Actors from the Italian theater company Ludovica Rambelli Teatro recreate paintings by Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, or, more accurately, they’re recreating how Caravaggio created scenes to paint with live models. The performance is called La conversione di un cavallo, 23 Tableaux Vivants dalle opere di Caravaggio, or Tableaux Vivants. It’s set to Lux aeterna, the final section of Wolfgang Amedeus Mozart’s Requiem.
Tableaux vivant is often referred to as a playful pastime, but it has also served significant educational and recreational purposes in the cultural history of the United States. Translated from French, tableaux vivant means ‘living pictures.’ The genre peaked in popularity between 1830 and 1920. During a performance of tableaux vivant, a cast of characters represented scenes from literature, art, history, or everyday life on a stage. After the curtain went up, the models remained silent and frozen for roughly thirty seconds. Particular emphasis was placed on staging, pose, costume, make-up, lighting, and the facial expression of the models. Sometimes a poem or music accompanied the scene, and often a large wooden frame outlined the perimeter of the stage, so as to reference the frame of a painted canvas.
The Yale National Initiative also offers teaching strategies and classroom activities for exploring characters, narratives, politics, and more for any style of sculpture or painting. An example:
In front of a sculpture or painting, invite students to slowly take on the pose and facial expression of the subject. Have them freeze for a few seconds and guide their awareness to various parts of their body to make adjustments based on what they see. Break from the pose and look back at the painting or sculpture. Discuss how the pose and facial expression reveal clues to the subject’s identity. Try another tableau vivant, but this time, have students change their pose and facial expression. What would they change or do differently?
The paintings in the video are The Entombment of Christ, Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, Crucifixion of Saint Peter, The Beheading of St John the Baptist, Judith Beheading Holofernes, Flagellation of Christ, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew, Annunciation, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Narcissus, The Raising of Lazarus, Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, and Bacchus.
Related reading: The Baroque style.Watch these videos next: Maarten Koopman animates six famous paintings, Relighting Parade de cirque, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night painted on dark water. Plus, A New Republic: The portrait work of artist Kehinde Wiley.
h/t Far Beyond the Box.