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Messing with masterpieces

Celebrities these days are performers - actors, singers, dancers. Once upon a time, they were painters. Royalty attended their funerals. Now the Queen of England knights movie stars.

Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini, Rome

So it goes. Theater, film, Netflix, Hulu keeps life in motion. It is what it is.

But when an artist makes movies out of paintings, as Rino Stefano Tagliafierro does in his film “Beauty,” he misses the very point of painting, which is to suspend a singular moment in time and hold it fast forever.

Consider Tagliafierro’s animation of Caravaggio’s painting “Judith Beheading Holfernes.” The painting imparts the enormity of Judith’s act by stilling the scene at that heightened point in time before the assassination. But Tagliafierro takes you away from that chilling instant straight to the end point of decapitation.

Goodbye Hellenism, hello Hollywood.

Great painting doesn’t need to be brought to life. It has its own life. Consider, say, Winslow Homer’s painting “Northeaster,” a description of a brewing storm with only a single surging wave high and fierce just before it breaks against a rock. You don’t need locomotion to feel its threat. You don’t need to see the heaving water break. Seeing a white cap ripple away would dilute its threat.

What comes next now – making figures in sculpture move? Imagine, say, Michelangelo’s figure of the Biblical hero David, who stood up to the menacing Goliath. At the same time he is posed in a calm stance before battle, he furtively palms a stone in one hand along with his sling hung casually over his shoulder. But Michelangelo shows you more than a vision of governed might. He shows you the boy's state of mind. A furrow carved into his brow tells you that he is scared, which has the effect of making his brave bearing all the more brave.

Now imagine seeing David kinetic, shooting his projectile and killing Goliath. You’re liable to miss his furrowed brow, the sign of his courage in the face of fear.

So, make your movies, folks, stage your plays, dance your heads off. Just leave painting alone.

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