Cincinnati has always been compared to Rome because of its “seven hills.” Thursday April 7 at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the connection became stronger through North-American premiere of the Italian film I Gesti del Caravaggio or The Gestures of Caravaggio created by the filmmaker Francesceo Vitali. The museum along with Cincinnati-based early music ensemble, The Catacoustic Consort, presented this film in celebration of their newly purchased triple-strung Baroque harp: an instrument that features prominently in the film.
Bringing 2D to Life
Initially, I was curious how someone could make an engaging film based on still paintings, but the film showed much more than that. The monologues spoken by the actress, Deda Cristina Colonna, were a combination of letters or diary entries and poetry. These were interspersed with dances and miniature scenes inspired by Caravaggio’s paintings. At some points, Colonna held poses similar to those found in his paintings, and at other times, she made the scene come to life.
Caravaggio was a pioneer in chiaroscuro; a technique that would be picked up by Rembrandt and other Flemish painters of the next generation. The filmmakers accurately recreated the lighting of some of the painter’s scenes to imitate the dramatic difference between light and dark that the painter originally intended.
I think my favorite scene was when Colonna was wearing a red dress and peeling an apple. The red of her dress and the apple were the only colors in the scene since the shot was framed by a brown doorway with a dirt floor. The vibrancy of the red against other muted colors drew your eye straight to the action in the center of the shot. Many of the poses she held were very lifelike and I can only imagine the athleticism this actress must have had to hold the poses for as long as she did. Colonna also displayed her talents as a dancer in long dance scenes interspersed between the painting stills with the triple-strung harp accompanying throughout the entire movie.
Mara Galassi was the harpist for the film, and she played music by prominent Italian Baroque composers such as Frescobaldi and Kapsperger. The triple-strung harp is different from modern harps because of the arrangement of the strings. Any accidentals in a piece of music require that the performer reach into the center row of strings, something not required with modern harps, and this adds a level of difficulty to its performance in which most modern harpists have had no training.
The Catacoustic Consort is planning future concerts featuring this beautiful instrument, and it will be exciting to hear one live. The Consort also has a blog that you can check out for more information.
To find information about the foundation that sponsored this film, check out their website.