Georges de La Tour and the Enigma of the Visible

Georges de La Tour and the Enigma of the Visible

Dalia Judovitz

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780823277438

Publisher: Fordham University Press

Abstract

Celebrated due to the aura of mystery attached to his rediscovered works in the twentieth century, Georges de La Tour’s paintings continue to be an object of scholarly interest and public fascination. Exploring the representations of light, vision and the visible in his works, this interdisciplinary study raises seminal questions regarding the nature of painting and its artistic, theological, and conceptual implications. If the visible presents an enigma in La Tour’s pictorial works, this is because familiar objects of visible reality serve as emblems of an invisible, spiritual reality. La Tour’s pursuit of likeness between image and the natural world bears the influence of the Catholic Reform’s call for the revitalization of religious imagery in the wake of Protestant iconoclastic outbreaks. Like the books shown in his paintings which are asking to be read, La Tour’s paintings are examined not just as visual depictions but also as instruments of insight, which ask to be deciphered rather than merely seen. La Tour’s paintings show how the figuration of faith as spiritual passion and illumination challenges the meanings attached to the visual realm of painterly expression. This study shows that La Tour’s emphasis on spiritual insight opens up a broader artistic, philosophical and conceptual reflection on the conditions of possibility of painting and its limitations as a visual medium. By scrutinizing what is seen and how and by questioning the position of the beholder, his works encourage meditation on the role of painting and its engagements with the visible world.