Living paintings employ actors to recreate famous portraits right before our eyes.
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is back in headlines after a recently discovered masterpiece — believed to have been created by the father of Baroque painting himself — has been bought up quietly before it could reach auction. The news had us poring through Caravaggio’s astounding realism, at which time we came across this video of the Italian troupe Malatheatre recreating scenes from his collection.
Malatheatre specializes in tableau vivant, or the creation of a living painting. They employ models to dress as the subjects of famous paintings and then in moments they arrange themselves in the exact poses of the scenes. They began their work over a decade ago with the guidance of their founder, Ludovica Rambelli, who passed away in April 2017.
On their Facebook page, current company director Dora De Maio explained that rather than capturing the essence of a painting, they are trying to reconstruct the artist’s process:
“[Caravaggio] used actors to build the scenes he painted; in fact we did not reproduce his work, but recreated what happened in his studio,” De Maio said.
Indeed, Caravaggio was known to employ all sorts of people from the proletariat, including prostitutes, to stand in as models for his works. This was perhaps a factor — alongside his inimitable genius — that allowed him to make some of the most realistic paintings and helped him to define the art of the Baroque era.
The audience is given a unique glimpse of what Caravaggio himself would have witnessed as he looked over his easel between brush strokes. The sight can be as inspiring to the creative process as visiting a museum to view the real masterpieces.
The models in the above video are incredibly impressive. This art form requires an astounding amount of strength and stamina in order to remain perfectly still, especially in a scene like “The Entombment of Christ,” where two of the actors are literally holding up the Christ model. In another scene, you can see from the way the female Bacchus is panting that even while sitting down, the work is quite taxing.
We were especially impressed with their presentation. Before each pose, the actors wander around throwing on more layers of costume, until they finally fall into position. These theatrics add to the excitement of the performance and keep the audience guessing at what scene their about to see.
Malatheatre is still an active performance troupe. They put on showcases all throughout spring, and their performances are set to resume in the fall. Visit their website for more information.