After Cézanne the movement towards abstraction, purely formal composition, is inevitable, as we customarily see in the pseudo-geometric experimentations of cubism. In Braque’s Woman with a Guitar (1913), the viewers gaze is meant to alternate between an experience of two and three dimensions on the painted surface as well as between recognizable fragments of visible reality and abstract, geometric configurations. For a short period, Picasso and Braque, working together in the same studio, suppress color altogether, along with their signature on the painting, as in this Fruit Dish (ca. 1912), as if to erase the intention of the artist as well from the scene of representation. As if emulating Christianity’s forward progress of institutional self-critique and disenchantment with its own hieratic authority, painting is on a path that will work itself out of a job, conspiring by mid-century in what Harold Rosenberg described as The Dedefinition of Art. Before surveying the impasses implied by those developments, we need to recall that the strange fact that Western art has a history that evolves over time to a point where it flirts with its own devolution is owed to its origin in the doctrine of the Incarnation, where divine revelation inserts itself in human time and in mortal flesh.
Arasse finds that one of the first works in perspective was an Annunciation scene and argues that this is not by mere happenstance. Perspective constructs an image of the world commensurable with man and measurable by man, while the Annunciation is the instant where the infinite comes into the finite, eternity into time, the incommensurable in the measurable; with the Incarnation the Creator comes into the creature, the unfigurable into figure. Saint Bernard of Siena sought to explain the Incarnation by analogy with the artist creating his world. The Annunciation provides a warrant for figuration and also serves as a privileged theme to confront perspective with its limits and its possibilities of representation. For, upon reflection, the Incarnation has to be the hardest thing to represent as a scene in the whole world of Christian iconography, or in the whole world anywhere. How do you portray the becoming flesh of a notoriously incorporate, unfigurable being, deus omnipotens? How do you depict what by definition is (the) unrepresentable? To represent the spirit is to represent no thing, and to represent the flesh is idolatrous–were it not for the Incarnation, as art historians concur. We shall see it portrayed in early Annunciation scenes as an event, which is thematized as such, as we shall see, by dialogue inscribed from Luke’s gospel, a dramatization or scene by which worshippers are to understand and to visually experience, within the limits of the visible cannily manipulated by the artist, “the word made flesh.”
Calvin on the Eucharist: Two Views | Evangelical …
The gold background is divine light, gold being the color of the unfigurable, of infinity, of divinity itself; it shines behind the candles whose light would be reflected by the gold with which the painted column blends imperceptibly. In the lower portion, where perspective is deployed, the column becomes an opaque body. It is a figure of the Incarnation. There is perspective here already, the vanishing point being roughly where the column begins to emerge from the gold background, which is to say, at the center of the scene, at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines between the angel and Mary, heaven and earth, infinite and finite. Perspective is where space, the created world is commensurate with humans. The column is in the form of a spiral, a detail which Arasse does not comment upon; a band of gold circles downward and upward, as if to signify the intertwining of the two worlds, the spirit and the flesh, heaven and earth. In this early Renaissance work, oscillation between two planes, immanent and transcendent, is seen, marked, remarked as language, and engraved as a scenic event. For thanks to the Incarnation, divine transcendence is neither exclusively relegated to heaven above, nor is worldly immanence lacking a transcendent dimension or orientation. It is fair to say that oscillation is the theme of the scene, as both its optical and devotional program.