what happens when people don't understand fundamentals of light and water...Since it was about rainbows, I thought it might be appropriate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_c6HsiixFS8

Vickie said...

How sad! Interesting though. I do like rainbows but it is hard to not have them detract rather than add. Somehow rainbows love attention and become centerstage even when they're suppose to be a minor detail. Or maybe that's me because I do like them so much.

Eric Orchard said...

That would make a great kid's books, except for the death.
Timpa brings up an interesting point. does nature present anything that is just too cheesy to be represented?

jeff f said...

That would make a good children's book and I would leave in the artist demise, like a Grimms tale.

The moral of the story be careful around river banks.

Katherine said...

Drew! That video made me laugh and laugh.... "What is oozing out of our ground?" Thanks so much for sharing it!

judetwee said...

Once upon a time, in the land of high school astronomy, my teacher's assistant showed us a neat trick. She placed a prism in a pitcher of water, shook it up, and poured the water in equal portions into six measuring cups. Each cup held one of the six colors of a rainbow. When she poured them back into the pitcher, they all turned back into colorless water. When she added in a second prism to the pitcher and poured it out again, the water remained the same colorless water that we expected.

She did that trick three times in front of us, slowly, and none of us could figure out how she was doing it. Haven't been able to replicate it since. Magic or science? I have no idea.