The darkness (and the light)
One of the first things you might notice about Caravaggio’s style, and we see it here in his painting of The Entombment, is the darkness. There’s actually a word for it: tenebroso, which means dark or gloomy. Caravaggio painted this scene as though it was happening in the black of night with almost a spot-light effect on the figures.
There are several things that are important about this. There is no background—only darkness. No architecture, no landscape, and so as a result, we focus on the figures who are all located in the foreground of the painting. The spotlight effect of the lighting is very dramatic, and so we have very stark contrasts of light and dark. In other words, where modeling is usually a slow movement from light to dark, here we have very dark shadows right next to areas of bright illumination. The effect is very dramatic.
Everything is located very much in the foreground of the painting, very close to us in fact. Look at Christ’s body—its so close we feel like we can touch it. And look at the ledge of the tomb, it is foreshortened and so it juts out into our space. And look at the elbow of the figure in orange carrying Christ’s legs—it is foreshortened, too, and so it pops into our space. One of the main characteristics of Baroque art is the breaking down of the barrier between our space and the space of the painting, so we feel like we’re part of it. Baroque artists use foreshortening frequently.
Baroque artists were also interested in movement. Here we see the moment when Christ is being lowered into his tomb. It’s a process happening before our eyes—so we have a caught moment in time. We see that the figures form a diagonal line—another very common feature of Baroque art. In the High Renaissance, we saw compositions in the shape of a pyramid—a very stable shape. Here in Baroque art we see diagonals, or sometimes interlocking diagonals in the shape of an X.
Caravaggio organized the composition so that it looks like the body of Christ is being lowered right into our space, as though we were standing in the tomb. One of the most important goals of Baroque art is to involve the viewer.
The Painting in HiRes (DOWNLOAD)