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Tag Archives: Italian art

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

 

Antiphonary

Antiphonary

Italian, 16th century

Below the image, click play to listen.

This object is currently on display in Mack Library, and it is featured in M&G’s 2023 Christmas Scavenger Hunt for K5-8th grade adventurers.

 

 

Picture Books of the Past: Jacopo Robusti, called Il Tintoretto

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 October’s Closer Look we explored Marietta Robusti’s Allegory of Wisdom. In this video we’ll look at a work by her father who trained her. (Following your video viewing click HERE to access the additional information provided on the exhibition’s text panels.)

Domenico Fiasella

The Flight into Egypt

Domenico Fiasella, called Il Sarzana

Below the image, click play to listen.

Picture Books of the Past: Lorenzo di Bicci

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.

These beautiful panels by Lorenzo di Bicci picture four saints, two are prominent biblical figures and two are from 4th and 6th century church legends. (Following your video viewing click HERE to access the additional information provided on the exhibition’s text panels.)

St. Michael the Archangel Overcoming Satan

St. Michael the Archangel Overcoming Satan

Giovanni Andrea Sirani

Below the image, click play to listen.

 

Picture Books of the Past: Bartolommeo Neroni

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 contrast to the large altarpieces commissioned by churches, the Tondo’s circular format was well suited for private homes.

Object of the Month: April 2023

St. Catherine of Alexandria

Oil on panel

Francesco Casella

Italian, active 1517

The legend of St. Catherine of Alexandria is found first in The Golden Legend a compilation of the lives of saints, actual and legendary, published in 1275. Catherine, an Egyptian princess, vows to keep her virginity for a mystical marriage to Christ. When the Emperor Maxentius requires pagan worship, Catherine refuses and when confronted with fifty scholars to convince her, ends up converting them! She is condemned to death by torture on a razor-studded wheel.

Though St. Catherine is often painted in other scenes of her life and with other attributions speaking to her erudition, Casella here portrays only the iconographic signs of her martyrdom: the palm, the halo, and the wheel. In the legend, St. Catherine is spared the wheel through angelic intervention, but she achieves the martyr’s crown through decapitation shown by the sword hilt at the bottom of the portrait. Clearly, the work’s purpose, indicated by the three-quarter figure size and lack of significant background, is to elevate Catherine as a saint and a devotional example to follow. Women in the church found her to be a role model of devotion to God, an example of sacrificial faithfulness to truth, and a mentor in the quest for learning.

Catherine’s elegant dress and costly jewels may be an indication of the artist’s familiarity with other renditions of the saint in enamel figures. Those works have pearls and sapphires on both the saint’s dress and crown. A close look at the painting reveals that the jewels on her dress could be sapphires, befitting her station as royalty, with the central stone perhaps a ruby marking her as a “virtuous woman.” Her queen’s crown is adorned with the same sapphire-like jewels surrounded by three pearls, likely an indication of the Trinity.

Catherine had much to keep her in this world—position, power, and potential. Yet she gazes away from the earthly. As a modern Magdalen, she contemplates a world outside the palace, a view made possible by a partially drawn velvet curtain. The earthy green reflects the mortal life, the gold reverse a heavenly one. Surely the landscape she contemplates outside the window is not the palace grounds, but that “city whose builder and maker is God.” Golden streets lie waiting for the victorious saint’s feet.

Catherine’s gaze at the eternal rather than the temporal creates the devotional thrust of this M&G portrait. She models the goal of the Christian: keep one’s eyes on the eternal prize. There is something to be said for an objective examination of what one wants to have lived—and died—for. Francesco Casella’s portrait, characterized by what Mina Gregori calls “major monumentality… [and] refined, pictorial sharpness,” presents a view of the ideal.

 

Dr. Karen Rowe Jones, M&G board member and volunteer

References:

Young, Bonnie. “A Jewel of St. Catherine.” https://www.jstor.org/stable/3258995

 

Published 2023

Psuedo Pier Francesco Fiorentino

Madonna and Child with St. John and an Angel

Psuedo Pier Francesco Fiorentino

Below the image, click play to listen.

Picture Books of the Past: Master of Staffolo

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.

It is unusual to find a complete altarpiece from the late Gothic era, but this beautiful triptych (or three-paneled altarpiece) is still intact.