Spring 2013 URSP Participant Catherine Brown:
Down the Rabbit Hole: Studying Don Quixote
This project started with a paper I wrote comparing Don Quixote and Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film, The Dark Knight for a Spanish literature class. The requirement of the project was to compare Cervantes’s epic novel to a pop culture phenomenon such as a television show or a film. I had no idea I would end up expanding that idea into a project encompassing two art styles (Baroque and Neo-Baroque), linking contemporary films as diverse as The Matrix Trilogy and The Wizard of Oz, and the iconic figures of Don Quixote and Batman.
This project is forcing me to be even more independent than I have had to be in my academic work to this point. I have to be not only confident as I write what I have observed from my research, but thorough and precise. This intense kind of research and extensive writing is the type of work I will be doing in graduate school. My ultimate goal is to be a doctor of Spanish and Portuguese, to be a colleague of that field and contribute my ideas through publication of research like what I have been doing this semester. URSP is giving me a taste of what that will be like.
Up to this point in the project, on a weekly basis I do a lot of reading such as on the history of the Baroque and the development of the Neo-Baroque aesthetic. I have also been researching art and film. The Baroque body of work is massive because it includes painting, sculpture, and architecture. Furthermore, it’s a global art form. It spreads through Europe and then to the rest of the world due to colonialism and Jesuit missionary work.
One thing I discovered this week is something I believe to be extremely interesting concerning art, especially Baroque art: the fact that it is self-referential across modes and distinct periods. This particular characteristic makes it possible to link styles of art to each other across centuries. Because the Baroque shares particular stylistic aspects with the Renaissance, I’ve had to research the characteristics of that period as well in order to understand what makes Baroque art so different from what was produced previous to it. What is interesting to see is the way artists recall past work through imitation or re-creation. For example, in 1926 Frida Kahlo imitates Botticelli’s 1486 Birth of Venus in her Self-portrait in a velvet dress. The elongation of her fingers and neck reflect Renaissance artistic renderings of women. However, the central figure of Botticelli’s painting is inspired by the Venus de’ Medici, a sculpture of the Roman Capitoline Venus type known as the “modest Venus” for the way the hands attempt to cover her naked form. Ultimately, the Capitoline Venus is based on a lost work by the ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles known as the Aphrodite of Knidos now only rendered in copies. Furthermore, in 1981, Salvador Dalí also draws inspiration from this Greek figure in his painting Apparition of the Face of Aphrodite. These types of connections and references that artists make is the basis of my project and the connection I am attempting to illustrate between 17th century European art and contemporary films.