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. 

Friday, January 23, 2015


Giuseppe Pozzi 1697-1752
Disegno della seconda machina rappresentante una cuccagna a similitudine di quelle che si fanno nej felicissimi regni delle Due Sicilie
45.3 x 64.7 cm
Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

Cuccagna monuments were built as the centrepiece for Italian festivals of the 17th and 18th centuries. 

A wood scaffolding base was covered with meat, sweets, bread and other food – forming a spectacular edible tower. 

When the order was given, the townspeople would storm the Cuccagna and grab what food they could.

This Cuccagna monument was erected for the celebrations in Rome on June 29, 1757, held after the presentation of the white "chinea" or ceremony of homage paid to Pope Benedict XIV

It was commissioned by Don Lorenzo Colonna, ambassador extraordinary of Carlo di Borbone, King of Naples and the Two Sicilies.

Cuccagna or Cockaigne  was a land of plenty in medieval myth, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures were always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life did not exist. 

All the restrictions of society or morality  were defied

Different types of Cuccagna monuments are prevalent in modern conclaves

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Miniature Consistory

Appollonio de' Bonfratelli ( c. 1500–75)
The Creation of Cardinals by Pope  Paul IV
From a Missal of Pope Paul IV
c. 1555 - c. 1559
Illuminated manuscript
260 x 175 mm
The British Library, London

Apollonio de’ Bonfratelli has been described as  one of the master craftsmen in book illumination at the papal court in the sixteenth century,

He studied under Giulio Clovio (1498–1578) 

His career began in 1523, and continued to serve in all seven Popes 

He became papal miniaturist in 1556 in the pontificate of Paul IV

In this work cameos of the Virtues (Faith, Hope, Temperance, Truth, Prudence, Charity, Justice, Fortitude), surround  a miniature in a painted frame in colours and gold, of the papal ceremony of the creation of cardinals with Paul IV standing in front of the papal throne inscribed 'Paulus IIII / Pont Max', reading from a book that two cardinals hold open

During the French Revolutionary wars the French occupied Italy and looted many cultural treasures, including thousands of manuscripts from Italian churches and papal service books from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. This is part of a cutting which found its way to the British Library

There was an exhibition by the Meadows Museum in Dallas  on these lost manuscripts and miniatures entitled: The Lost Manuscripts from the Sistine Chapel: An Epic Journey from Rome to Toledo

Cardinal Francesco Antonio José de Lorenzana y Buitrón (1722- 1804), Archbishop of Toledo, Primate of Spain, and Ambassador of King Charles IV to the Holy See was one of the few who managed to save and salvage a great deal from the Vatican. History and the Church owes him and others like him a great deal

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pisa in the 1840s

Unknown Photographer
View of Pisa from San Piero a Grado 
c. 1845
The Getty Museum, Los Angeles

In his historic daguerrotype, the maker of the work placed his apparatus on the campanile of San Piero a Grado  four kilometres from the centre of Pisa to produce a historical document 

The Pisa depicted  cannot be seen today.

During the Second World War the city was heavily bombed includng the campanile from which the daguerreotype was taken

From its great vantage point on the coast, a viewer on  the top of the campanile could see all the way on the Italian coast from Piombino all along the Tuscan coast to the Ligurian towns of the Cinque Terre

In January 1845 Charles Dickens took his wife to Rome via Pisa He was rather disappointed by The Leaning Tower but was otherwise impressed by the other sights

In Pictures From Italy - 1846, he wrote:

"The moon was shining when we approached Pisa, and for a long time we could see, behind the wall, the leaning Tower, all awry in the uncertain light; the shadowy original of the old pictures in school-books, setting forth 'The Wonders of the World.' Like most things connected in their first associations with school-books and school-times, it was too small. I felt it keenly. It was nothing like so high above the wall as I had hoped. 
It was another of the many deceptions practised by Mr. Harris, Bookseller, at the corner of St. Paul's Churchyard, London. HIS Tower was a fiction, but this was a reality - and, by comparison, a short reality. Still, it looked very well, and very strange, and was quite as much out of the perpendicular as Harris had represented it to be. 
The quiet air of Pisa too; the big guard-house at the gate, with only two little soldiers in it; the streets with scarcely any show of people in them; and the Arno, flowing quaintly through the centre of the town; were excellent. So, I bore no malice in my heart against Mr. Harris (remembering his good intentions), but forgave him before dinner, and went out, full of confidence, to see the Tower next morning.  
I might have known better; but, somehow, I had expected to see it, casting its long shadow on a public street where people came and went all day. It was a surprise to me to find it in a grave retired place, apart from the general resort, and carpeted with smooth green turf. 
But, the group of buildings, clustered on and about this verdant carpet: comprising the Tower, the Baptistery, the Cathedral, and the Church of the Campo Santo: is perhaps the most remarkable and beautiful in the whole world; and from being clustered there, together, away from the ordinary transactions and details of the town, they have a singularly venerable and impressive character. It is the architectural essence of a rich old city, with all its common life and common habitations pressed out, and filtered away."
Here we see another daguerreotype of the city taken in 1844 of the riverfront in the heart of the city again by an unknown French or Italian photographer

It was taken from the front of the Hotel of the Three Damsels (la Locanda delle Tre Donzelle) in what is now Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi

Unknown photographer
View of Pisa along the River front
c. May 1844
Half plate
84.XT. 265.20
The Getty Museum, Los Angeles

From Roman times, the city of Pisa has occupied an important place in the history of Western Christianity

In 1409 the Council of Pisa was held in the city which was the beginning of the Western Schism

It has been said :
"The Pisan synod marks an epoch in the history of Western Christendom not so much on account of what it actually accomplished as because it was the first revolt in council against the theory of papal absolutism which had been accepted for centuries. 
It followed the ideas of Gerson and Langenstein, namely, that the Church is the Church even without the presence of a pope, and that an oecumenical council is legitimate which meets not only in the absence of his assent but in the face of his protest. 
Representing intellectually the weight of the Latin world and the larger part of its constituency, the assembly was a momentous event leading in the opposite direction from the path laid out by Hildebrand, Innocent III., and their successors. It was a mighty blow at the old system of Church government."
Pastor, Geschichte der Papste, etc 4th ed., 1901–1906  I. 192, speaks of the unholy Pisan synod—segenslose Pisaner Synode. He opens his treatment with a discourse on the primacy of the papacy, dating from Peter, and the sole right of the pope to call a council. The cardinals who called it usurped an authority which did not belong to them.

L Salembier Le grand schisme d’ Occident, Paris, 1900, 3d ed., 1907. Engl. trans., London, 1907 
regarded the survival of the papacy as a proof of its divine origin. 

At p. 395, he says, "The history of the great Schism would have dealt a mortal blow to the papacy if Christ’s promises had not made it immortal."

Salembier described 15th century Pisa (like 19th century Pisa) as a city which had lost its former glory, had seemed to totter ready to fall and near ruin. However she had prmises of life eternal and would soon celebrate the triumph of life over death

In 1989 Saint John Paul II visited the city on a pastoral visit and referred to the history of Pisa and in particular to its association with the history of the Christian faith and its mission. He referred to the city as being touched by the hand of God, perhaps overlooking the events of 1409

He  said:
"Chiesa che vivi in Pisa, ripensa alla tua storia nella luce che ti viene da questa Parola di Dio! Fin dagli inizi dell’era cristiana i tuoi padri sono stati oggetto di una scelta di predilezione da parte di Dio: se non Pietro stesso, sicuramente i primi suoi discepoli sono approdati alla foce dell’Arno per recarti la “buona notizia” del Vangelo. 
Tu allora sei nata: alle tue origini c’è un’iniziativa d’amore di Dio. 
I tuoi padri hanno saputo corrispondere generosamente al patto d’alleanza, che Dio stabilì allora con essi. I frutti di tale corrispondenza sono descritti negli annali della tua storia e sono evocati da questa fioritura di opere d’arte che tutto il mondo ti invidia."

Saint Agnes of Rome

David Gauld (1865 - 1936)
Saint Agnes
Oil on canvas
61.3 x 35.8 cm
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

Gauld was a good friend of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and had studied part-time at Glasgow School of Art.

He designed for stained-glass windows and one can see there is a glass design or tapestry quality to this work

One of the "Glasgow Boys", one can see the influence of Japanese painting and the pre-Raphaelites

The painting was shown at the Munich (Glaspalast) International Exhibition of 1890

It was exhibited there with his work "Music in Japan" which is now in The Hunterian Museum at The University of Glasgow

Saint Agnes  was sold to the influential art dealer Alexander Reid,  friend and model of James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Vincent van Gogh

The work has been described as "an extraordinary anticipation of Art Nouveau"

This was not Gauld`s first work or the last on the theme of St Agnes. In 1889, he finished The Procession of St Agnes:

David Gauld (1865 - 1936)
The Procession of Saint Agnes
c 1893
Oil on canvas
90.8 by 76.2 cm
Private collection

St Agnes, the early Christian martyr who at the age of thirteen refused an arranged marriage, was executed in AD 304 

She became the patron saint of young girls and the subject of a famous poem by John Keats. 

St Agnes Eve, 20-21 January, was a time of celebration when young women could, according to legend, foretell their future husbands

It was contrary to Roman law to put a virgin to death. 

The death caused a scandal to the Roman populace  of the time. The leaders of Rome alleged that it was necessary to kill Christians in order to preserve the old Roman ways. However such acts  undermined their position

The fact that a young girl fortified only by her Chrisian faith was able to meet an unjust death so equably impressed and intrigued the Roman populace. Such testimony led to greater interest in the faith

In Sermon 273, St Augustine noted that in the recitation of names at the altar of Christ, the names of the Martyrs are recited in the most honoured place