The Oscar nominations came out today, and Hollywood's ritualized adoration of its top talents put me in mind of—believe it or not—an exhibition currently at the Getty Center here in L.A. called "Captured Emotions, Baroque Painting in Bologna, 1575-1725." It may sound stuffy, but the high Renaissance was time of inflamed passions, melodramatic imagery and—as I was reminded by these paintings of saints, sinners, popes and pagan gods—it was the Age of Fabric. Nearly every painting in the show offered a flourish of billowing cloth. Walking through the galleries the other day, I found myself thinking there was a lot that modern-day actresses could learn about Oscar dressing from these long-dead dignitaries.
The Old Masters weren't afraid to go over the top, and they did so with virtuoso flair. Check out the masterful styling in Guercino's Disegno and Colore (1640), which dramatizes the debate between the role of drawing (disegno) and color (colore) in painting. Advocating one point of view, an old man holds up a pencil drawing of cupid, while the other side is of the argument is represented by a voluptuous beauty—think Kate Winslet—who paints the same image in life-like color. She of course steals the show, thanks in no small part to her fabulous get-up: a celestial blue gown with the hem turned back to reveal a hot orange lining; an ivory blouse with voluminous sleeves in pale hyacinth; a mustard-brown shawl as weightless as shatoosh and edged in somber vermillion, and then, literally topping it all, a cap with circus stripes of pure blue and red. Guercino had a couturier's eye for colore and I only wish he were still here to style Winslet or Benjamin Button's Taraji Henson, who unfortunately tends to bland herself out in neutral-tone sheaths.
Incidentally, the timeless lessons that "Captured Emotions" had for men were much simpler: 1) buff up, since both sinners and saints look best with a gym-toned physique and 2) a fitted jacket in understated black is always the surest bet. Unless you're man enough to don ecclesiastical robes.
All paintings courtesy of the Getty. Photos: Kate Winslet: Donato Sardella ; Hathaway: Getty Images; Jolie: WWD staff.