Thus, the five faces in "The Return of the Prodigal Son" are somewhat blurry. The overall effect is much more intimate and gentle than the brash and obvious messages in Caravaggio's work. Moreover, Rembrandt invites the viewer to contemplate the subject matter depicted in "The Return of the Prodigal Son." Caravaggio spells out emotion brashly on the canvas, whereas Rembrandt holds back.
Unlike "The Crucifixion of Saint Peter," the mood of Rembrandt's painting is somber and stoic. Emotions are kept in check, unlike in Caravaggio's "Saint Peter." All five of the figures in Rembrandt's painting appear contented, but not necessarily overjoyed. The Rembrandt painting lacks dramatic intensity compared with the overtly baroque Caravaggio. Yet still, Rembrandt does depict a New Testament scene just as Caravaggio does. Drama is not wholly absent from either canvas, but Caravaggio is certainly more theatrical.
The differences between Caravaggio's and Rembrandt's work are also noticeable in their subject matters. Caravaggio portrays the brutality of the Romans against the Christians, and highlights the faith and martyrdom of Saint Peter. On the other hand, Rembrandt depicts a more uplifting story. The prodigal son has just returned and he is warmly received by his father. Ironically, Rembrandt's color palette is dark, filled with rich earthy reds. Caravaggio's flesh tones are also much more realistic than those of Rembrandt. However, both artists rely heavily on light and shadow as well as skillful composition for visual impact.
Part of the reason for the dramatic intensity in Caravaggio's work compared with the sobriety in Rembrandt's is the nature of the stories they tell on canvas. This in turn reflects the different reasons each artist had for painting their respective works. For Caravaggio, being an artist entailed being practically an employee of the Catholic Church. Rembrandt built...
"The Dutch followers of Caravaggio had ensured that the thunderous use of light and shade and dramatic figures filling the picture surface had become familiar," ("Rembrandt van Rijn"). Yet the Protestant depictions of religious stories like those of Rembrandt come across as being more personal. Just as Martin Luther sparked a reaction against Church authority, Protestant artists denied Church control of art patronage.
Caravaggio's "The Crucifixion of Saint Peter" comes across as more didactic than Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son." Keeping with Church doctrine, Caravaggio spells out the Catholic message regarding martyrdom. Nothing is left to the viewer's imagination except perhaps for what the Romans might have been thinking, and whether they felt any guilt. Protestant religious art such as that of Rembrandt takes a decidedly un-Catholic view on personal spirituality. Rembrandt's painting allows the viewer a considerable amount of leeway in terms of interpretation. The viewer's direct personal experience is the key to Rembrandt's work, just as the believer's personal encounter with God is the key to Protestant faith.
Baroque art is defined by its theatrics. Both Rembrandt and Caravaggio capitalize on the religious themes permeating European culture. Their respective works of art share in common a religious consciousness. Caravaggio's painting of the "Crucifixion of Saint Peter" uses hyperrealism to convey Church authority, whereas Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son" allows for a more personalized religious experience.
"Baroque Art." Survey of Western Art. Retrieved 4 April 2010 from http://loki.stockton.edu/~fergusoc/lesson7/lect7.htm
Harden, M. (nd). Baroque Art. Artchive. Retrieved 4 April 2010 from http://www.artchive.com/artchive/baroque.html
"Protestant Baroque." Lynn University Art Appreciation. Retrieved 4 April 2010 from http://www.cartage.org.lb/en/themes/arts/painting/baroque/protest-baroq/protest-baroq.htm
"Rembrandt van Rijn." Retrieved 4 April 2010 from http://www.artchive.com/artchive/R/rembrandt.html
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