Triptych, © Eric Itschert
Two very different techniques are set against one another on the triptych entitled “Jonathan dans la villa romaine” (“Jonathan in the Roman villa”). This work is given as a pretext to blend in a nude, treated with oil, in a realistic way (with nuances in the colours) against a background representing persons painted with a watery medium in the manner of roman frescos, thus in strokes. The painter avoids the pastiche in the sense that it is but a very superficial imitation of the replicated subject, often not understood. But, here the painter is perfectly familiar with the Greek and roman art of painting having practised Byzantine painting (1). In a fallaciously playful way, the triptych and the accompanying viewing boxes are a reflection on the Dionysian mysteries, also called the mysteries of Semele.
1) In icon paintings, the images are idealized and stylized. They are the remote heirs of Greek antique painting. The origin of the technique of the icon on wood and a part of its idealisation has been particularly attributed to Egyptian portrait art in the Greek antique painting of the School of Alexandria. We can only have an idea of Greek antique painting through indirect sources: certain roman frescos, in i.e. Rome, in Pompeii or at Herculaneum, and the portraits of Fayoum in Egypt during the Ptolemaic era. On this triptych we voice thus one of the biggest preoccupations of painting: to transfigure the faces, to paint beings with their eyes wide open to the light coming from beyond, the features beautiful and at peace, radiant of light. While studying the Greco-roman mythology and in particular one of the most remarkable works of Pompeii, a fresco in the Villa of Mysteries, in the IInd Pompeian style, the painter has been fascinated by the Dionysian mysteries. As the painter Arnold Bôcklin said: “. . . the paintings of the Renaissance “look like old stuff compared with antique paintings”. Since the discovery of Pompeii, many painters have tried, with more or less success, to reproduce that admirable style of painting. Unfortunately, one must recognize that most of the time, they have met with failure. They have in vain tried to reproduce the exact material techniques, but that has not sufficed. Indeed, antique Greek painting does not only demand well specified material techniques, but also a good understanding of the very complex and especially elaborate iconographic canons used for the representation of faces and antique clothes. The extensive diversity of expressions, of fashion and styles too often hides those canons from the layman; nevertheless they are immutable in that kind of painting.