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The Allegory on the Fall and Redemption of Man by German painter Lucas Cranach, the Younger is one of M&G’s most intriguing works.
Oil on canvas, c. 1630s
The creator of this moving portrait of King David is Simon Vouet, one of the most influential French Baroque masters. He was the son of painter Laurent Vouet. Although little is known of the elder Vouet’s work, Simon’s oeuvre is well documented, for his prodigious talent emerged at an early age. At 14 he was sent to England to work as a portraitist. Then in his early twenties he moved to Constantinople where he spent two years before traveling to Venice and finally settling in Rome. Vouet’s career flourished in Italy. During this time, he received numerous prestigious commissions, and in 1624 he became president of Rome’s renowned Accademia di San Luca.
In 1626 he married Italian artist Virginia Vezzi who was regarded as one of Italy’s best miniaturists. The painting to the right (perhaps a self-portrait) is attributed to her. A year after their marriage, the couple returned to France at the request of Louis XIII who promptly appointed Simon official court painter. Vouet became a dominating force in Paris. He was so prolific that it is difficult to create a clear timeline of all the altarpieces, mythological, and devotional works he produced. As one biographer noted, Vouet was a natural academic who studied and absorbed everything in his environment, from the rich color palette of Veronese to the dramatic lighting effects of Caravaggio.
King David, the subject of this portrait, was one of Israel’s most gifted (and complex) kings. He is unique among Old Testament figures by virtue of the fact that he is “fully known.” His remarkable biography is well documented in I and II Samuel, but it is his innermost thoughts revealed through his more than 70 lyric poems (or psalms) that render him most lifelike. Here we come to know “the man after God’s own heart” who despite this intimate relationship with God sins egregiously. Vouet’s masterful technique powerfully captures the complexity of David’s personality.
Although initially captivated by the dramatic naturalism of the Italian Caravaggisti, by the time Vouet returned to Paris, he had integrated classical elements into his painting style. For example, in this portrait the dramatic compositional line and naturalistic portrayal of the aging King is offset by the figure’s classical pose and the diffused (rather than stark) lighting. This stylistic integration of the dramatic and restrained is well-suited to the dualism of the portrait’s iconography.
Color symbolism was prevalent in 16th-century religious art, and often a single color would have more than one meaning. Here, Vouet uses vibrant red and yellow gold fabrics not only to accentuate David’s kingly wealth but also to insinuate the frailty of his nature. In religious iconography, red can symbolize both love and hate, yellow gold sacredness or treachery. All of these qualities are interwoven into David’s complicated history and readily acknowledged by him in his Psalms. In addition, Vouet masterfully captures the emotional depth of “Israel’s singer of songs”(II Samuel 23:1). Notice the intricate detail in the weathered face and hands; notice, too, the tear in the psalmist’s eye as he gazes heavenward and prays. It’s as if we hear him plead: “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were” (Psalm 39:12). It is not surprising that the harp, David’s attribute, has come to symbolize not just the Psalms but all songs and music created to honor God.
Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education
Enjoy this beautiful portrayal of the story of Joseph as told through the Museum & Gallery Collection.
Enjoy this view of the life of Old Testament leader, Moses through paintings found in M&G’s collection.
Gerard David, the painter of this beautiful portrait, was one of the Netherlands most distinguished artists.
In this polyptych (or multi-paneled altarpiece) Gerini not only highlights the Madonna and Christ Child, but also explores the life of Mary Magdalene in his predella.
Oil on canvas
Salomon Koninck was a Dutch Baroque painter and engraver. Throughout his career, he was heavily influenced by the innovative Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn and adopted the great artist’s theatrical lighting and composition. It is only fitting then that Koninck’s St. Matthew with the Angel has been displayed in M&G’s Rembrandt Hall, featuring works by Rembrandt and many of his students. While not a household name like Rembrandt, Koninck and his work provide a wonderful reminder of the spectacular.
St. Matthew with the Angel is not an unusual subject for Koninck as many of his paintings focused on philosophers and scholars. One example is The Hermit, which bears similar resemblance to his Matthew. Both include an elderly man poring over a book, but the distinction between the two is the presence of the youthful angel at Matthew’s side. Throughout art history, Matthew has been paired with many objects, including a halberd or sword, but his most common attributes are a book and an angel. In M&G’s painting, the angel leans next to him as if offering words of inspiration for his empty manuscript. By placing the two so close together, Koninck creates an intimate conversation that draws the viewer into the scene and the mystery of the apostle’s text.
While the other gospel writers certainly had divine support when they penned their descriptive records of Christ’s life, Matthew is the only one consistently shown in art with a winged man or angel. This pairing has been a tradition since the early depictions of Matthew, and many art historians credit the second-century bishop St. Irenaeus as one of the first to ascribe the imagery. In his Against Heresies, Irenaeus argued that all four gospels were necessary to understand a complete picture of Jesus Christ. He referenced Revelation 4:6-7, which talks of “four living creatures” surrounding the throne of God. These winged beings appeared to be like a lion, ox, eagle, and the fourth had a face of a man. Irenaeus assigned each evangelist one of the four creatures, and he chose the latter to represent the gospel of Matthew because the disciple and former tax collector focused on Jesus’ human lineage. While some of the gospel writers’ attributes changed from Irenaeus’ original designation, Matthew maintained the angel or winged man.
Another figure in church history, Rabanus Maurus, helped solidify the visual pairing of Matthew with an angel. In the ninth century, Maurus wrote a commentary on the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, which discusses the four faces of the creatures described in Ezekiel 1:10. Like Irenaeus, he claimed Matthew’s symbol is the man because of the inclusion of Jesus Christ’s earthly genealogy. However, Maurus further distinguished each gospel writer’s iconography, explaining that each symbol represents a mystery surrounding the life of Christ. And for Matthew, the symbol of man recalls the miraculous Incarnation. With such extensive research and support, it is no wonder that Matthew was paired with an angel. For nearly two thousand years, artists in the Western world have carried on this traditional iconography for the apostle.
As shown, Koninck’s St. Matthew with the Angel is not unusual in its symbolism and its subject matter, nor groundbreaking in in its use of artistic technique. However, Koninck does emphasize a closeness in the relationship between the earthly and the spiritual. Through divine direction and inspiration, the gospels were written by feeble men. It is through that spiritual intervention that we are able to read the gospels and remind ourselves of the wonders of God. Art is simply one reminder that when God uses frail, earthly things, He creates something spectacular.
KC Christmas Beach, M&G volunteer and former graduate assistant