Benois – The Italian Comedy

Painting by Alexander Benois, Russian of French descent, in 1906. Not really sure what this painting means or anything, there’s just this huge and awesome sense of foreboding I get whenever I see it. I like the sense of depth in the painting…there are figures at three different levels. Part of the allure is that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Is the man in the background attacking the woman? When I see him, he makes me think that he’s conjuring or performing some kind of black incantation. At the same time, it’s not exactly certain that the two characters are even interacting. It’s also easy to quickly dismiss the female character. It’s interesting that she seems to explicitly be an object, to be acted upon, in contrast to the male figures. The two characters in the middle ground are pretty similar. They both seem to be sitting back on their heels, simultaneously like gentleman aloof from the violence and jackals waiting for the killing to happen. Especially the man in the white suit, his posture is amazing, its full of tension; you can feel him pushing backwards while wanting to be drawn in. And finally, you have the harlequin type guy in the foreground. When I saw this, my immediate comparison was to Seurat’s “Circus” (1891), where a clown-type figure in the foreground sets the stage, so to speak, on the action of the painting. His checkered clothing is also suggestive of a matador, and looking quickly at the painting, you might easily see the middle-ground black suited man as a cape that the harlequin is waving. That last part is probably not true, but it makes sense if its referencing the killing that’s going on in the background. The Harlequin’s pose is just ridiculous, it’s impossible for someone to stand like that unless they’re in the process of moving. So basically I have no idea.

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