(WARNING! I have a Bachelors degree in History so you might also get a small, complimentary history lesson. Your Welcome/Sorry)
Now, this is not an artist I am incredibly familiar with. In fact, I did not even know his name until yesterday. Here is what I came up with: Born 1616, Bellis was an Italian painter until his death in 1656 from Naples in the early Baroque period. Caravaggio most directly influenced Bellis’s paintings and he is best known for his works The Liberation of St. Peter, Rest on the Flight into Egypt and Saint Sebastian Healed. Regardless of how not so famous he was, I loved this painting when I saw it, as well as his other works.
Being an Italian artist still caught in the fluxes of the Renaissance world, it is no wonder that Bella’s paintings mostly depicted scenes from or about Biblical figures. The only patrons he and others could find at the time belonged to the Medici family, royalty and of course the Catholic church. This was the age of the Catholic Revival and Counter Reformation. Catholic leaders unfortunately had to reorganize and purify its system after the Protestant Reformation happened in retaliation to the church’s inner corruption during the Renaissance. Therefore, artists either were paid to help rebuild the church’s fallen reputation or, later on, to work for aristocrats and kings during the rising tide of Absolutism.
Regardless of the many political and religious complications of the time, these many artists flourished under the growing European world. Thinking about all these things, I purposefully placed Bellis in the Baroque perspective in order to understand this particular painting. Like other Baroque paintings, this is not a passive, still motion fresco. The lighting and colors are vibrant and the message complicated. The death of Abel in the Bible is a particularly potent story because it was the first recorded murder, its victim a righteous and well-loved man.The colors in the painting itself only range from deep red to black, clearly accentuating the painting’s serious nature. For, this is not only the death of an innocent man but also his brother Cain’s fall into darkness.
Why do I like this painting? Firstly, the colors are very eye catching. There is an effect called chiaroscuro which artists use to manipulate lighting in order to emphasize a figure or change the overall feeling of an artwork. This is done by making a certain figure light in a dark atmosphere or visa versa and having obviously contrasting light and dark colors. In this painting, the dark colors of the tree are meant to shift the viewer’s focus to Abel’s sad figure as his brother Cain flees from the scene. I love how this is done. As for Abel, I love his design because of its innocence and the blander colors used for his skin and cloths.
Secondly, this is the only painting I have seen which shows Cain’s flight from his crime and perhaps Abel’s last moments before he dies. The figure hovering above Cain is also very interesting to me. I believe it is an angel sent from God but I am not sure. It is not meant to be decorative or flashy but simple. Also, I noticed Abel really is the focal point of the painting, meaning everything around him is secondary to his suffering.
Finally, I think this painting has such a subtle beauty. It does not scream at you and there is not a crowding feeling present like in MANY Baroque art pieces. It is gentle, heart-aching but beautiful in its implementation.