The Blue Blot

notes, finds & fragments of research

Cardboard & Renaissance ~ Tagliavini’s ‘1503’

Photography has long been considered one of the most modern of art forms, despite the fact that it has been around since the early 19th Century. It is also one of those art forms which you either like or dislike. I know a few people who are great photographers, some even reach the status of artists. Often I do see the beauty of their work, especially when hearing the stories about the underlying motives and the process of creation. But still, even then, it only remains for a short time before it floats away, leaving behind only the existence of yet another nicely done picture. This is an experience which I don’t encounter when looking at portraits (I could not care less about landscapes). To me the painted portrait carries more value and appreciation than a photograph; this, of course, has everything to do with the era, artist, sitter, iconography and the techniques used. Undoubtedly all of these mentioned factors can be applied to the art of (portrait) photography. So this probably means that I should be more open towards photography and learn about those parts of the picture which are basically identical with the ones on portrait. Who knows, perhaps, one day I will see the flashing light and consider it equal.

Nevertheless, there is always an exception to the settled opinion. I have a soft spot for modern artists who use history in their work; they have my full blown admiration when it also ‘works’. One set of pictures has my unchanged esteem from the very first time I laid my eyes upon them. I’m talking about the photos made by Christian Tagliavini, titled 1503.

You might have guessed already, it has a historical link – to the Renaissance and, more particular Italian High Renaissance. Is there any era that has given us more beauty and elegance? no, not really – at least in my opinion. I have come to adore the so-called Manierismo (or Mannerism), this slightly surreal way of depicting scenes and people with elongated limbs and proportions, at times unnatural poses etc. One can see very clearly that it cannot be as it should be in reality, that there are even elements which are absurd or strange to the body, but still… somehow it is so acceptable that it becomes reality. It is the time where intellectual sophistication surpassed natural qualities; approaching the world according to the times fashion and ideals instead of accepting what was a fact. And all of that is often depicted in bright colours, clear lines and heavy contrasts. You either embrace it, or wholeheartedly detest it.

Tagliavini, in my opinion, has managed to take the best of this five hundred year old tradition and managed to transform to a new style. In this he seems to have found inspiration in the works of one of my favourite artists: Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572) who’s portraits are widely known for their precise attention to details in rich fabrics and objects, unearthly settings and which complement the overall still elegance of the portrayed person. In all honesty, of course, it cannot be said that he is fully mimicking this artist, nor other Italian artists of the Renaissance. But with using the basics and enlarging their way of scene-setting, he achieved something that will never leave your memory again.

I visited this exhibition at Diemar/Noble Photography in London, last winter.  It was part of a ‘double exhibition’ of his work by the title of Cut Out & Keep, alongside the series of 1503 there was Dame di Cartone; both having in common that the costumes were historically inspired and made by Tagliavini himself and, yes, with the use of cardboard. I remember that, while strolling past these portraits, it was so clear to me that he understood this bygone era and that by his work others would as well. By using cardboard he reached the exact surreal look it has on the Renaissance paintings; the irony being that Tagliavini’s models actually wore it, whereas the Renaissance sitters most likely didn’t have to bother.

To make a long posting short: Tagliavini is added to my shortlist of favourite modern artists and here is why…


(All photo’s from the former website of Diemar/Noble Photography (the gallery closed in August 2012), with full undoubted (copy)rights to Christian Tagliavini)

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