Another excerpt from Out of Eden by DiPiero. This one is from the essay, Matisse’s Broken Circle, and is particularly interesting in its reference to Matisse’s concept of the religious imagination and his emulation of Giotto. I am compelled by DiPiero’s claim that Matisse’s career was “the most sustained and variegated exercise of religious imagination of our time.”
The religious imagination is a respondent, form-making act of consciousness…It assumes and is aware of a reality greater and more inclusive than individual consciousness, and it allows that awareness to shape its products. It seeks fusion even while it sedulously practices analysis and individuation. In such terms, Matisse’s career was the most sustained and variegated exercise of religious imagination of our time. Even more than Cezanne and Giacometti, and in a more methodical and self-conscious way than Van Gogh, he practiced painting as an expansive ceremonial of consciousness. And the eternal conflict between line and color was for him a medium of erotic desire. The presiding precursor of Matisse’s enterprise was Giotto. Matisse’s remarks about him arc over the long middle period of his career…He saw in Giotto a comprehensiveness, an integral completeness, that was both preliminary and summative, which possessed the preparatory definitions of cartooning and the conclusive exaltation of color fields. Matisse had already described in 1907 the two preoccupations that sheared off from Giotto’s unities as Sienese primitivism and spirituality (“disegno”) and Venetian physicality (“colorito”). Giotto remained the model of achieved completion and must have come to seem even purur as Matisse worked his way, decade by decade, through all the formal consequences of the breakup of that unity. As late as 1946 he wrote to Pierre Bonnard, “Giotto is the peak of my aspirations. But the journey towards something which, in our time, would constitute the equivalent is too long for one life…”
In 1951, three years before he died [Matisse said:] “All art worthy of the name is religious. Be it a creation of lines, or colors: if it is not religious, it does not exist. If it is not religious, it is only a matter of documentary art, anecdotal art…which is no longer art.”
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