four chambers to the heart
Letters from Sofonisba Anguissola to Anton Van Dyck
Notes on an animated film
Renaissance master-painter Sofonisba Anguissola. Sofonisba created a body of work of superb quality and had an amazing career becoming a great patron of the arts and the first Renaissance female artist to achieve international fame during her lifetime. She transformed Western attitudes about who could be an artist and yet for centuries she was completely overlooked in art history.
In Four Chambers to the Heart we want to bring Sofonisba Anguissola back to life through the animation of her paintings while listening to her last letters addressed to young painter Anton Van Dyck.
The movie is based on a real story. Around 1624 Anton Van Dyck, 24 years old and an upcoming star in the art world, decided to travel to Italy and study the masters working there. His master-painter, Peter Paul Rubens, advised him to visit Sofonisba Anguissola in Palermo. She was about 94 years old. Once in Palermo, Van Dyck soon enough finds himself in a lockdown due to the plague. He was then forced to stay there for a year and a half during which he got to know Sofonisba well and painted two portraits of hers. Later on he claimed that their conversations taught him more about painting than anything else in his life.
In “Four Chambers to the Heart” these two artists don’t see each other frequently due to fear of contamination. They are forced to exchange letters. In the movie we listen to Sofonisba’s thoughts expressed in these letters, talking about her early years at her family home, growing up together with her sisters, her achievements in painting and the creation of her self-portrait and finally the current health crisis the city is facing. She talks about her own approaching demise, saying goodbye to her beloved young student and friend.
The lengthy collaboration process made us explore new ways of telling this story, adding symbolic and poetic layers to the narrative. Together with writer Tine Van Aerschot and composer Karsten Fundal, we started our quest to bring her back to life using little snippets from the past and by closely studying and working with what did survive - her paintings. We combined the use of her paintings with a surreal and dreamy visual world in which Sofonisba’s portraits come to life. Together with the narrator (the voice reading the letters), we drift off in a surreal world of painted landscapes and characters, while staying connected to the reality of the old and nearly blind Sofonisba Anguissola through the voice.
A challenge we faced was how to create a space in which one makes the viewer feel familiar with the protagonist, without necessarily knowing her as an actual renaissance painter. A strategy we came up with was to use intimacy as a tool.
Intimacy became our guideline for the choice of the voice timbre, the music, the candle lit set… These elements make you feel you are close to the story being told, even if you miss the historical background and setting. The imagery holds a lot of information and symbolism that the viewer might not ‘get’ immediately, but by entering an intimate space they do not need to.
An uncanny similarity in our lives, made us feel even more connected to her daily reality at the end of her life - all of a sudden we were working during a lockdown ourselves, as if the storyline and the past found their way into our studios… These experiences helped creating an intimate space, as if being in the same room as Sofonisba, or at least looking through the door’s keyhole, listening to her whispering her letters to her beloved student.
In “Four Chambers to the Heart”, a multi-layered poem comes to life enabling the viewer to get to know Sofonisba Anguissola and her work, while keeping an openness to drift off and dream one’s own version of the story.
Directed by Kostas Ioannidis and Johan Grimonprez
Art and visuals by Kostas Ioannidis
Text by Tine Van Aershcot
Music by Karsten Fundal
Read by Siobhan Cullen
Produced by Lunanime and Mooves.
Funded by VAF, Belgian Tax Shelter and NL Film Funds.