An Interpretation of the Holy Family by Giuliano BugiardiniAfter the decline of the Roman Empire at the turn of the 5th century in Europe, Christianity, as the emerging dominant religion of that time, gradually became a salient ideology which affected almost every aspect of the Western civilization as a whole. A significant example of the influence of the Christian church would be the change from a liberal, democratic and representative government to an autocratic, theocratic and feudal form of governance in most European societies. Such a transformation spilled over the general outlook of the people, including their way of life, who lived during that era (Kallen 50).
Needless to say, the artistic milieu during the Middle Age saw the production of art that was heavily steeped into the portrayal of religious teachings and Christian dogmas or more specifically famous biblical images and figures (ibid.). Thus, it was commonplace to see art that was replete with theological and ideological characters e.g. the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the Saints. Accordingly, the main subject matter of the arts did not deviate from this concept.Giuliano Bugiardini (1475-1577) lived through such a period as a visual artist in late High Renaissance in Italy.
His paintings provide concrete proof of the extant religious rubric of his time i.e. the Holy Family, the Holy Family with St. John the Baptist, and the same with St.
Anne. (Kallen 113). However, beside the fact that the popular art subjects of the period usually encompass biblical figures, Bugiardini belonged to a group of artist, who employed Mannerism as a distinct art style; whose discipline and method evinced a sense of refinement, virtuosity and a light form of naturalism (Bousquet 5).
The concept of Mannerism as a form of art technique is two-fold and is a matter that is being hotly debated by historians. Yet, most scholars agree that it refers to a style which smacks of the brand of Italian Renaissance response to the extant religious hegemony that pervaded culture (13). In other words, Mannerism showcased biblical figures in such method that is reminiscent of the pre-middle ages, which includes but is not limited to a) rationality, b) individuality and c) sophistication (28).
Upon a close examination of one of Bugiardini’s paintings viz. the Holy Family, a sense of restraint or deviation from the traditional biblical paintings is evoked and clearly felt if not perceived. Although it is true that the main treatise of the work still contains an obvious adherence to famous religious tenets, the entire effect of the softened edges, the simplicity of the background images, the pondering St.
Joseph, the resolute and pious Virgin Mary and the naked yet magnanimous Christ as a child, produce a resonant message that partake of the Greek and ancient Western philosophies and traditions—which have been largely forgotten at the dawn of the Middle Age. This mix of artistic metaphors, from the brush strokes, the lines and the entire imagery may be attributed to Bugiardini’s deliberate attempt to blend religious dogma with secular ideas and philosophies.In the same light, what is further noteworthy in the painting is the focus on St. Joseph, who presently sits indifferently at the foreground with a deep thought on his mind—or what appears, perhaps, a man who is in the middle of a serious yet quiet rumination. This part of the painting in itself suggests the desire for reason and intellectual discourse of the Western man despite of the fixed religious ideas prevalent during that era. With the image of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Child left out of the picture, it would be easy to see that the art would become less as a creature of the Middle Age but something that properly belong to Renaissance genre.
However, Mannerism as a technique in art is not that sort of radical divergence that totally discards the present dominant ideological rubric. Mannerism, as employed in the painting of Bugiardini, still pays homage to the popular opinions and perceptions during the heyday of the Middle Age even at the upsurge of reformation and ferment during the coming of the Italian Renaissance. Put differently, Mannerism is the middle ground between the established doctrines of the church and the revolutionary wave of the Enlightenment era. As such, there is a merger of the two principles that is cannot be considered blasphemous and heretic but neither can it be considered wholly religious and non-secular.
Works CitedBousquet, Jacques. Mannerism: The Painting and Style of the Late Renaissance. Trans. Simon WatsonTaylor. New York: Braziller Publishing Company, 1964. Kallen, Horace Meyer. Art and Freedom: A Historical and Biographical Interpretation of the RelationsBetween the Ideas of Beauty, Use and Freedom in Western Civilization from the Greeks to the Present Day.
New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, Inc., 1942.