Friday, November 30, 2007

The Encyclical

The Times published the following report, summarising the latest Encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi (Saved By Hope) .

"Pope attacks 'cruel and unjust' atheism in his message of hope

Richard Owen of The Times, in Rome

The Pope launched an attack on atheism today, saying that it had led to some of the “greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice” known to mankind.

In his second encyclical, Spe Salvi (Saved By Hope) Pope Benedict said that atheism purported to be “a type of moralism, a protest against the injustices of the world and of world history”. Atheists argued that “a world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God”.

Since there was “no God to create justice”, atheists said, Man himself was called on to establish it on earth. This protest against God was “understandable”, the Pope said, but “the claim that humanity can and must do what no God actually does or is able to do is both presumptuous and intrinsically false”.

Benedict added: “It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice: rather is is grounded in the intrinsic falsity of the claim. A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope.”

He did not single out any modern atheists by name.

The Pope said that faith in progress through science was also illusory. While there had been great scientific advances for mankind offering “new possibilites for good”, science also “opens up appalling possibilities for evil, possibilities that did not formerly exist. We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed has become a terrifying progress in evil.”

He also said that Christianity itself had ignored Christ's message that true Christian hope involves salvation for all, focusing instead on indiviudual salvation.

“We must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world is not in our power,” the Pope wrote. “Only God is able to do this.” He added: “Heaven is not empty,” and that Paradise and Hell were real places, not myths.

In the 76-page document, peppered with scholarly and theological references but written in a clear, limpid style Benedict argues that the modern world was shaped by the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917, the latter inspired by the ideas of Karl Marx. He praised Marx's “acute analysis” and “precision” in describing his times.

But Marx's “fundamental error” was that he “showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order but did not say how matters should proceed thereafter”. This has led to the Soviet system and other horrors of the 20th century. Marxism, the Pope wrote, had left behind “a trail of appalling destruction” because it failed to realise that Man could not be “merely the product of economic conditions”.

The encyclical takes its Latin title from St Paul's Letter to the Romans in the New Testament. An encyclical is the most authoritative statement a Pope can issue to the faithful.

Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, a Vatican biblical scholar, who presented the document, said that it was addressed not only to Catholics but also to Protestants and Orthodox Christians and even to non-Christians. He noted that it had been signed and released on the feast of St Andrew, which is celebrated with particular devotion by the Orthodox Church.

The Pope, who has shown increasing concern over global warming and other “green” issues, said that “Christian hope” also meant protecting the planet.

“We can free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future. We can uncover the sources of Creation and keep them unsullied, and in this way we can make a right use of creation, which comes to us as a gift,” he said.

Benedict's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), issued in January 2006, was on erotic and spiritual love (“charity”). Asked if the Pope was working on a third encyclical on “faith” to complete a trilogy on faith, hope and charity, Father Federico Lombardi, his spokesman, said that this was “not excluded”.

The Pope, who was elected in 2005, is also working on another encyclical on the theme of social justice in an era of globalisation, to be released next Easter.

In Spe Salvi he quotes St Augustine, St Bernard and Sister Josephine Bakhita, a former Sudanese slave who in the 19th century was rescued by an Italian priest and became a nun and was later canonised by Pope John Paul II as a “symbol of hope”. He also quotes secular thinkers, from Plato to Francis Bacon and the German Marxist philosopher Theodor Adorno.

In the document the Pope says: “A distinguishing mark of Christians is the fact that they have a future: they know that their life will not end in emptiness.”

He says that redemption “is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal”.

Jesus did not bring a message of social revolution like the Roman slave Spartacus, he says, “he brought something totally different, an encounter with the living God, an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within, even if external structures remained unaltered.” Jesus showed us “the way beyond death”.

The Pope says many people reject faith today, “simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment.”

He concludes: “Our hope is essentially also hope for others: only thus is it truly hope for me too.”


GIOTTO di Bondone
(b. 1267, Vespignano, d. 1337, Firenze)
Fresco, 120 x 60 cm
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

Hope (Spes) is portrayed as winged female figure, receiving a crown from God the Father.

Today, 30th November 2007, the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Pope Benedict XVI has published his Encyclical, Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope)


John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925)
Vespers 1909
Oil on canvas, 71 x 91.5cm
Walker Art Gallery

It was painted during a visit to Corfu in 1909.

Sargent was noted for being a portraitist. However in this painting he shows his mastery of landscape.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

God Tempted

Peter Howson (b. 1958)
God Tempted
Pencil on gessoed panel
22 x 21 cm / 8¾ x 8¼ in


Peter Howson (b. 1958)
Oil on canvas
76.5 x 61 cm / 30¼ x 24 in

Crucifixion of St Andrew

Peter Howson (b. 1958)
Crucifixion of St Andrew

St John

Peter Howson (b. 1958)
St John II
Pastel on paper
60 x 49 cm / 23¾ x 19½ in

Peter Howson (b. 1958)
Patmos I
Pastel on paper
46 x 60 cm / 18¼ x 23¾ in

See also:

Flowers East


Peter Howson Official Website

Christ in Hell

Peter Howson (b. 1958)
Christ in Hell
Pencil on gessoed panel
22 x 21 cm / 8¾ x 8¼ in


Peter Howson (b. 1958)

Howson`s works are always interesting and never dull.

For more about Howson and his works, see The Peter Howson web site.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

La Cité de Dieu

La Cité de Dieu (first volume)
St. Augustine
Paris, early fifteenth century.
Vellum, 339 leaves, 423 x 330 mm.
National Library of the Netherlands

This is a copy of the French translation of De Civitate Dei by St. Augustine.

The miniature reproduced here depicts God the Father, enthroned amidst the four doctors of the Church: top left St. Augustine, top right St. Gregory the Great, recognizable by his papal tiara, bottom left St. Ambrose, and bottom right St. Jerome, dressed as a cardinal with his attribute, the lion, at his feet.

The most important authors of Christianity have been depicted writing, with their writing sheets kept flat by red ribbons weighted with lead pellets.

The written sheets which St. Gregory has hung to dry on a line are famous among manuscript experts.

Framing the page is a magnificent, densely decorated border of green and pink leaves which, linked at the bottom by a true-to-nature rendering of hills with trees, gives the overall impression of a forest full of birds and playful hunting scenes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christ in Cookham

Sir Stanley Spencer b.1891, d.1959
Christ in Cookham from the series Pentecost, Last Judgement
oil on canvas
127.0 x 205.7cm stretcher; 141.0 x 220.0 x 7.5cm frame
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia

Stanley Spencer's religiosity was marked by an almost mystical fervour

A Christ of Romanesque solidity presides over workers, village worthies, children and most of the local football team.

The setting is a cottage garden in Cookham, Spencer's rural birthplace which he habitually portrayed as an earthly paradise.

The Spanish Civil War: an attempt at reconciliation ?

The Times reports that:

"Last month the ruling PSOE (the Party of the Spanish Socialist Workers) passed a law of historical memory (la ley de memoria histórica), assigning public funds to the families of victims of the 1936-39 civil war so that they can exhume their bodies.

In 2000, 13 unmarked graves of dead Republicans were discovered in a hamlet in northwest Spain. Their deaths, as the losers in the civil war, had never officially been honoured or even mentioned.

As dozens of similar Republican graves were found all over the country, the Spanish began, for the first time, to talk openly about the war.

It was a radical departure from El Pacto de Olvido, the consensual agreement to simply “forget” and never to discuss the war or the 40-year dictatorship that followed it. ...

Designed mainly to honour the Republican dead, the law of historical memory eventually covered “all victims of the war killed for religious or political reasons”. The words “religious reasons” refer to the war's other victims, the nearly 7,000 Catholic priests, nuns and monks murdered in the conflict by Republicans. Their ghosts still haunt the Spanish.

Three days before the law of historical memory was passed, nearly 500 of those religious victims were honoured by the Catholic Church in a mass beatification ceremony. The 498 individuals now on the path to sainthood were killed, often after being tortured, in 1934, 1936 and 1937.

The Vatican described them as “martyrs of the 21st century”. Spanish Catholics such as Alejandro Rodríguez de la Peña, secretary-general of the Asociación Católica de Propagandistas (The Catholic Propagandists' Association), describe them as innocent victims of the wave of anti-clerical persecution that swept 1930s Spain."

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

The Times has published a letter from Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O’Connor , Archbishop of Westminster, on the subject of The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which has just been introduced into the legislative process in the House of Lords where it has just obtained its Second Reading.

It is a government sponsored Bill of great length and complexity. It raises many difficult and complex ethical problems.

In his letter, the cardinal calls for a free vote to be given to members of Parliament in both Houses in regard to the Bill. This is unlikely to be conceded by the Government.

In his letter, the Cardinal said:

"Sir, The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which receives its second reading in the House of Lords today, raises three issues of particular importance.

One is the quality of regulation. New research techniques, and most recently licences for research on human-animal hybrids, have been pushed forward with inadequate attention to the long-term ethical problems they pose. The Bill does nothing to remedy this. It should be used to create a statutory national bioethics commission bringing together a broad spectrum of experts with a clear mandate and an independent role. Only such an authoritative and independent body can ensure that serious ethical scrutiny is no longer an afterthought but a precondition of such research.

Secondly, the Bill proposes to remove the need for IVF providers to take into account the child’s need for a father when considering an IVF application, and to confer legal parenthood on people who have no biological relationship to a child born as a result of IVF. This radically undermines the place of the father in a child’s life, and makes the natural rights of the child subordinate to the desires of the couple. It is profoundly wrong.

Thirdly, this Bill can and will be used by all sides to seek a change in the abortion law. Debates about this will easily generate much more heat than light unless the energy of both sides is focused on the right question, which is: “Given that 200,000 abortions a year is far too many, how can a deliverable change in the law most effectively reduce that number?” Of course the law is only one aspect of what needs to change if that number is to come down significantly. But it would send a powerful and necessary message if Parliament were to amend the abortion law with the clear intent not of making abortion easier, but, as a first step, of making it rarer.

The many serious ethical issues raised by this Bill require that Members of both Houses are given a free vote in accordance with their conscience, not only on the abortion issue but the Bill as a whole. Opposition parties are already allowing this, and I urge the Government to do likewise.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O’Connor

Archbishop of Westminster "

It is clear that it is not just the Catholic Church which has grave reservations about the Bill. This is evident from the Second Reading Debate in the House of Lords.

The Second Reading Debates were on 19th and 21st November 2007. They are reported here and here.

It is due to be considered in Committee on 3rd December 2007.

More details about the Bill including the Bill, Explanatory Notes, Amendment Papers and Proceedings can be accessed here.

In the Second Reading Debate, a member of the Joint Committee which met before the Bill was introduced, the Anglican Bishop of St Albans said:

"It is relatively easy to expose the ethical issues by asking a simple question: does the kind of scientific endeavour and therapeutic treatment which this Bill allows need regulation at all and why not let scientific and therapeutic market forces rip? As soon as one asks the question one begins to realise what some of the ethical issues are. Unregulated research and treatment could jeopardise our common understanding of what it means to be human; it could jeopardise our understanding of what we believe to be the meaning and purpose of human life; it could jeopardise our understanding of human relationships; and an unregulated free-for-all could and might lead to the unscrupulous treatment of the most vulnerable and could and might lead to some appalling abuses of power.

I outline again the four major philosophical ethical areas: first, the meaning of our humanity; secondly, the meaning and purpose of our lives; thirdly, the meaning, purpose and value of human relationships; and, fourthly, the right use of power. Those four ethical issues are accompanied by others—for example, because we have the ability to carry out research and treatment, how do we decide whether we should, and what criteria should we use to determine this? How are we to decide whether the kind of research and treatment outlined by the Bill is likely to harm or enhance individuals in society? And, conversely, what might be the effects on individuals in society if we fail to carry out the proposed research and treatment? In my view the moral questions inherent in the Bill tumble over each other in rapid succession.

I again remind noble Lords that our ability in the Joint Committee to tackle some of those questions was hampered by two things—first, as I have said, lack of time, and, secondly, having to spend time on whether the HFEA and the HTA should be coalesced into RATE. That proposal has wisely been abandoned, but the time the Joint Committee spent on that could have been spent on some of the ethical questions. In that committee some of us became aware of both the significance and the accuracy of what Sir Liam Donaldson described as the, “deficit in medical ethics in this country”.

Some consider that medical ethics are somehow subservient to the science being undertaken. The then Minister said in her evidence to us:

“It is a mixture of science and ethics in these areas and part of getting the ethics right is taking public opinion with you in terms of support for the science”.

I do not share that utilitarian view of ethics.
[emphasis added]

Our lack of time as a committee also meant that we were unable to explore in as much depth as some of us would have liked not only the questions I have outlined, but the one that is key to this whole enterprise: what is the moral status of the human embryo? Does every embryo from the moment of fertilisation have a unique indelible moral status or does the moral status of the embryo change as the embryo develops? I recognise that the Warnock report—and many philosophers and theologians have before and since—debated this question, but ethically that question lies at the heart of this Bill, and, because of changes in science and technology and changes in public attitudes, it needs to be debated again.

I have read something about the science involved in human fertility research and treatment. I found much of that science breathtakingly interesting. I recognise that it is carried out in some instances with remarkable humility—it is very moving—but I am among those who believe that this Bill is of such fundamental importance that greater and further consideration of the ethical issues should and must be given.

I share the view of the Joint Committee that a joint bioethics committee of Parliament should be set up. If noble Lords want the details they should look at paragraph 295 on page 77 of the Joint Committee's report. I hope that that recommendation will be acted on as a matter of urgency. Such a committee should be appointed not to provide retrospective reflection on legislation but to provide a lot of prospective thinking.

We hear much—even today we have heard much—about impact assessments. What is the point of impact assessments if they do not include the ethical dimensions of the issues before us? Of course I recognise the beauty and humanity of much of the science, but it would be tragic if that beauty and humanity were to be damaged by any deficit in ethical thinking in this Parliament. It would be even more appalling if those who might be brought to birth as a result of the proposals outlined asked of us: “Why? Why were they in such a rush? Why didn’t they have the courage or the wisdom to give deep and long consideration to the morality of the proposals before rushing into law?”.

The Bill is not only about us in our generation. It is not only about our place in the world scientifically and technologically. It is also potentially about generations of people yet to come. It seems to me that we owe it to them to ensure that we give as much attention to the ethics as we do to the science and to the regulatory mechanisms. It is for their sake that we must get the ethics, and therefore the legislation, right."

It is interesting to note that the ethos behind the Government`s appoach to the subject is strictly utilitarian. This is shown even more by the speeches of the Government spokesmen who spoke in the debates. The Government do not wish to debate the serious and complex ethical issues involved in the subject. The Bill is a hurried attempt to deal with the subject in a cack-handed and superficial manner.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Great Collection

Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691-1765)
Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga 1740
Wadsworth Atheneum Art Gallery, Hartford, Connecticut

Giovanni Paolo Panini was one of the leading painters of vedute, or topographical views, in Rome during the eighteenth century.

His views of modern Rome, as well as his capricci based on the better-known ruins, had an enormous vogue among Grand Tourists and examples are to be found in most older galleries. Piranesi, though far more of an archaeologist, was influenced by him, and so was Canaletto.

Cardinal Gonzaga (born Mantua 1690, died Viterbo 1756) was a great intellectual and collector, the Secretary of State and close to the Pope, Pope Benedict XIV (Lambertini). His residence (which is now the Villa Paolina) was near Porta Salaria and Porta Pia. The cardinal's picture gallery was portrayed in the painting which accurately reproduces 148 works from the cardinal's collection.

He helped to found and install the Pinacoteca Capitolina, to reopen the Accademia di San Luca, to preserve ancient museums from plundering, and to regulate the exportation of works of art.

He was an honorary member of the Accademia di San Luca and of the Accademia dell'Arcadia. He was the inspiration of an extraordinary cultural movement, encouraging the Popeto conserve and restore the basilicas and the ancient churches.

The greater part of his library is now in the National Central Library in Rome.

In the above painting, the Cardinal stands with the artist in the centre of the composition beside an enlarged copy of Raphael’s Madonna della Sedia).

Pierre Subleyras (Saint Gilles 1699 - Roma 1749)
Benedict XIV and Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga
Oil on canvas, cm 131x178.
Museum of Rome

St John Chrysostom and the Empress Eudoxia

Jean-Paul Laurens (1838 – 1921)
St John Chrysostom and the Empress Eudoxia 1894
Oil on Canvas
127 x 160 cm
Musee des Augustins, Toulouse

Laurent was a major exponents of the French Academic style.

Strongly anti-clerical and republican, his work was often on historical and religious themes, through which he sought to convey a message of opposition to monarchical and clerical oppression.

In 398 St John was requested — against his will — to take the position of Archbishop of Constantinople. He deplored the fact that Imperial court protocol would now assign to him access to privileges greater than the highest state officials.

Amongst others, he made an enemy in Aelia Eudoxia, the wife of the eastern Emperor Arcadius, who assumed (perhaps with justification) that his denunciations of extravagance in feminine dress were aimed at herself.

An alliance was soon formed against him by Eudoxia, and others of his enemies.

They held a synod in 403 to charge John, in which his connection to Origen was used against him. It resulted in his deposition and banishment.

He was called back by Arcadius almost immediately, as the people became "tumultuous" over his departure. There was also an earthquake the night of his arrest, which Eudoxia took for a sign of God's anger, prompting her to ask Arcadius for John's reinstatement.

Peace was short-lived. A silver statue of Eudoxia was erected near his cathedral. John denounced the dedication ceremonies. He spoke against her in harsh terms: "Again Herodias raves; again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John’s head in a charger," an allusion to the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist. Once again he was banished, this time to the Caucasus in Armenia

It was one of the great clashes between Church and State in the early Church. The painting could not be anything other than indicative of the clashes between Church and State in Nineteenth century France.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

José Benlliure y Gil (1855 - 1937)

José Benlliure y Gil (1855 - 1937) studied painting under Domingo, and showed from the first such marked talent that he was sent to the Spanish school in Rome

He became the leader of the Spanish art colony in Rome, where he practised as painter and sculptor.

He was born in Valencia and died there.

He executed a series of paintings on the subject of the Mass. In 1932 he gifted these to the city and these are now housed in the main art gallery in Valencia, El Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia San Pío V (housed in a former convent and seminary)

Monaguillos. Oil on canvas 108 x 105 cm

Sacerdote revestido Oil on canvas 85 x 63 cm

Oyendo misa, Rocafort Oil on canvas 98 x 148 cm

Misa en la ermita Oil on canvas 96 x 146 cm

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Epistolae Familiares

Extract from Epistolae Familiares by Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini [Pope Pius II](1404-1464).
Printed At Leuven by Johannes van Westfalen in 1483
National Library of the Netherlands

This is the collection of letters by the humanist Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (1404-1464), who became Pope Pius II in 1458. Some twenty editions of this work were published in the fifteenth century, in different versions.

A Psalter

Detail from Psalter
Made in Normandy c. 1180
232 x 169mm
National Library of the Netherlands

This is the picture of the month of May, in which a knight on horseback rides out to go hawking. The hawker, draped in ermine, is shown at the moment of taking off the hawk's hood, a rarely depicted detail.

The style with its bright colours and austere outlines, as well as the physiognomy of the falconer's face reveal that the miniature is painted by an artist coming from Normandy or the south of England.

The manuscript was made for an unknown, possibly noble patroness, who had herself portrayed in a kneeling position in a full-page miniature before the beginning of the texts of the psalms.

Two Saints by ZURBARÁN

ZURBARÁN, Francisco de (Fuente de Cantos, Badajoz, 1598 - Madrid, 1664)
St Francis
1650 - 1660
Oil on canvas
H. 209 ; L. 110 cm
Museum of Fine Art, Lyon, France

According to legend, Pope Nicholas V went down into the crypt where St Francis was buried. Opening the tomb, he found the body of the saint with its eyes turned to heaven in ecstasy. It is only a legnd as the tomb was not discovered until 1818.

However the theme resonated.

The painting was originally painted for a convent in Madrid. It then made its way to the Convent of the Colinettes in Lyon. After the Revolution it was bought by the Museum.

It is a monumental and sculptural apparition which is painted. Light comes from an open door on the left. There is aninvisible presence in the scene. The eyes of the figure are turned inwards. The mouth is open as if in silent conversation.

ZURBARÁN, Francisco de (Fuente de Cantos, Badajoz, 1598 - Madrid, 1664)
The Apotheosis of St Thomas Aquinas 1631
Oil on Tempera
486 x 385 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Seville

This was painted for the College of St Thomas Aquinas in Seville in 1631.

It is an ambitious painting.

At the front one can see the founder of the College, Diego Deza. The Emperor Charles V is shown kneeling with others in prayer.

The saint is flanked by four Doctors of the Church. Above them are the Holy Spirit, Christ, Mary, Saint Paul and Saint Dominic.

Augustus Pugin: Contrasts and a Parallel

Pugin, Augustus Welby Northmore 1812-1852
Frontispieces (illustrations)
Contrasts or A Parallel Between the Architecture of the 15th and 19th Centuries 1836
Engraving (printing process)
Private Collection

Contrasted Crosses


Contrasts, episcopal residences

Altar screens from the 15th and 19th centuries

Brighton Chapel Royal, Windsor St George Chapel

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1 March 1812 – 14 September 1852) is now best remembered for his work on churches and on the Houses of Parliament. He was a leader of the Gothic revival movement in architecture.

He attacked the influence of "pagan" Classical architecture in his book Contrasts or A Parallel Between the Architecture of the 15th and 19th Centuries , in which he set up medieval society as an ideal, in contrast to modern secular culture.

His Contrasts (1836) placed him at once ahead of the pioneers of the day.

Of his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1834, Pugin said that the study of ancient ecclesiastical architecture was the primary cause of the change in his sentiments, by inducing him to pursue a course of study, terminating in complete conversion.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Vatican in 1909

Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo

Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo, begun 1476, exterior, by Juan Guas (French, 1430–1496).

Interior view of the nave

Interior view of vaulted ceiling

Interior view of the nave wall

Interior view of the nave wall

Juan Guas (1430–1496), Isabella's court architect, championed the Hispano-Flemish style in structures such as the monastery of San Juan de los Reyes in Toledo.

The Hispano-Flemish style of architecture and decoration flourished during the reign of Isabella of Castile. It combines intricate Gothic motifs characteristic of the North with elements of the Islamic-inspired Mudejar style.

The monastery of San Juan de los Reyes was built by the Catholic King and Queen (the Catholic Monarchs), Isabel (Elizabeth) and Fernando (Ferdinand), to commemorate their victory at the Battle of Toro (1476)

The church is dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist, patron saint of King Juan II.

San Juan de los Reyes was restored after the damage caused during Napoleon's invasion and after its abandonment in 1835; since 1954 it has been entrusted again to the Franciscans.

For more see The Official Website of San Juan de los Reyes

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Carceri d’ Invenzione

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778)
Carceri d’ Invenzione, Plate VII
Untitled (The Drawbridge)
ca. 1780 (Third Edition)

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778)
Carceri, Plate VII
Untitled (The Drawbridge)
1749 (First Edition)

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778)
The Round Tower: Plate 3 of Carceri, ca. 1749–60
Etching, engraving, sulphur tint or open bite, burnishing; 21 7/8 x 16 7/16 in. (55.6 x 41.8 cm)

The Carceri d'Invenzione or "Imaginary Prisons," which Piranesi engraved in 1745 are among the most potent dream images ever evoked. They are described on their title page as "capricious inventions."

They derive from stage prisons rather than real ones

Hallucinogenic, obsessional and surreal are adjectives which do not quite convey the power of these images.

Galleries have no exit; unending ramps, staircases and stone voids; scribbled and echoing crypts; vaults and huge iron grilles; swinging cables. All coalesce into a dream and sometimes nightmarish vision of limitless dread, and of imprisonment by infinite space. The Carceri often present pure architectural spaces far from all nature, complex interior halls that seem to be partly ruins, partly unfinished buildings.Horace Walpole noted of Piranesi: “He has imagined scenes that would startle geometry.”

It is perhaps not surprising that Coleridge, Baudelaire, and Thomas de Quincey had a great interest in these works.

The Carceri reveal the scope of his architectural ambitions with a grandiosity that could not have been attained by any of the designs that he actually meant to be built, hampered as they were by reality.

Various reworkings of the Carceri spanned most of Piranesi’s working life. In their second, significantly darker version, the Carceri show close affinities with his etchings of antique ruins. Piranesi reworked these plates and added two new ones to the series. Thereworked plates are darker and more complex, with added details and inscriptions. While it is hard to find meaning in the first state of the series, the second state includes explicit references to the justice system under the Roman Republic and to the cruelty for which certain emperors were known.

Were these an oblique critique of the system of justice which operated in Rome and the Papal States at the time ?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Francesco Piranesi, (1756–1810)

Francesco Piranesi, (Italian, 1756–1810) was the eldest son and heir of the famous Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Instructed in both engraving and architecture by his father, he was both engraving his own works of art and assisting his father's work by 1775.

Upon the death of Giovanni Piranesi, three years later, he acquired his father's publishing house and was responsible for printing most of the later editions of his prints.

In the following years, Francesco Piranesi built his reputation primarily upon his engravings of antique statuary.

In 1798, the revolution drove him to Paris. He was later employed by Napoleon's government to engrave the antique vases and statues in collections in France and within French occupied Italy.

He collaborated with the French artist Louis-Jean Desprez on a series of views of Naples, Rome, and Pompeii, advertised in 1783 as “dessins coloriés” and sold at Piranesi’s shop in Rome. Although the 1783 advertisement promised forty-eight views, the series was not completed before Desprez left Rome to enter the employ of the Swedish king, Gustav III.

Piranesi, Francesco (1758-1810).
The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1779

Piranesi, Francesco (1758-1810).
View of Vesuvius by Day

Francesco Piranesi (Italian, 1756–1810) and Louis-Jean Desprez (French, 1743–died Stockholm 1804)
The Fireworks Above Castel Sant’Angelo
Etching with watercolor and gouache, 1781 or 1783
New York Public Library

Francesco Piranesi (Italian, 1756–1810) and Louis-Jean Desprez (French, 1743–died Stockholm 1804)
The Girandola at the Castel Sant'Angelo, ca. 1783
Etching with colored washes; 27 5/8 x 19 in. (70.2 x 48.3 cm) (sheet)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Beginning in 1471, the papacy sponsored a spectacular fireworks display, called the Girandola, at the Castel Sant'Angelo. Re-created whenever a new pope was elected or crowned as well as on Easter and June 28, the eve of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Girandola was popular with local audiences and tourists alike.

Toward the end of the 18th century, such pyrotechnic extravaganzas also were an expression of the sublime, where terror mixed with pleasure. Erupting volcanoes stirred up similar emotions, and in art and in literature at this time there was a close connection between nature’s fireworks, specifically volcanoes, and the manmade equivalent.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778)

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778)
Various Roman Ionic capitals compared with Greek examples, from Julien-David Le Roy's Les ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce (1758): Plate 20 of Della magnificenza ed architettura de' romani, 1761
Engraving; 15 3/8 x 23 1/4 in. (39 x 59 cm)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778)
An Analysis of the Structure of the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella: From Antichità Romane, 1756
Etching, plate 49 of Antichità Romane, vol. 3, first edition
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Antichita Romanae.Volume I Fig.I et II (tab.XV) : View of the pronaos or porch of the Panthéon in Rome. Interior view of the Panthéon.

Volume 1. Antichita Romanae. Pl. XLI : Plan of Nero`s Palace

Volume II. Le Antichita Romane. Pl.II double : imaginary composition of long street with old remains and statues

Volume II. Le Antichita Romane. Pl.IX double : interior view of the tomb of the family L. Arrunzio on the via Appia
Inscription: VEDUTA dell'Ingresso della CAMERA SEPOLCRALE di L. ARRUNZIO e della sua Famiglia. L'Anno 1736 nello scassare una vigna situata a mano sinistra prima d'uscire da Porta maggiore furono scoperte da Belardi Affittuale molte Camere sepolcrali le quali sono state demolite a riserva della presente, e d'un'altra a questa vicina conservate ad istanza dell'Antiquario Ficoroni In questa per tanto contigui alle parieti, le quali sono d'opera reticolata, veggonsi inalzati molti Sepolcri di varia grandezza e costruttura, per la quale, come ancora per la forma alterata de'Caratteri delle Iscrizioni apposte a cadaun de'medesimi danno a divedere d'essere stati fabbricati in secoli diversi. Ogni Sepolcro secondo la sua capacitàcontiene due quattro o più Olle nelle quali furono riposte le ossa e le ceneri de'corpi abbruciati. Negli Angoli poi e quàe làsparsi furono trovati de'Sarcofaghi con dentro gli scheletri, dell'Vrne di marmi preziosi, de'Cinerarii, de'Cippi, Are funebri, Vasi lacrimatorii, Teschj coperti di tavoloni di cotto, e molti altri sepolcrali monumenti. Nell'esterno della Camera era situata la qui interposta Iscrizione, la quale in oggi esiste sulla nuova entrata, per cui si discende nella stessa Camera.

Volume II. Le Antichita Romane. Pl.X double : interior view of the tomb of the family L. Arrunzio on the via Appia

Volume II. Le Antichita Romane. Pl.XVI double : interior view of the tomb of the family L. Arrunzio on the via Appia

Volume III. Le Antichita Romane. Pl.XIX double : sarcophagus of the mausoleum of St Helen, mother of Constantine, on the via Lavicana.

Volume IV Le Antichita Romane. View of Castel Sant Angelo and the Mausoleum of Hadrian and Bridge
Inscription: VEDUTA del Ponte, e del Mausoleo, fabbricati da Elio Adriano A Speroni, o Contraforti semicircolari del Ponte nella parte dietro al corso dell'acqua. B Pile quadrate. C Avanzi di Murelli di Mattoni fatti da moderni per riparo. D Arena portata dal Fiume in tempo dell'escrescenze, della quale sono quasi riempiti li due Archi E. F Arco moderno fabbricato sopra l'Arco antico. G Speroni contra la corrente. H Cloaca antica del Mausoleo, la quale scaricavasi nel Fiume. I In questa parte il Piano del Ponte sopra degli ultimi due Archi è stato alzato per renderlo pari al Piano moderno della Città. K Corpo di Guardia reale, per cui entrasi nel Castello. L Una delle quattordici Pietre, le quali segnano i Confini delle moderne Regioni. M Recinti di Mura, e Baloardi, fabbricati da sommi Pontefici in diversi tempi. N Masso antico, oggi chiamato il Maschio. O Copertura di mattoni sopra il Masso antico. P Arme di Alessandro VI. Q Parte dell'Abitazione del Castellano. R Angelo di metallo posto in centro del Maschio. S Palizzate per condurre l'acuqa di Mulini. T Rovine antiche. V Il Pelo più basso dell'Acqua per ordinario nel Mese d'Agosto d'ogni Anno.

One of the greatest printmakers of the eighteenth century, Piranesi always considered himself an architect.

The son of a stonemason and master builder, he received practical training in structural and hydraulic engineering from a maternal uncle who was employed by the Venetian waterworks, while his brother, a Carthusian monk, fired the aspiring architect with enthusiasm for the history and achievements of the ancient Romans.

After his arrival in Rome in 1740, he apprenticed himself briefly to Giuseppe Vasi, the foremost producer of the etched views of Rome that supplied pilgrims, scholars, artists, and tourists with a lasting souvenir of their visit. Quickly mastering the medium of etching, Piranesi found in it an outlet for all his interests, from designing fantastic complexes of buildings.

By 1747, Piranesi had begun the work for which he is best known, the Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome), and he continued to produce plates for the series until the year of his death in 1778.

His reproductions of real and recreated Roman ruins were a strong influence on Neoclassicism.