Friday, March 29, 2013

Piero della Francesca, Robert Bresson,Yasujiro Ozu

Saint Monica by Piero della Francesca
In his review of the Piero della Francesca show at the Frick, “The Nobel Dreams of Piero” (The New York Review of Books, 3/21/13), Walter Kaiser quotes the great 20th Century Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert. Herbert was by the way known particularly for the character of Mr. Cogito, whose soubriquet derives from Descartes. “The Principle of tranquility does not lie merely in architectural balance,” Kaiser quotes Herbert as saying. “It is a principle of inner order. Piero understood that excess movement and expression both destroy the visual painted space and compress the painting’s time to a momentary scene, a flash of existence. His stoic heroes are constrained and impassive. The stilled leaves, the hue of the first earthly dawn, the unstruck hour, give the things Piero created ontological indestructibility.” Herbert’s last sentence is actually rather awkward, but why throw the baby out with the bath water? It brilliantly ties the work of the quattrocento painter to the dream of classicism espoused by the great French film director Robert Bresson in Diary of a Country Priest  (1951) and also his Japanese counterpart Yasujiro Ozu, in Tokyo Stor(l953). In talking about the aesthetics of a great 15th century Renaissance painter, a modern Polish poet is inadvertently furthering our understanding of the spirituality of two great figures of modern cinema. We might say that Piero helps us understand Bresson and Ozu or that Bresson and Ozu help us to retrospectively understand the work of one of the great Italian masters.

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