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Tag Archives: 17th century

Picture Books of the Past: The Tribulation of Job

Enjoy this series of segments highlighting Picture Books of the Past: Reading Old Master Paintings, a loan exhibition of 60+ works from the M&G collection. The exhibit has traveled to The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. and the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.

In The Tribulation of Job, Francesco Fracanzano masterfully captures a mood of despair. The broken jar, a vivid metaphor for Job’s broken life, coupled with the mocking gestures of the supporting figures further highlight his isolation. But what happens after God’s visitation? How has this battered (but faithful) servant changed? As you explore Fracanzano’s masterpiece listen to the creative monologue from the exhibition’s audio guide for insight into these questions.

Constantijn van Renesse (attr. to): Christ before Pilate

Few paintings exist by this Dutch master, and if this is his work, it is certainly one of his finest.

Object of the Month: January 2024

The Body of Christ Prepared for Burial

Oil on canvas, signed and dated: .EQVS.IO.BAGLIONVS.RO.P.1616

Cavaliere Giovanni Baglione, called Il Sordo del Barozzo

Roman, c. 1566-1644

Giovanni Baglione was born, lived and died in Rome; although he received and completed art commissions elsewhere. He was an important artist in his day, even becoming President of the Roman Academy. He authored two books including The Lives of Painters, Sculptors, Architects and Engravers, active from 1572–1642, which has become a fundamental source for study of 17th-century Italian art of more than 200 artists, particularly in Rome.

Like many artists of the Baroque era, Baglione was influenced by the younger painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. He sought to borrow and integrate Caravaggio’s naturalism and technique of dramatic light and shadow, which was quite novel. The two were in competition for commissions in Rome by the popes, nobles, and influentials.

Although incredibly talented, Caravaggio was arrogant and an angry, violent man. He expressed his hatred of Baglione through mockery and insults including his writing and circulating slanderous satirical poems criticizing him. In 1603, Baglione sued Caravaggio and three other painters (Orazio Gentileschi, Onorio Longhi, and Filippo Trisegni) for libel. According to the court records from the trial, Caravaggio said Baglione was no friend of his, and that he was not a good painter. Then he outlined his views in court about what a good painter was—“a man who can paint well and imitate nature well.” Essentially, in Caravaggio’s opinion, Baglione could do neither. In his book on the Lives, Baglione also shared his own view of Caravaggio saying, “he would speak badly of painters of the past, no matter how distinguished they were, because he thought that he alone had surpassed all other artists in his profession.”

Baglione’s most esteemed painting is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Peter Raising Tabitha from the Dead, for which he was made a Knight of the Order of Christ by Pope Paul V in 1606.

In spite of the bitterness between the two artists, Baglione produced a painting inspired by one of Caravaggio’s most renowned works—the Entombment in the Vatican Pinacoteca. If not the first, Baglione was one of the first artists to emulate Caravaggio’s revolutionary style, and he described his rival’s Entombment as Caravaggio’s best work. M&G’s The Body of Christ Prepared for Burial references some elements from Caravaggio’s work, such as the stone slab and highlighting and shadowing. M&G’s painting is not Baglione’s first version of the subject, which was finished in 1608—just five years after the libel lawsuit—as a commissioned altarpiece for the church of the Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples.

However, eight years later he refined the composition into M&G’s version, which he signed and dated the lower right corner of the stone slab as Cavaliere Giovanni Baglione, revealing his knightly status.

It’s ironic, but art historians believe that Baglione’s best pictures are his most “Caravaggesque.” M&G’s treatment is a more classical interpretation of Caravaggio’s version. We’re uncertain of who commissioned the canvas, but it may have been an altarpiece because of its size of more than 7’ tall, the centrality of Christ’s body, and the details with the elements of the passion (crown and nails on the lower left).

Among other specialists, Edgar Peters Bowron describes M&G’s painting as one of his “noblest compositions and demonstrates how good he was in his maturity.”

Today, Baglione is most famous for his authorship of two important books: a guidebook about Roman churches and the volume of artist biographies. He is also remembered for his interactions with Caravaggio. Yet, he was an extremely accomplished artist and favored by popes; he also proved that he was able to learn and profit from other more talented artists.

M&G’s painting is a rare example of Baglione’s work in America and one of his most significant paintings. Dr. Stephen Pepper has described it as “the most important painting by Baglione in an American collection.”

 

Erin R. Jones, M&G Executive Director

 

Published 2024

 

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Jacob Jordaens

Below the image, click play to listen.

 

Object of the Month: December

Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist

Polychrome terracotta

Italian, 17th century

The vast collection at the Museum & Gallery contains many hidden treasures that are sometimes overlooked. In my years working for the museum, I don’t remember coming across this piece. Or if I had, I did not give it too much thought as it was one of many pictorial examples of a common theme—the Madonna and Child with the infant St. John the Baptist. While this sculpture may not be one of the biggest or most recognizable, it is a reminder of humility.

The terracotta sculpture was made towards the beginning of the Italian Baroque. The dramatic movement, and attention to anatomical detail is very typical of Baroque art. Mary is portrayed as a graceful, ideal beauty; and the two infants, Jesus and St. John the Baptist, look like active children. Their leaning bodies and outstretched arms lead the viewer through the piece. In fact, this similar pose can be found in another work in the museum’s collection from the Italian Renaissance, Granacci’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt.

It also relates back to another famous visual interpretation of these three individuals—Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks. There are obvious similarities, such as Mary’s arm wrapped around an adoring St. John the Baptist and Jesus blessing his infant cousin. What may not be as noticeable at first glance is the setting. Of course, one is a painting, and one is a sculpture, but they both feature figures sitting on rocks. This iconography is referred to as the Madonna of Humility. In earlier art history and even during the Renaissance, Mary is sometimes shown as the Queen of Heaven, enthroned in gold beside Jesus. However, in contrast, da Vinci and this Italian sculptor position Mary seated on the ground, which is a possible reference to her resting during their flight to Egypt. By sitting on the ground or on rocks, Mary demonstrates her humility before her Savior.

The Bible records an example of Mary’s meekness before the Lord in Luke 1:46-55. It was after she had received the news that she would give birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Called her Magnificat, she begins by saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name…”

While not large or ostentatious, this 19-inch terracotta sculpture is as humble as its subject matter. During the holiday season, we celebrate Christ’s birth that was only made possible through the humility of a young woman and the ultimate humbling for the Savior of the world to become flesh and dwell among us.

 

KC Christmas Beach, M&G summer educator

 

Published 2023

Object of the Month: November 2023

Cabinet on Stand

Walnut

English, late 17th century

 

This William and Mary Cabinet on Stand came into the Museum & Gallery’s collection in 1970, through the generosity of a prominent Asheville physician, musician, author, and collector of art and antiques, Dr. Charles S. Norburn.  Dr. Norburn served as a Navy surgeon in World War I, then in Navy hospitals in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.  He was even appointed by the U.S. Surgeon General to serve as personal surgeon to President Warren Harding on a trip to Alaska. After leaving the Navy, Norburn returned to North Carolina in 1923 and established the cutting-edge Norburn Hospital Clinic in 1928. The Norburn Hospital’s second building, with 32 acres of property, stood on what is now part of the Mission Health campus, leaving a lasting legacy of care in Western North Carolina. His donation to M&G has left a lasting cultural legacy in the western Carolinas, as well.

Much from the period of William and Mary (1689-1702), including the furniture characteristic of that era, reflects the religious atmosphere of the day. While it would oversimplify the case to say that religion was the sole explanation for the furniture fashion of the day, most sources do note the significant influence religion had upon it. Indeed, there would not have been a “William and Mary” period, had it not been for the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, which deposed James II from the English throne and made him notable for being the last Roman Catholic monarch of England.

James II had succeeded his elder brother, Charles II in 1685, when Charles died without a legitimate heir. Early in his reign, Charles II had urged his younger brother to rear his daughters as Protestants, despite the fact that James and his wife were Catholic. Thus, when Charles II died, the throne passed to James II and established his elder daughter, Mary (b. 1662), as heir apparent. Mary had married her cousin, William of Orange, in 1677, when she was just 15, and moved to the Protestant Netherlands with her husband.

From the start, James II’s overt Catholicism alienated the majority in England. That dissatisfaction was amplified in 1688 with two crises—the birth of a son to James, (raising fears of a Roman Catholic dynasty), and very public conflicts with the king over religious tolerance.

Seven highly placed Englishmen (an Anglican bishop and six prominent politicians) wrote to William of Orange, inviting him to come set right the country’s grievances. William sailed to England in November of 1688 with a force of 20,000 men, making his way to London with very little opposition. James II fled to France in December of that year, and Parliament—now cemented as the ruling body in England—pronounced William III and Mary II joint rulers in April 1689.

The “William and Mary style” developed within this religious and cultural milieu. With them, William and Mary brought Dutch craftsmen to England, popularizing a style that had first been seen under Charles II (1660-1685) throughout England and its colonies. The finely inlaid cabinet style of this era had originated in France, but some of the most influential craftsmen were Huguenots. These weavers, painters, joiners and carvers fled to England from France in order to escape the religious persecution that arose after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). Their influence resulted in a more staid style than the flamboyance of Louis XIV’s court, while still exhibiting the highest craftsmanship and newest fabrication techniques.

The Museum & Gallery’s Cabinet on Stand evidences the traits distinctive to fine cabinetmaking in the William and Mary style. In place of the heavy, horizontal lines of domestic furniture, there was an emphasis on verticality, lifting cabinets on multiple, finely turned or barley-twisted legs. Indeed, the “high boy” and other specialized forms of domestic furniture owe their inception to William and Mary design.

Overall, there was a movement away from the excessive grandeur of the French court and the English Restoration period, but there was also intricacy and high design. Thin slices of highly figured woods (sometimes acacia, olive, or other exotic woods made possible by new East-West trade routes), ivory, and metal were affixed to flat surfaces like cabinet doors and sides, creating contrasting colors for geometric shapes, flowers, birds, and numerous other natural themes. Beneath these veneers, walnut superseded oak as the most frequently used wood species. Atop the veneers, surface treatments like lacquer and other fine polishes became vital to protect and highlight the designs.

In keeping with the above-mentioned traits of William and Mary cabinetmaking, M&G’s Cabinet on Stand features detailed walnut burl veneers and geometric maple inlay on three sides, over a yellow pine substrate.  An overhanging cornice rests at the very top, with two drawers and two flush, side-hinged doors beneath.  This top portion (the “cabinet” in the designation “cabinet-on-stand”) sits on a base containing two additional drawers and four sophisticated, tapering barley-twist front legs and three simpler turned rear legs. The barley-twist legs taper from being thinner at top and bottom to thick in the middle and demonstrate the cabinetmaker’s skill. A flat display platform sits at the very bottom, raised from the floor on turned bun feet.

Our cabinet is likely from the late 17th century or early 18th century (perhaps 1700-1725) and illustrates the departure from the continental style toward a more staid English and/or Protestant sensibility. It is a presentation cabinet that served for storage in some prominent place of a household, possibly holding linens in the 17th-century equivalent of a dining room. The top and base are flat for display and may have held Dutch majolica, other pottery, or even items from the Orient over the years, depending on the wealth of the owner.  This Cabinet on Stand is an important piece in the M&G collection for the history and artistry it brings to life.

 

Dr. Stephen B. Jones, volunteer

 

Sources:

David L’eglise, Village Antiques at Biltmore, Asheville, NC

Joseph Aronson, The Encyclopedia of Furniture

Judith Miller, Furniture

Judith Miller, Miller’s Antiques Encyclopedia

Encyclopaedia Britannica

MetMuseum.org

Tim Forrest, The Bulfinch Anatomy of Antique Furniture

Kay West, “Daughter publishes book by pioneering physician father decades after his death”

 

Object of the Month: September 2023

Mother of Sorrows (Mater Dolorosa)

Oil on panel

Anthony van Dyck

Flemish, 1599–1641

Baroque art is characterized by its emotional pull. Sotheby’s defines the typical qualities of Baroque art as works with rich colors, strong contrast, luscious brushwork, and subject matter that provokes passion, awe, and reverence. This expressive art movement stemmed from a religious response in the seventeenth century called the Counter-Reformation. Art mimicked life in the emotional appeal for mankind’s souls; Biblical stories were taken beyond quiet, respectful meditation and became captured “moments” of heightened drama. Still, there are a handful of Baroque works in existence that balance this emotion with restrained contemplation. One of which is the Museum & Gallery’s Mother of Sorrows by Antony van Dyck.

Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) is considered one of the great Flemish painters of the seventeenth century. A child prodigy, van Dyck became connected with another great Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens, and worked alongside the master on many important commissions. Van Dyck became known for his portraits, and his talent opened doors for him in many courts of Europe. With an extensive and prestigious curriculum vitae painting clients in all their luxury and refinement, van Dyck’s Mother of Sorrows is a unique contrast.

The Mother of Sorrows or Mater Dolorosa depicts Mary grieving her dead Son. It was developed from the theme of the Virgin of the Seven Sorrows, which showed each anguish she experienced after the birth of Christ. In the sixteenth century, Mary’s mourning was usually represented alongside Christ, the Man of Sorrows. However, by the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Northern Europe, artists began depicting Mary alone against an undefined background to highlight the emotion of a bereaved mother. When this work was created circa 1625-1630, van Dyck had spent time in Italy and created many historic and religious works focused on main characters in their own narrative. Unlike Rubens, van Dyck did not clutter the canvas with various other characters or subject matter, instead focusing on the psychology of the main subject.

In M&G’s Mother of Sorrows, van Dyck explores the emotion of one of the world’s most famous mothers. Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, stands alone against a dark background. The contrast is so great she seems to glow under the intense chiaroscuro. The rich blue fabric softens the stark white veil, but also stands as a symbolic reminder of Mary’s virginity and status as the mother of the King of Kings. While not overwhelming in emotion compared to other contemporary interpretations, one can tell she is hurting. She leans forward with arms raised as if pleading. There is pentimenti, or earlier painting that has been covered over by the artist. Just under Mary’s outstretched hand is a faint remnant of a previously lower hand positioning. Art historians such as Gustav Gluck and Ludwig Burchard both agree this was created by van Dyck. It is believed that van Dyck did not spend more than one hour on each portrait. This leads the viewer to wonder why the artist adjusted the hand’s placement. Perhaps a lowered hand did not express the right amount of grief. Or perhaps a more uplifted hand shows Mary’s reliance on God in her darkest hour.

This work may not hold the same prestige as other van Dyck paintings. In fact, until 1864, it had been rather unknown since it was relatively inaccessible in a collection in St. Petersburg, Russia. However, it is a beautiful and rare work in van Dyck’s oeuvre. Gluck and Burchard applauded van Dyck’s color (which was heavily influenced by his time in Venice), his hand forms, and his portrayal of deep emotion. Gluck wrote, “the expression of the grieving face—a depth of feeling which is rare to the master’s work,” is a testament to how unique this painting is for its time. Viewers can resonate with this strong emotional moment of a grieving mother and reflect on one of the darkest moments in history, while also knowing the story does not end there.

 

KC Christmas Beach, M&G summer art educator

 

Published 2023

Picture Books of the Past: Unknown Dutch

Enjoy this series of segments highlighting Picture Books of the Past: Reading Old Master Paintings, a loan exhibition of 60+ works from the M&G collection. The exhibit has traveled to The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. and the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.

As this compelling 17th-century work by an unknown painter illustrates, the Dutch were especially adept at still life painting. (Following your video viewing click HERE to access the additional information provided on the exhibition’s text panels.)

Picture Books of the Past: Jusepe de Ribera, called Lo Spagnoletto

Enjoy this series of segments highlighting Picture Books of the Past: Reading Old Master Paintings, a loan exhibition of 60+ works from the M&G collection. The exhibit has traveled to The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. and the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.

This work by Jusepe de Ribera is one of the most compelling portraits of Christ of the 16th century. (Following your video viewing click HERE to access the additional information provided on the exhibition’s text panels.)

Rafael Govertsz. Camphuysen

Elijah Fed by the Ravens

Rafael Govertsz. Camphuysen

Below the image, click play to listen.