Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Underside of the Baroque

Roeland van Laer (1598 – after 1635)
Initiation of a member at the Schildersbent in Rome
Oil on canvas
88 x 147,5 cm 
Museo di Roma, Rome

This is a Burlesque painting about Dutch Artists in Rome in 1624-5, the middle of the Baroque era

The walls of the tavern are scrawled with grafitti lyrics recording what the painting records

The Schildersbent or The Bentvueghels (Dutch for Birds of a Feather)  was a fraternity of Dutch and Flemish artists in Rome. They were also known as the Bomboccianti

They dedicated themselves to Bacchus and had a raucous public persona

Van Laer`s initiation lasted 24 hours in  the tavern and was completed by a drunken procession to the Church of Santa Costanza, which reputedly contained the tomb of Bacchus There was a porphyry sarcophagus of Constantina (now in the Vatican Museums), which was stipulated by the fraternity to be his tomb because of its Bacchic motifs.

The artist scrawled their names on the walls of the church and thus contains a record of the composition of the fraternity

Gradually the fraternity became more established and wealthy and rather more self conscious as we can see from this anonymous work of 1660:

The inauguration of a new member of the Bentveughels Rome.
c. 1660
Oil on canvas
95.5 cm × 134 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The prostitutes are gone and the drinking is not so riotous

It lasted for a 100 years until 1720 when its activities were clamped down on by Pope Clement XI

Here we see a print of a work by Dominicus van Wijnen of an initiation ceremony in about 1690 - 1700 in the later stages of the fraternity and there is a sinister edge:

Dominicus van Wijnen (1661, Amsterdam – c.1695)
Print by Matthijs Pool (1676–1732)
Reception and dedication of a new member of the Bentvueghels, ca. 1700
1700 - 10
649 mm × 517 mm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The fraternity spanned and encompassed the Dutch Golden Age of Painting and a trip to Rome was an essential part of the curriculum for Dutch and Flemish artists of the time

The first painting and this painting:

Jan Dirksz Both (between 1610 and 1618 - August 9, 1652)
Feast and merrymaking near the Spanish Embassy in Rome in February 1637
Oil on Canvas
88 x 116 cm
Private Collection

were recently in an exhibition at the Villa Medici in Rome entitled: The Baroque Underworld: Vice and Destitution in Rome

Inspired by the Counter-Reformation, baroque used images, colours and shapes to attract the faithful 

The artists in question, who flocked to the Eternal City from across Europe to hone their skills and work on projects bankrolled by a succession of wealthy popes, cardinals, the aristocracy and nobility, were all men in their 20s 

The unusual exhibition revels in showing the underside of this gilded era: the murders and orgies, the lust and the binge drinking. It is a reminder of a neglected facet of artistic creation.

They spent their everyday lives in close proximity to the poor, the marginalised and the criminal, rubbing shoulders with them in cheap lodging-houses, taverns, dark drinking dives, gambling dens and prisons.

It was the age of Caravaggio and here we see a work by the French Caravaggesque , Valentin de Boulogne

Moise Valentin (also called Le Valentin and Valentin de Boulogne) (1591 - 1632)
The Concert
Oil on canvas
173 x 214 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The exhibition is moving to Paris, to the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, where it will be shown from 24 February to 24 May 2015.