March 5, 2015
Even though death met him very early on in his life, Carel Fabritius remained one of the most influential painters in the history of art. He was just thirty-two years old when he was killed in a gunpowder explosion that left the quarter of 17th century Delft in flames. His studio was reduced into rubbles in the blast, and most of his paintings were ruined; unfortunately, only a few of them survived the explosion. Mirroring his artistic genius, those a few remaining paintings were successful enough to receive the admiration of forthcoming generations.
As a pupil of Rembrandt, Fabritius developed his own artistic style and advanced in his art; rather than imitating his very talented master, he pursued his own ideas and achieved to be a unique painter. He is regarded as the most successful pupil of Rembrandt, for he managed to set his own course and did not end up like the others who did not go any further than where their master had left. Although Rembrandt’s influence is very palpable in his early paintings, over the course of time he had developed his own style and revamped the course of art history.
Especially in the Raising of Lazarus, Fabritius depicted a scene from the Bible in his master’s manner as he benefited from shades very adroitly. In this splendid painting, which is exhibited in Warsaw’s Muzeum Narodowe, Fabritius used dusk as his chief colour; it is not only depicted with black, in the painting all colours collaborate and generate a pervasive sense of dusk. The only source of light in the painting is Lazarus himself, whose reanimation will prove the miraculous powers that Jesus Christ possesses; all the dusk, which becomes a colour with the finesse of Fabritius, seems to be glistened with the uncanny energy of the event. The hope and astonishment are discernible on the faces of those who behold the miracle. Although Fabritius did not continue to paint in the style of this painting, with his dexterity of depicting an event by taming shades and colouring dusk, he had proved that he was capable of proceeding in his master’s manner.
When Fabritius began to experiment with different colours to depict more vivid scenes, he also started to form his own style, which had set the course of art in a different direction. As a pupil of Rembrandt who mastered the shades in order to enrich his art with the whirling reflections of light, Fabritius carried his master’s art a step further as to endow the colourful scenes a shadowy depth, which allows a painting to be as real as possible without concealing the interpretations of an artist. View of the City of Delft is a remarkable example of Fabritius’ talent at carrying out his new style. In the painting, a musician is positioned in the front while a church is in the middle; however, the musician in the front is concealed in the depth of dusk and less visible, whereas the church is illumined with the light from the sky, the blueness of which is mixed with the whiteness of clouds. The painting is luminous with abundance of light. The reflections of sky are also enhanced with the shades of great trees; therefore, the painting is not merely a burst of bright colours but a deep mixture of reflections.
Fabritius pushed the limits of his new style even further when he painted a mere goldfinch perched to a hoop. His subtle manner of depicting the bird gives the painting a sense of reality, which is not intended to conceal the alteration that the artist contributes to a scene by creating an artwork from a random topic. The goldfinch, which is depicted in real size, seems to be projected into life as the eyes of an observer equates the flat wall in the background with the painting itself. The bird, with the help of hoops and depth of shadows, appears to be three-dimensional; as a result, when we look into the painting, we see the goldfinch apart from the painting, as though we would be able to touch the bird if we extended our arms. This trick, called trompe l’oeil, demonstrates Fabritius’ achievement in experimenting new manners in order to reach a sublime manifestation of beauty. Three-dimensional painting sets up a sense of reality in which vitality of the bird is depicted very successfully that the goldfinch, sticking out of the painting, appears as real as a bird in life. However, Fabritius did not let his artwork to convey the impression of reality, which is random and already given in nature; in contrast, he accentuated the brushstrokes as to confirm the significance of the role that an artist plays while altering the reality in order to give room to art. The trompe l’oeil, in this sense, is marred with the apparent brushstrokes that Fabritius preferred to leave in purpose of emphasizing the importance of an artist’s interpretation of reality.
From the Raising of Lazarus to the Goldfinch, the radical shift in Fabritius’ choice of topics is very distinguishable as he moved from depicting miraculous events of the Bible to everyday scenes. Painting unpretentious scenes with the mastery of art marked an essential aspect in Fabritius’ new manner, in which he experimented with different colours and perspectives. In this case, he could be regarded as a forbearer of 19th century French art schools, which pursued beauty in the modest everyday life. Instead of painting portraits of the rich, he focused his attention on random objects, through which he had developed a luminous style that deepened the colours with the power of shadows. This is why, to understand the modern art, one should heed the change Fabritius brought into painting.
A few paintings that survived the explosion in 17th century Delft, which claimed the life of their author, were sufficient enough to convey the finesse of a genius whose attempts to capture the perfect sight of beauty had profound impacts upon the forthcoming generations of artists. Fabritius, as a unique painter who had tamed the shades and enlightened art, set new horizons for the artist who would like to experiment with different colours and styles. The splendour of his paintings will never cease to impress young artists and encourage them to create their own style in art. As a young painter who didn’t have the luck to age, Fabritius will always inspire those who are ready to challenge their own styles in order to express themselves better.