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Orazio Gentileschi

March 2, 2011


St. Cecilia altarpiece

Orazio Gentileschi 1620.

Oil on canvas.

Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

Orazio Gentileschi was looking at many different artists while painting this altarpiece.  He incorporated Raphael’s grace, Caravaggio’s tenebrism, and Carracci color.

Gentileschi took Caravaggio’s naturalism in a different direction.  Instead of using street models, he used naturally beautiful models, one would assume they were hand picked for their appearance.  He was also interested in showing the human body as natural as possible in motion.

The dynamic circular and diagonal composition of this altarpiece resembles the work of the Carracci.  Together with Gentileschi’s color, this piece serves as an example of the influence contemporary artists had on each other.


St. Cecilia and the Angel

Orazio Gentileschi 1610.

Oil on canvas.

National Gallery, Washington D.C.

This devotional piece is much different than Gentileschi’s St. Cecilia altarpiece.  Unlike the altarpiece, it shows nothing of Cecilia’s sainthood.  He merely has depicted the saint as the patron of music.

Compared to the altarpiece, this smaller canvas resembles the style of Caravaggio much closer.  Since Cecilia is devoid of her saintly appearance, excepted for an angel, this picture is more like a genre scene than a religious.   Also, Gentilischi has combined Caravaggio’s later tenebrism and dark background with the genre scene.

Different from Caravaggio is Gentileschi’s color in St. Cecilia. Although lighting in the foreground is drastically different than the background, the figures are not dramatically high lit or shadowed, as Caravaggio’s figures would have been.  Gentileschi lights the scene with full color.  The saint wears a bright red dress, a dramatic hue Caravaggio did away with toward the end of his career.  Contrasting this pop of color is the angel’s blue gown.  The picture plane seems to be divided in half, earthly realm on one side, heavenly on the other (Duffy-Zeballos).

Duffy-Zeballos , Lisa. “Orazio Gentileschi’s St. Cecilia and an Angel.” Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2003;5(5):456  <;

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