University of South Africa, Pretoria
 Susan Grundy
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David Stork’s blunder

    


Artemisia Gentileschi's Penitent Magdalene (c.1615). A follower of Caravaggio makes a similar "hand blunder."

 



Leonardo da Vinci's Cartoon for the Virgin and St Anne (c.1499-1508, National Gallery, London). Leonardo sketches the hands and feet in a rudimentary fashion. He appears to have left those, presumably to patch later in with detailed studies. Hands and feet are notoriously difficult to do. Caravaggio and his follower Artemisia Gentileschi have rendered anatomically perfect hands with skilfully depicted foreshortening. The errors are in the relative disproportions.

 

Before addressing Stork’s particular rebuttal, try to suppose that this was a one-off lapse in Caravaggio’s concentration, a faux pas. Yet Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c.1652), one of the most celebrated followers of Caravaggio, made a similar blunder in her Pitti Magdalene (c.1615, fig 2).5 In this canvas the Magdalene’s left hand is slightly larger than the right, although it is supposed to be further away. Could Artemisia have been using “artistic licence”? Even Hockney has allowed for this possibility in relation to Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus.6 Yet how does deliberate choice explain the fact that Artemisia did the same thing, completely unaccountably, in her Portrait of a Gonfaloniere (1622)?7 These are strange mistakes for artists of their supposed “divine” abilities to have been making.

Yet Stork concludes that the Supper at Emmaus “presents a number of difficulties for the specific explanations of Mr Hockney and for the theory more generally,”8 and he attempts to contradict Hockney’s hand theory using pages of undoubtedly elegant math. Unfortunately Stork has used a concave lens (a shaving mirror) for his calculations rendering his conclusions irrelevant. Hockney states that by the time Caravaggio painted the Supper at Emmaus he would have been using a “new [biconvex] lens” (a magnifying glass).9 In the same article Stork also perpetuates the candle myth for Caravaggio. Our main description for the arrangement of Caravaggio’s studio comes from Mancini, a seventeenth-century physician and acquaintance of Caravaggio. He claimed that a “characteristic of [Caravaggio’s] school is lighting from one source only, beaming from above without reflection, as would occur from one window in a room with the walls painted black.”10 Why would Mancini state specifically that it was a window when he meant a lamp or Stork’s 1250 candles? Stork’s argument that the light source in Supper at Emmaus is fairly low would not preclude Caravaggio using a lower window and taking advantage of the long Mediterranean summer evenings in Rome, or using a plane mirror to re-direct natural sunlight.

 


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