‘Nine Classical Paintings Revisited’ by Peter Greenaway

The film director, screenwriter and artist Peter Greenaway has a rather impressive filmography to his name, but the best known is arguably his 1989 movie The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, starring Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and Alan Howard in the titular roles.

Greeenaway’s works are nothing short of visually astounding and are undoubtedly inspired by the paintings of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, particularly those of Flemish origin. The director’s composition is second to none, and his films often explore the distinction between clothing and nudity, nature and humanity, and pleasure and death.

Considering the careful attention Greenaway gives to composing scenes in his films, his 2006 art project Nine Classical Paintings Revisited makes perfect sense. It’s an examination of the relationship between the starkly different artistic mediums of cinema and painting, an act of true artistic brilliance.

Greenaway made a series of video installations that reinterpret, as the project’s title suggests, several classical paintings of widespread notoriety. “I began my career hopefully wishing to become a painter,” the director once explained as part of a lecture on the project. 

He continued: “At a very early age – 13 or 14 – I set out on an adventure that somehow or other my career, if not my life, would be or ought to be associated with total excitements of visual literacy and certainly that would be related to a long 8,000 years of the western tradition of painting.”

The Nine Classical Paintings project began with an exploration of Rembrandt’s Night Watch, which was showcased at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 2006. The painting, presumed to have been completed in 1642, is the museum’s most famous work.

Two years later, Greenaway followed up with a one-night “remixed” performance of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, dated 1495-1498, which details the moment Jesus Christ told his apostles that one of them would betray him. Greenaway put on his performance at the Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan to a selected audience. The work featured superimposed digital imagery with an accompanying score by composer Marco Robino.

He also provided a version of Paolo Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana at the 2009 Venice Biennial, with a soundtrack and interpreted dialogue of those who witnessed Jesus’ turning of water into wine. Elsewhere, Greenaway had explored Picasso’s Guernica, Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment and the works of Jackson Pollock, Claude Monet, Seurat and Velazquez.

“This combination of the moving image and the still image has remained with me. I have long been perplexed and maybe disenchanted by the sophistications of 8,000 years of western painting,” Greenaway noted. But it’s that very perplexion that led him to take on the challenge of reinterpreting such great works.

Check out Greenaway’s lecture on Nine Classical Paintings Revisited below.

Related Posts