Monday 17 January 2011

Rubens, Van Dyck, Monet and Carpaccio (with a Twist)

Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote that:

...the poet ranks far below the painter in the representation of visible things and far below the musician in that of invisible things. 

However, he didn't seem to notice that the poet was the only one who could wander in both realms, and describe the place where they meet, which is pretty much the human life.

Painting would seem to be the opposite of language, and yet painters have drifted into our vocabulary.

Some words are of obvious origin, such as rubenesque to describe those ladies of delightful plumpness, or Van Dyck to describe the pointiest of beards.

Some require a brief explanation. You might be happy to be described as a Monet, if you didn't realise that it meant that you were beautiful from a distance, but rather disappointing from close up.

Others are as obscure as a comma in hell. Few people have heard of the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1526). He wasn't the greatest artist ever. In fact, his main talent was in the mixing of paints. He did the most lovely reds, and became famous for them. Have a look at the picture of the bedroom on the right. That is the work of a man who knows what his talent is.

There was an exhibition of Carpaccio paintings at the Doge's Palace in Venice in 1961. Just round the corner from the Palace, at Harry's Bar, a chef called Giuseppe Cipriani was wondering what to call his brand new dish of thinly sliced red meat. And that, dear reader, is why carpaccio is called carpaccio.

The dish and its name caught on, and that is why if you do a Google image search for Carpaccio, poor old Vittore is now down in ninth place, behind the food to which he posthumously donated his name.

Giusseppe Cipriani also invented a cocktail, which he called a Bellini after another Venetian painter, Giovanni Bellini*. Giovanni Bellini painted what's probably my favourite painting: the San Giobbe Altarpiece.

*I assume. I haven't checked up whether it was the Elder (and that's the worst line in Brideshead). 

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