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Rape of the Sabine Women

January 31, 2011



























Rape of the Sabine Women

Pietro da Cortona 1629-1631.

Oil on canvas.

For Palazzo Sacchetti, now in Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome
Pietro da Cortona’s painting for Giovanni Francesco Sacchetti and emulates many characteristics of Baroque painting (Merz).  It also closely follows Heinrich Wölfflin’s Principles that define Baroque art (Minor 28).

Pietro rendered this scene in a painterly manner, inspired by Titian.  The figures are not plastic or defined by sharp contour, and edges are blurry.  There are quite a few picture planes in this single composition, each one set at a distance that is farther from the viewer (indicated by smaller figures than the plane in front of it.)  This idea of planer recession is adapted from Renaissance techniques, but made Baroque in that the space seems infinite.

This scene of chaos is presented to us in such a way that leads us to believe we are only seeing a portion of the action.  There are no repoussoir figures to keep the viewer out of the painting – for all we know, we can be in the midst of the scene as it goes on, encircling us.  It does, however, have a theater, stage-like quality about it.  Figures on the sides seem to be entering and exiting from the wings.  There is a lack of co-extensive space.

Pietro follows a sort of decorum in the depiction of this scene.  Perhaps inspired by Bernini’s Pluto and Persephone, or the other way around, the figures in Pietro’s Sabine composition seem to dance across the picture plane in intense contrappasto.  The strong dark skinned men grab into the pale, flailing women, a contrast in color and direction.  The figures vibrate in anguish.

There are a number of characters in this composition.  Pietro da Cortona unites them in color and subordination.  One does not look at this scene and see individual players, but a scene as a whole with all parts working together, relying upon each other for context.  He sprinkles the composition with pops of color and chiaroscuro.  This, along with the strong diagonal forces, controls the eye throughout the painting.

Merz, Jörg Martin. “Cortona, Pietro da.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 31 Jan. 2011

Minor, Vernon Hyde. Baroque & Rococo: Art & Culture.  Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, Inc.

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