Enrique Simonet – Anatomy of a Heart (1890)
I ❤ this so, so much.
Yeah, the rim light along the pathologist’s left shoulder lacks any vestige of subtly. And the two-point perspective is pretty much an attention-starved, sugar-rushed five year old running around screaming lookatmelookatme.
Simonet’s work runs a gamut of influences but his work is consistently unsubtle and painstakingly, hyper composed. The trick with this image is that whereas his work usually features large groups of people presented frozen in position to utter perfection, the stillness resonates here in a way that doesn’t contradict the material.
When you pay careful attention, you start to notice that the regardless of whether it’s clumsy or not the rim light actually causes both the texture of the pathologist’s jacket as well as emphasizes the masterful treatment of graded light on the walls; the unsubtle two-point perspective shepherds the eye across the frame in a way that upon first pass communicates the trope and upon subsequent passes patiently indicates small details, ex. the shape of the heart echoing the shape and heft of the sponge, the exquisitely rendered reflection in the wash basin and the green doodad in in the container on the window ledge.
I might refer to obvious influences: to Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp… but Simonet is actually far less out-and-out theatrical in his staging (I’m reminded of Tony Zhou’s ingenious contrasting of uninteresting framing/blocking in most current Hollywood multiplex fodder vs. the inimitable Akira Kurosawa); while the greenish hint of the woman’s skin is a quote from Caravaggio via Delacroix’s infamous amplification.
In effect, Simonet’s painting one-ups every single one of it’s antecedents. Not through any sort of Newtonian humblebragging but by wearing it’s love and respect on it’s shirtsleeve, demonstrating them through action instead of discursively holding forth on them. The truly great ones always seem to take a perspective on their own work reminiscent of brilliant folk historian Utah Phillips’ metaphor for the relationship between history and the individual:
Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and
everything they thought and every struggle they went through and
everything they gave their lives to, and every song they created, and
every poem that they laid down flows down to me – and if I take the time
to ask, and if I take the time to see, and if I take the time to reach
out, I can build that bridge between my world and theirs. I can reach
down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world.