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Category Archives: Object of the Month.2015

Object of the Month: December 2015

The Adoration of the Shepherds

Oil on canvas

Pier Francesco Sacchi

Lombardian, c. 1485–1528

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Pier Francesco Sacchi, in the Museum & Gallery Collection, can best be understood when one is familiar with the historical context in which the work was composed and is knowledgeable about various aspects of the composition itself.

This interesting work was composed during the Renaissance—a “rebirth” of individualism, natural science, and classical education during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which ended the medieval era.  Renaissance art reflects this “rebirth” which finally reached its zenith in the early 1490s centering on three central figures: da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.  This apex lasted about 35 years up until Rome became a Papal State in 1527.

High Renaissance painter Pier Francesco Sacchi was from a Lombard (northern Italian) village called Pavia as indicated by his signature on several of his works.  Later, he moved slightly south to the coastal city of Genoa where he apprenticed under Pantaleo Berengerio and became a member of the guild of painters in 1520.  The few paintings that can be credited to him are all religious subjects.

Sacchi’s The Adoration of the Shepherd, painted in quattrocento-style (meaning a style in the 1400s, which transitioned between the medieval period and the Renaissance), was originally oil painted on a wooden panel.  However, this work is one of two paintings in M&G’s collection that was transferred from its original wood panel to canvas due to decay.

Old Master painters followed a centuries-old, church tradition of painting specific symbols and attributes along with individual saints for the illiterate masses to identify visually the people and related life stories.  This use of symbolism is prevalent in Sacchi’s work.

For example, the classical ruins as the backdrop for the scene are not a stable for animals.  Rather, they reference Antiquity, and the broken arch represents both a bankrupt past and the necessity of the new covenant with Christ. The goldfinch, said to have eaten thorns, foreshadows Christ’s crucifixion; and the lamb the shepherd holds signifies that Christ, the Lamb of God, will offer up Himself as a living sacrifice for mankind.  The worn out knees of the man holding a Renaissance instrument (called a hurdy-gurdy) represent a life of kneeling in prayer.  The bundle of wheat used for Christ’s headrest prefigures His reference to Himself as the Bread of Life.  Christ lying on the ground and the sparrow, considered the lowliest of birds, references Christ’s humility in coming to earth; and, finally, the tree full of leaves in the background symbolizes life, and the bare branches symbolize death.

In order to “read” a work of art, understanding the historical context in which the work was composed and the various aspects of the composition itself are necessary.  M&G’s The Adoration of the Shepherds by Pier Francesco Sacchi affords the perfect opportunity for deeper knowledge about historical culture in light of Scripture.

Heather Osborne, Former M&G Graduate Assistant


Published in 2015

Object of the Month: November 2015

The Last Judgment 

Oil on panel

Giovanni Filippo Criscuolo (attr. to)

Neapolitan, c. 1495–1584

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

This theatrical scene of the last judgment attributed to the sixteenth-century painter Giovanni Filippo Criscuolo beautifully illustrates the era’s emerging artistic trends. Although his hometown of Naples would remain artistically provincial well into the seventeenth century, Criscuolo’s travels to Rome broadened his perspective. Inspired by the art of Michelangelo and Raphael, Criscuolo’s work reflects a more progressive style.  For example, the colors, poses, and compositional technique are similar to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos.

Criscuolo’s interpretation of the spirit world is also intriguing. Two Medieval literary works influencing renderings like this one were Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and Dante’s Divine Comedy.

In Summa Theologica, Aquinas organizes the spirit world into specific ranks (or choirs). Those in the first rank (solely dedicated to face-to-face worship of God) are often pictured as disembodied spirits, “pure thought,” like those surrounding Christ’s throne in Criscuolo’s painting. The second rank dedicated to knowing God through contemplation of the universe are here pictured beside Mary and John the Baptist in the midpoint of his canvas. The third rank comprised of angelic messengers who interact in human affairs, are represented in the lower register by the archangel Michael and Satan and their minions. In addition, the wings of the satanic beings are much like those described by Dante: No feathers did they bear but as of a bat/ Their fashion was . . . (Inferno, Canto 34).

As Renaissance artists became increasingly dedicated to bringing the heavens down to earth, angels become more recognizably human; their wings, faces, and bodies sculpted in beautiful detail. By the nineteenth century, such differentiations between the earthly and the heavenly had all but disappeared.

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education


Published in 2015

Object of the Month: October 2015

Procession to Calvary 

Oil on panel

Master of the Holy Blood (Maître du Saint-Sang)

Flemish, active c. 1500


Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

The identity of the anonymous artist called the Master of the Holy Blood has remained a mystery since the first serious study on the artist by Georges Hulin de Loo in association with the 1902 Exposition de Tableau Flamands des XIVe, XVe et XVIe Siecles in Bruges. De Loo decided to name this anonymous artist after the location of the Lamentation Triptych in the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges, where it has resided since its commission by the Brotherhood of the Holy Blood around 1530.

The general composition of the present Procession to Calvary relates to paintings of the same theme produced in the late fifteenth century, which likely derive from a lost original attributed to Jan van Eyck (best known for the Ghent Altarpiece).

In the upper middle portion of the painting, a Flemish city in the guise of Jerusalem recedes into space through the artist’s use of atmospheric perspective in gray-blue tones. A fantastical building meant to represent the Dome of the Rock rests in the foreground of the city scene while a smaller dome for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher rises on the right side.

Moving from the distant city are progressively closer views of medieval Flemish houses forming a backdrop to the large grouping of figures in the right middle-ground.

Three men on horseback and two soldiers standing behind them form the first figural group of the procession. Each horseman is dressed in oriental garb—a tradition stemming back to the Limbourg Brothers (learn more here) connecting eastern headgear with Jews. The pointed hat on the horseman at the far left is traditionally Jewish in type, whereas the second horseman’s turban has a large jewel on the front associated with Muslim caliphs. The man on the white horse also has a Muslim turban. Northern Renaissance painters used these costuming stereotypes to depict non-Christian characters such as Jews or Arabs. Artists such as the Master of the Holy Blood were not yet exposed to the documented cultures of the Greeks and Romans since such information had not reached the Netherlands in any significant way. Since Islamic culture was also foreign to these artists, any pagan (non-Christian) characters set in Biblical narratives were naively costumed as Muslim.

In the right foreground is a ruggedly dressed soldier armed with both a sword on his hip and a cane for beating Christ. Next to him an elderly man, representing Simon of Cyrene, helps take the weight of the cross from Christ as he falls. His gentle, caring look and effort to support the cross contrast sharply with the tormentors surrounding Christ. The next tormentor, dressed in a white tunic, pulls tight on a rope tied around Christ’s waist to increase His suffering and to prevent Him from resting from the grueling task. The opposite end of the rope falls to Christ’s side and terminates in an unusual object of torture—the spikeblock or stumbling block. Made of a thick plank of wood with nails pierced through, the spikeblock is shown upside down with the nails facing Christ. This unusual object, a Netherlandish invention, maintained a relatively popular appearance (in a variety of forms and types) in northern European art for about 150 years. The concept was intended to visualize the intensity and torture of Christ’s suffering: as Christ made His way to Calvary, the swinging block would wound His heels from behind and His shins from the front, and it would also trip Christ while carrying the cross, thus becoming a “stumbling block.”

The Procession to Calvary is undoubtedly one of the Master of the Holy Blood’s most accomplished works, revealing the trends, motifs, and stylistic hallmarks of an artist who is at once distinctive and also reflective of the influences around him in early sixteenth-century Antwerp and Bruges.

John M. Nolan, Curator


Published in 2015

Object of the Month: September 2015

Christ and the Samaritan Woman 

Oil on canvas

François de Troy

French, 1645–1730

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Born in 1645 in Toulouse, France, François de Troy eagerly embraced the artistic tradition established by his father, Nicolas de Troy. François and his brother Jean trained together in their father’s Toulouse workshop. (Interestingly, François is often confused with his son, Jean-François de Troy, who he trained to continue the family’s artistic legacy). Sometime after age 17, Francois re-located to Paris where he refined and improved his talents under the tutelage of artists such as Claude Lefèbvre and  Nicolas-Pierre Loir. It was here in Paris that he officially began his career as a portraitist.

In 1671, Francois applied to the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture. However, it wasn’t until three years later, at age 29, that the Académie accepted him. This sparked a longtime affiliation with the Académie as he served in many roles: elected as an adjunct professor in 1692, a full-time professor one year later, the coveted position of Director from 1708–1711, and adjunct rector in 1722.

The key to his success as a portraitist came in 1679 when he was selected by King Louis XIV, the Sun King, to paint an engagement portrait of Duchess Maria Anna Victoria of Bavaria (who was to marry his son and heir, Louis, the Grand Dauphin). This critical commission launched his career as he became one of the leading portrait artists during the reign of Louis XIV and the most sought after French portraitist of his time. From that point forward, he would continue to work for Louis XIV, Madame de Montespan (one of the King’s many mistresses), and their descendants (including Louis XV). His fame even brought him many commissions from the exiled King James II of England, his family, and loyal followers who were residing in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

De Troy’s style evidences the influence of Flemish portraiture and artists such as Rubens and van Dyck. Many of his portraits showcase the warm coloring and dynamic compositions often seen in the Golden Age of Dutch portrait painting. Exhibited at the Salon of 1704, the Museum & Gallery’s Christ and the Samaritan Woman, while not a portrait, beautifully highlights the skill and qualities that epitomize de Troy’s style and career. Compare M&G’s work with de Troy’s Astronomy Lesson of the Duchesse du Maine completed sometime in 1702–1704. Both exhibit the rich, warm colors of de Troy’s style as well as a central placement of the primary figures.

John 4 records the tender encounter at the well between Christ and this Samaritan woman. Christ and his disciples had to pass through the region of Samaria on their way back to Galilee. This would have been particularly distasteful to any traveling Jew because of the longstanding hatred between the Jews and Samaritans.

While the disciples go into the city to purchase food, Christ chooses to rest at the well, where a Samaritan woman comes to draw water. Christ does the unthinkable and engages the Samaritan woman in conversation asking her, “Will you give me a drink?” Because the Jews and Samaritans would not associate with one another, the woman understandably states, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” As He gently leans in to close the physical gap between them, de Troy’s Christ removes the barriers built by their conflicting cultures and offers her the “living water” that only He can provide.  His knowledge of her past and present sins combined with his kindness and loving offer, motivates her to seek this “living water” and share it with the people in her town who curiously come to see this prophet. Remarkably, Christ remains in Samaria for two days at the invitation of the townspeople, and many come to believe in Him as they tell the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

Rebekah Cobb, Guest Relations Manager & Docent


Published in 2015

Object of the Month: August 2015



Louis Comfort Tiffany (workshop of)

American, 1848–1933

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Though M&G is widely known for its European Old Master paintings, the reach of the collection extends into other genres as well—icons, antiquities, sculptures, furniture, tapestries and mosaics. These various art forms beckon visitors for multiple reasons—the fame of the maker, the artistic medium, the historical time period, or the sheer size. Inspiration by Louis Comfort Tiffany is no exception. It piques the curiosity of our guests for all of these aspects and more.

For most of us the name Tiffany is associated with exquisite jewelry or radiant stained glass. Our limited understanding may have come from hearing about a beautiful brooch once owned by Aunt Isabelle or Grandma’s “be careful when you dust it” lamp. But the cognomen Tiffany has a diversity of artistic expressions connected to it. Born in 1848, Louis Comfort Tiffany was thoroughly exposed to the voluminous jewelry inventory of his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany. Choosing first to explore painting, in his early 20’s Louis settled into what would be his métier—the decorative arts. The range of objects he and his studio produced was extensive—furniture, metalwork, textiles, pottery, enamels, and almost anything else that had to do with furnishing and beautifying interiors.

Mr. Tiffany was ahead of his time in his employment of women.  Clara Driscoll and the “Tiffany Girls” both designed and executed many of the renowned lamps and mosaics; and, as is the case, with many large firms of the era received little to no public recognition for their contributions during their lifetime (neither did the men working for Tiffany’s well-known brand).

M&G’s Inspiration was fashioned in 1887 for the First Presbyterian Church, Schenectady, NY. Though originally installed in the sanctuary above the choir loft, during a 1948 renovation it was decided that it no longer fit the décor. As with the acquisitions of many of M&G’s objects, the story is a stunning example of the providence of God. Dr. Bob Jones Jr. “just happened to be preaching at the New York church and was asked if the University might like to have the piece.” Not only did the church gift the beautiful mosaic, but they also transported it to Greenville. Housed originally in an outside setting near the BJU Fine Arts building, it was moved to its present location in Gallery 19 around 1965. Installing a work of art 8 feet across and weighing 1500 pounds took nothing less than a crane!

Mosaics of any size are intriguing, but Inspiration features Tiffany Studios’ artistry, craftsmanship and beauty on a monumental scale. Meticulously positioned mother-of-pearl and myriads of tesserae, ranging from gold to deep purple, join to create an image of a magnificent angel poring over a book. Combined with the tongue of fire atop the angel’s head, the artist symbolically portrays the biblical doctrine of inspiration—God “breathing out” His words—as explained in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21.

Louis Comfort Tiffany’s love of design, color, mediums, and techniques poised him as one of the aesthetes of his time, and he has left mankind with a trail of exquisite works of art communicating his passion. Allow yourself the pleasure of visiting M&G and marveling at this handsome example of Art Nouveau.

Bonnie Merkle, Collection Database Manager and Docent


Published in 2015

Object of the Month: July 2015

St. Michael the Archangel and St. Agnes 

Oil on panel

Colijn de Coter

Flemish, c. 1455–d. 1538


Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

The construction of Colijn’s artistic career is based on three signed works, each representing the early, middle, and later phases of his style. Rogier van der Weyden’s compositional sense greatly influenced him, even though Colijn painted nearly half a century later. Colijn loved to explore the tactile qualities of the subjects he painted, while retaining the sculptural drapery effects characteristic of the art of this period. The influence of this artist’s works spread throughout his native Brussels in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

Here, St. Michael is richly dressed in priestly embroidered silk robes similar to those found in van der Weyden’s works. The highly decorative cope is rendered so carefully that seemingly every gold thread of the garment is visible. The front trim of the cope has various unidentifiable saints within architectural niches while an elaborate gold quatrefoil morse clasps the garment together. Because St. Michael was originally part of a wing panel, de Coter breaks from van der Weyden’s frontal model and faces the character to the right in a contrapposto position that takes up nearly the entire width and height of the panel. The animation of his twisting pose is graphically emphasized by the long cross-staff that he uses to defeat the demon. One hand balances and thrusts the symbolic weapon into the demon’s throat, causing the flesh of its neck to protrude. Two fingers of the other hand carefully hold a ring in the fulcrum of the scales of justice.

The objects being weighed in the scales are of particular interest. On the right is a tiny seraph, identified by its six wings, representing a soul. Although Michael’s efforts will successfully prevent the demon from pulling the soul down, the object in the left pan of the scale far outweighs the soul and tips the scale to keep the symbolic seraph aloft (and safe from hell). What is it that could be providing such power to raise the soul out of evil’s grasp? At first glance it seems as if it might be representing the blood of Christ in a shallow dish. I John 1:7 says, “…and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Closer examination reveals an image painted into the red oval shape (with pointed ends) that portrays a figure with a tiered tiara wearing a cope with a cross staff held in the left hand, the right hand across the front in a blessing position, and an arched throne behind. A narrow band also runs around the outer edge with marks that appear to represent letters. Altogether, the imagery presented identifies this object as a red wax seal in a lead dish—a type used by numerous secular and ecclesiastic rulers at this time but closest in shape and image to seals of a bishop or an abbot.

The presence of an ecclesiastic seal on St. Michael’s scale is virtually unknown outside of this image. Use of wax seals were commonplace throughout Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and were used to validate acts or protect and validate documents that were executed under an official’s name. The implied meaning behind the seal’s efficacy to counterbalance the soul and keep it from going to hell is remarkable. Its presence either authenticates the seal owner’s power to save souls (on Christ’s behalf) or is meant to show a certain bishop or ecclesiastic’s validation for Christ’s payment for mankind’s sins (as evidenced by Michael’s cross-staff overcoming the demon’s efforts to claim the soul). The specific identity of the ecclesiastic office represented by the seal is not readily apparent in the present image. Nothing on the seal identifies a specific person who owns it. Perhaps the original panel(s) that belonged with the present wings provided more information on whose seal and authority is being promoted with this iconography.

The other figure on the fused panel represents St. Agnes dressed in gorgeous brocade and scarlet fabric. Agnes actively reads her book while holding her symbolic, name-sake lamb on a gold-chained leash. The finery of dress is particularly evident and provides a pleasing balance to the ecclesiastic garb of Michael. De Coter’s composition delicately balances the swayed poses of the two figures as each gently holds their respective objects—Michael’s scale and Agnes’s leash.

Although no original documents are known for the present work and little period archival documentation survives on the artist himself, de Coter remains one of the most important and prolific painters from the Renaissance in Brussels. St. Michael the Archangel and St. Agnes is among his best preserved works and testifies to the ability and ingenuity of this artist.

John M. Nolan, Curator


Published in 2015

Object of the Month: June 2015

The Holy Family in the Carpenter Shop 

Oil on canvas

Gerrit van Honthorst, called Gherardo delle Notti

Dutch, 1592–1656


Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Gerrit van Honthorst was a Dutch painter active during the early 17th century. Born in Utrecht, Holland in 1592, he was trained as an artist, as were two of his brothers. However, Gerrit became the most successful painter in his family. He was also the most famous member of a group called the “Utrecht Caravaggisti,” or those following the style of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in the northern European area called the Utrecht.

Honthorst is best known for taking Caravaggio’s example of dramatically using natural light and shadow and adapting the technique for nocturnal scenes with artificial light such as candles or lanterns to illuminate his paintings. This style trait gave him the nickname “Gherardo delle Notti” or “Gerard of the Night.”

Honthorst first studied in Utrecht, then lived and worked in Italy for several years before returning to the northern Netherlands in 1620. In 1622, he became a member of the Utrecht Guild of St. Luke and eventually served as its dean in the late 1620’s. Although Honthorst attracted international attention long before becoming a member of the guild, it was during this time, that he began to diversify from the Caravaggesque style by using less artificial light in his major works and made an extremely well-received visit to England, where he was given English citizenship and a lifetime pension (1628). After his return to Utrecht, his international reputation grew widely, especially among the royal and courtly circles in England and other nations.

M&G’s painting, The Holy Family in the Carpenter Shop, returns to the museum this month from an extended loan to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, which featured a monograph exhibition showing Honthorst’s lifetime of work.

M&G’s painting is a classic example of the Utrecht Caravaggisti style of painting. The canvas is illuminated by a single candle-lit lantern, and the scene is both nocturnal and heavily shadowed. Honthorst depicts Mary, clothed in her symbolic red garments, helping a young Jesus hold the lantern high so that Joseph can see to carve in his woodshop. This portrayal invites the viewer into the intimate setting while also placing the family in an ordinary work environment.

Mollie Nelson, former M&G graduate assistant


Published in 2015

Object of the Month: May 2015

The Hiding of Moses 

Oil on canvas

Sébastien Bourdon

French, 1616–1671


Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.


Born in 1616, Sébastien Bourdon was part of the bourgeoning French Baroque movement of the seventeenth century. Embroiled in intense and divisive political upheavals throughout much of the fifteenth century, French painters took a decided second place to the painters of the Italian Renaissance; however, during the sixteenth century, French artists began to reestablish their international prestige, with many French artists traveling to Rome to increase their artistic knowledge and abilities. Within this group, Bourdon deserves special attention for the wide range of artists he imitated and the immense stylistic variety he cultivated within his paintings.

History and Influences:

Born in Montpellier to a strict Calvinist family, Bourdon visited Rome in 1636, where he would study the styles of famed artists ranging from Dutch Golden Age painter Pieter van Laer (Il Bamboccio) to fellow-Frenchman Nicolas Poussin. The latter artist would have a particularly profound influence on Bourdon, with his emphasis on classical landscapes, carefully-ordered lines, and Platonic ideals, characteristics all present in Bourdon’s The Hiding of Moses. Unfortunately, Bourdon’s stay in Rome was cut short in 1638, as he was “forced to flee the Eternal City…after being denounced by the Catholic Inquisition as a heretic.” Upon returning to France, Bourdon would become a court painter to King Louis XIV and play a pivotal role in the 1648 founding of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.

The Painting:

Acquired in 1955, The Hiding of Moses reflects Bourdon’s strong Poussinist influence. Classic architectural elements dominate the landscape, with the arches of bridges, the statute of a horse, an obelisk, and a dais with a sphere placed on it all work together to recreate an environment from antiquity. Taken together, these “elements combine to form an urban scene of man-made constructs,” through which the painter “was undoubtedly trying to give this landscape a Roman mood.”

Paintings of Moses being discovered and pulled from the Nile are quite common among Baroque subjects, but Bourdon’s visual narrative is highly unique in that Moses is actually being placed into his basket by his birth-mother, as his grieving father looks on. As M&G curator John Nolan notes, this depiction “is much rarer than the typical scene of Pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses.” It is possible that Bourdon’s unique portrayal of Moses contained a deeply personal meaning for the painter, as his own flight from persecution in 1638 would have formed a vivid part of his personal history.

Bourdon’s outstanding portrayal of The Hiding of Moses is part of the collection at the Museum & Gallery.

Blaine Welgraven, Grant Specialist


Published in 2015

Object of the Month: April 2015

Christ in the House of the Pharisee 

Oil on canvas

Pierre Hubert Subleyras

French, active in Italy, 1699–1749

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

As one of the eighteenth-century’s foremost French painters of portraits and religious works, Pierre Hubert Subleyras is considered a remarkable artist and rarely seen in American collections.

Pierre was introduced to the craft from his artist father, Matthieu Subleyras, and by age seventeen was signing his own works.  In 1717, he joined the workshop of Antoine Rivalz, a history painter in Toulouse a few days journey west of his hometown, Saint-Gilles-du-Gard.  Subleyras excelled under Rivalz’s training even earning the responsibility of executing his teacher’s designs and achieving an independent commission to decorate the ceiling of the chapel of the Pénitents Blancs in Toulouse, France.

At age 27, Subleyras moved to Paris, where he was awarded the Prix de Rome for his Moses and the Brazen Serpent (Musée des Beaux Arts, Nimes). This scholarship program initiated by King Louis XIV was given to the most promising French artists (painters, sculptors and architects) to study in Rome for a three to five year period.

Pierre left for Rome in 1728 to begin studies in the fall at the Académie de France, a branch of the Paris Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture where “pensioners” or students studied anatomy, life drawing, and classical antiquity as well as absorbed and participated in Rome’s thriving contemporary art scene. Subleyras stayed seven years—somewhat longer than the more standard 4-year term.

At the end of his Académie training in 1735 at age 36, he became engaged to the miniaturist and respected artist in her own right, Maria Felice Tibaldi; the two artists married four years later, which helped to anchor the Frenchman in Rome’s society, where he couldn’t be lured away from the city even by a deathbed request from his former teacher Rivalz or appealing mediations with the Saxon Court in Dresden nor the Spanish Court in Madrid.

Subleyras’ artistic reputation was earned primarily through religious commissions beginning with Roman churches and moving to religious orders, but he was also highly regarded and widely recognized for his portraits.  Through his intellect and skilled work he became a central figure in the artistic and intellectual circles of Rome as evidenced by his varied commissions, election in 1743 to membership of the Accademia di San Luca, and acceptance into the Accademia dell’ Arcadia, an eighteenth-century Italian literary society.

His best known works include a formal portrait of Prince Frederick Christian of Saxony, portraits of Pope Benedict XIV (which were repeatedly reproduced), the Mass of St. Basil, and the monumental Supper in the House of Simon (nearly 7’x23’) commissioned by the Canons Regular of the Lateran for the refectory of their monastery of Santa Maria Nuova at Asti, Piedmont (and currently resides in the Louvre).

Since Subleyras’ workshop practice is yet uncertain, with questions about his making multiple, smaller copies of his large-scale masterpieces, it’s difficult to ascertain his reasons for repeating these works as well as if he or someone else, like his wife, participated in creating the variations.  The Louvre painting is one of a number of his own works that he made his own prints and an engraving; like this present painting at M&G, variations also exist in the Pinacoteca Capitolina Museum in Rome, Boston College Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Periodically, Christ in the House of the Pharisee is featured in the annual Living Gallery, an Upstate Easter program. The original painting in M&G’s Collection, is relatively small—about 2½’x4’. However, the life-size Living Gallery reproduction, scaled for live models, is approximately 12’ high by 25’ wide—closer to the dimensions of the Louvre’s version. The life-size stage tableau was created by local artist, Kevin Isgett, who relates his experience with Subleyras’ work:

“There is a baroque sense of overabundance—a sense of frenetic activity, servants running to and fro, guests interacting, and (almost lost in the chaos) the key part of the narrative: the woman anointing Christ’s feet.  In analyzing the work, however, I wonder if that is not part of what Subleyras is trying to communicate. Unlike the disciples at the Last Supper who knew and loved Christ as the Messiah, the Pharisees viewed Him as a mere dinner guest. Thus, losing sight of Him amidst elegantly dressed characters and lavish gold and silver plates may be the most accurate interpretation of the scene.”

Subleyras died at a young 50 years, supposedly from overwork. Well-loved and well-known during his lifetime, he spent his entire career in Rome. He is not as familiar as his French contemporaries, but is still highly regarded today for his painterly style and refined, artistic sensibility.

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director


Published in 2015

Object of the Month: March 2015

Monks before a Fireplace 

Oil on canvas

Alessandro Magnasco, called Il Lissandrino

Genoese, 1667–1749

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

No matter the era or the medium, it seems you can always count on artists to challenge the status quo.

Alessandro Magnasco was born in Genoa, northern Italy, in 1667. His father Stefano was a minor artist who died when Magnasco was only five years old. Around the age of ten, Magnasco was sent to Milan to live under the care of a patron while he learned commerce. However, his interests lay along the same lines as his father’s, and before long he had convinced his patron to sponsor an apprenticeship for him with the renowned Mannerist painter, Filippo Abbiati, of Milan. By 1690, Magnasco had mastered his craft and had established himself as a portraitist. This phase of his career lasted only a brief time before he transitioned into his distinguished, celebrated style.

Magnasco’s style is something of an anomaly, even for the eclectic movement that is the Baroque. His is a nervous, loose brushwork that conveys fluid movement and hazy figures and settings. Murky tones pervade his paintings, with the occasional pockets of stark light and strong color. Arguably his most interesting characteristic is his choice of unusual subject matter.

In a time largely characterized by paintings of religious subject matter, Magnasco chose instead to focus on the common man, such as beggars and gypsies, and on some of the more obscure facets of contemporary life, such as shadowy synagogue interiors and scenes of monastic life. Interestingly, Magnasco also often chose to portray scenes charged with social commentary, going even so far as to treat highly controversial subjects—in his day as well as our own—as in his painting of an Inquisition torture scene. Magnasco seemed captivated by the mysterious, socially questionable, and the bizarre.

Monks before a Fireplace is characteristic of Magnasco’s mature style. His elongated figures are reminiscent of the mannerist El Greco. At the same time, his monochromatic palate and mysterious, almost ghoulish, atmosphere heralds the coming of nineteenth-century realist Francisco Goya. Here, Magnasco once again presents the common man in his paintings—humble monks instead of otherworldly saints. His figures possess a uniformity, functioning almost as a nameless, faceless unit. But on closer examination, the figures are strikingly distinct, suggesting the idiosyncrasies of the individuals within the group including the monk perusing his crinkled manuscript and the man warming his feet at the fire while toying with the resident cat. He captures a snapshot of a quiet moment in contemporary monastic life.

Indeed, Magnasco’s very essence seems almost out of place in his world, a nod to modernism from the late baroque era.

Katharine Golighty, former Docent & Guest Services Attendant


Published in 2015