Cangiante: Iridescence, Opalescence and Changeability

In Act II of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the Fool says to Orsino:

“Now, the melancholy god protect thee, and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very opal”
‘Changeable taffeta’ evokes the quality of shot-silk, in which weft and warp are woven in two or more colours, often contrasting, to produce an iridescent effect. The resulting surface seems opalescent, and Shakespeare’s allusion here is to the very quality of changeability implied by shot-silks and opals – a materialization of the act of changing one’s mind. The same effect in painting is called cangiante, from Italian ‘cangiare’, ‘to change’ and thus changeable.  Michelangelo is always considered the champion of cangiante in some passages of the Sistine ceiling, but there is lovely cangiante in the work of Giovanni Bellini in Venice.  For example, the loincloth of St. Jerome in the San Giobbe altarpiece (c.1487, now in the Accademia in Venice) one sees subtle effects of cangiante that are a stroke of iridescent emphasis,  shimmering expertly.apart from the softer sfumato paragraphs of the opposite St. Sebastian.  The altarpiece is a quiet act of painterly bravado, a work now out of time and space, that hovers at the brink of a so-called High Renaissance that will, in many ways, only echo its siren call – 

About hickson1

Art historian, professor, Italian Renaissance and Baroque specialist, Italophile
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