Chirico often utilizes architecture to great effect. It is interesting to see that the buildings he depicts are mostly Renaissance-style and not contemporary (note the characteristic arches in Piazza d’Italia), but unlike the Renaissance artists themselves, he does not use them to fill the painting, but rather to delineate the emptiness. Chirico does not paint buildings, he paints spaces and colors between them. His Piazzas are not bustling with people or action, like Tintoretto’s – they are empty to the extent that you could possibly hear an echo of silence emitting from them.
They look tiny – and yet they are undoubtedly Renaissance buildings. Chirico transports them to modern times, and shows them in a nostalgical way – and not one painter in the Renaissance would think to be nostalgic about a building. Another painter who is enticed by the Renaissance way of painting spaces is Paul Delvaux. He, though under a great influence of de Chirico, is one of the few who can truly be said to have been enamored by the old masters.
He uses space in much the same way they had used: he frames the human beings. The humans are also drawn and framed by him, in much the same way the old masters would: unlike the other Surrealists, he does not run from human proportion, nor from the integrity of the human body. However, in their perfection, they are empty – the individualism is absent from them, these people are hardly, if at all, human – and it is a simulacre of the Renaissance, an empty glass raised to a dead epoch.
His antique beauties are generally otherworldly, while the Renaissance is a celebration of this world – and shows that the problems of the Surrealists, for all their simularity, are very different, indeed – and that there is little in way of a direct connection. In the end, this is what the tribute of the Surrealists comes down to – to say: «Your world was beautiful. And yet – it is gone».
Not one Surrealist would continue the Renaissance tradition, and not because it did not influence them directly – there still were those painters who would try to imitate or continue directly in their time but rather because times had changed irrevocably, and, to step up to their challenge, a new revolution would be needed – one the Surrealists did provide, with nothing more than a nod to to their forebearers. Conclusion In the end, Surrealism does not really «appropriate» any themes nor techniques from the Renaissance.
What it does do, however, is examine the same problems as the Renaissance does, being the art of a very similar period of identity crisis. The human being no longer identifies with the old image of himself and thus needs a new one; the epistemology and general understanding of the mind is in turmoil and in dire need of an understanding that can be transmitted not only to specialists; the old model of space-time is faulty and needs an update – all of these features characterize equally the Renaissance and the time when Surrealism surfaced.
It is no wonder that quite a few of the solutions they found were similar; it is even less a wonder that some of the artists recognized this fact and admired those who came before them. Yet one can hardly speak about «borrowing». The concrete stuff of human life, from which all painting draws inspiration, is much too different for direct borrowing to be applied. And it is these differences and not the themes which define the specifics of a movement.
There is, of course, an influence in the techniques – and yet the contemporary influence is far greater for most Surrealist artists. We have tried to examine the exceptions here, and they are notable – but not all-encompassing. The great simularity between the Renaissance artists and the Surrealists is explained by the fact that they each tried to pave a new road for humanity, to show the world to itelf in unexpected ways, quite a few of which were unsettling and discomfortable, but necessary.
In this monumental task, both movements succeded, which qualifies for most of the simularities. We have not mentioned quite a few of them here – for instance, the shadow-play of the Surrealists and how it related to Carravaggio – and yet they, too, fall under simularity only in circumstances that would provoke great minds to think alike.
Illustrations: 1. Andrea Mantegna, The Lamentation over the Dead ChristTempera on canvas, 68×81 cm, 1490 Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamentation_of_Christ_(Mantegna).