Thursday, April 17, 2014

40 Days of Paintings - His Holiness, Pope John Paul II (Nelson Shanks)

Over the centuries since the Renaissance, many great painters such as Raphael, El Greco, and Velázquez have had the honor (sometimes the compulsion) to paint the Pope's portrait.  And between Velázquez' portrait of Pope Innocent X and Nelson Shanks' portrait of Pope John Paul II, I honestly cannot decide which is better.  Without question, Shanks has painted the best portrait of a Pope since Velázquez, and I only wish I could find a better quality picture of it. 
I think Nelson Shanks qualifies as one of the greatest figurative and portrait painters of our age, and certainly of all time.  And wouldn't you know it, it makes sense knowing he studied under yesterday's master, Pietro Annigoni at the Academy of Fine Art in Florence.  Before that, he studied in various places including in my home town at the Kansas City Art Institute, as well as the New York National Academy of Design and the Art Students League.  Today he is master and founder of his own Academy called the Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia.
I'm struck by a number of things about this portrait.  The forshortening of the Pope's raised arm, the likeness of him in his older age, the careful handling of the architectural design in the background, the light shining from above, and the incredible detail of the Pope's robe, hat, and staff.  So, I guess I could have basically said I love everything about this painting.  What is so beautiful is the way in which Shanks has taken great care in every detail, including the background.  He doesn't consider the seemingly insignificant parts as insignificant.  He doesn't abbreviate the details, but also doesn't make them equally important as the figure of the Pope.  The reason the painting is so lifelike is because Shanks is a master of understanding how the eye behaves.  He slightly softens the background so that the clear edges of the Pope's figure in the foreground are dominant to the eye.  He depicts the painting the way the eye naturally sees things.  Another great example of this is his painting "What Have We Done to Angels."  It is a magnificent still life that appears as we would see the scene in life.  Yet another example of why the saying "It looks like a photograph" is a total non-compliment to the work of realist artists.  As if photography is the highest standard for realism.  The truth is, Shanks' work does not look like a photograph.  It looks like life, and that is the highest standard for realism.

His Holiness, Pope John Paul II
oil on canvas

No comments:

Post a Comment