Home » Pontiac’s Carravagio Period: Cold Start

Pontiac’s Carravagio Period: Cold Start

Cs Pontiac Carravag2

Car advertising can take inspiration from pretty much anything, really, as cars are, as we know, the bedrock upon which human culture is built. And that means pulling a visual style from an Italian artist born in 1571, then that’s just what you do. About four centuries after this artist, Carravaggio, was active, it looks like Pontiac took inspiration from his style, involving a lot of dramatic lighting and surrounding darkness, to sell people station wagons.

I mean, look how they lit this Grand Safari, alone and forlorn on a dock that looks like it’s barely big enough to hold it:


And now look at Caravaggio’s 1599-1600 painting, The Calling of St. Matthew:


See what I mean? If Caravaggio was hired to paint a Pontiac wagon, I’m pretty sure the result would be almost exactly like what Pontiac did in this 1974 Brochure. You know what else is interesting? It seems there’s some ambiguity about who St.Matthew actually is in this painting. Some scholars think it’s the bearded dude doing the “who me?” gesture, but others think he’s pointing to the guy slumped over the coins at the end of the table. This is why some art historians feel Caravaggio should have painted his figures with those “Hello, my name is” tags.


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33 Responses

  1. I don’t believe that any modern cars are advertised by drawn art. When you look at magazine ads from 40s to 70s, there was a lot of drawn art used. That’s why Wide Track Pontiacs looked so wide. BTW, I think St. Matthew is the gentleman on the far right with his back to the viewer. He appears to be attired from a different era.

    1. Fitz and Van carried on well into the sixties, but by that time I would imagine it was partly better photography but more likely the influence of modernist graphic design trends that lead to the death of illustration in advertising.

  2. I’m not sure that one guys is doing a “who me?” as much as he is ratting out the guy slumped over “That’s him, yep, definitely the guy you are looking for.”

    Love it when you put that art history degree to work, Torch!

  3. Well we all know that Torch was hungover one day last week. I think this morning’s post is decent evidence that the peyote he consumed late yesterday is not fully out of his system. And if you don’t believe me, there is not a single reference to tail lights here. **Drops mic**

  4. That Pontiac wagon represents the nadir of Poncho styling, but can I point out how darn good those styled steel wheels look? The wheels might be the best thing GM was making in the 70’s: these Pontiac Rallye II’s, the Buick Rally wheels with the thin spokes, the GM truck rally wheels with the small rectangular cutouts that paired so well with the trim rings, and my favorite, the Oldsmobile Super Stock III’s, with the chrome ‘D’ rings around the windows and always color keyed to the body of the car.
    They all looked great, despite probably being dirt cheap to produce. Can we please have styled steel wheels like this back instead of all the hideous flat-faced aluminum whirlygigs cars come with now?

    1. Amen to that. The cars of the 1970s were mostly awful, but even the awful ones sometimes rode on some great looking factory rolling stock. And Pontiac in particular made both of the best-looking factory wheels of the decade, the honeycomb and the snowflake.

      I have one disagreement with you on styling, though: I’ve always dug the “beak” on the Colonnade cars, like the Lemans wagon on the right up there.

    2. The front of the Clamshell Wagon is a bit homely, but the sides and back are very well executed. The Smaller wagon is pretty stylish all around. The Full Size Pontiacs of that era had pretty homely faces, but the bodies were really nice. Buick and Olds had the best faces of the era…

  5. When I think of Caravaggio paintings I think of the recurring theme of severed heads. I mean a lot of them. So at least Pontiac didn’t pick up on that although up until just a few years earlier Pontiac did have the head of a Native American as their trademark.

    Caravaggio probably tops my list of artists whose work I love but wouldn’t want to socialize with.

  6. Maybe the guy with his hand outstretched is saying “There’s a guy on the phone saying he’s Saint Matthew. He seems pretty upset about something that went down at the bank yesterday. Which of you clowns was on the bank job?”

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