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Tag Archives: old master

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

Jacopo de Carolis

Madonna and Child with Angels

Jacopo de Carolis

Below the image, click play to listen.

M&G Collections Online

As we continue to make more works available online, survey some of the paintings and objects in M&G’s collection.

 

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.)

Object of the Month: January 2023

St. Sebastian

Oil on panel, c. 1529–30

Andrea d’Agnolo, called del Sarto (studio of)

Florentine, 1486–1530

Andrea d’Agnolo grew up in Florence and was nicknamed del Sarto meaning “of the tailor” after his father’s profession. Like other early Renaissance artists, he initially trained with a goldsmith, then studied under a series of three separate painters until he began producing his own works in 1506. He spent most of his life in Florence—except for a visit to Rome and a brief stint as court painter to King François I at Fontainebleau in 1518.

As the son of a tailor, del Sarto’s works reveal a unique understanding and love of fabrics—even seen in his 1517-1518 Portrait of a Young Man in London’s National Gallery, which may be a self-portrait (on right). Notice the finishes of the puffed sleeve, ruched white undershirt, and the vest’s seam at the shoulder.

Andrea was also influenced by his contemporaries who outlived him: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Once these masters left Florence for other parts of Italy, Andrea became Florence’s leading artist in the early 1500s. He is overlooked in art history; yet he is equal in skill and quality to the three greats, and his works are beautiful and still revered today. Julian Brooks, curator of drawings at the Getty, recognizes del Sarto as the “revolutionary engine of the Renaissance and the transformer of draughtsmanship” due to his careful and creative preparatory drawings, a practice which inspired the next generations of artists to follow.

However, he has been underappreciated, even to the point of his students overshadowing him to become famous including Rosso Fiorentino, Jacopo da Pontormo, and Giorgio Vasari, biographer of contemporary Renaissance artists. Vasari records details about his teacher as related to M&G’s work. A Florentine charitable organization for plague victims, the Company of St. Sebastian commissioned Andrea del Sarto to paint a picture of St. Sebastian, the patron saint for plague victims. He became a member of the Company in February 1529, perhaps as a result of negotiations surrounding the commission. Ironically, shortly after completing the painting in 1530 during Florence’s plague epidemic, del Sarto died from the plague at 44 years old.

Several 17th-century documents list the original St. Sebastian as the property of the Company of St. Sebastian. Publications in 1759 and 1770 mention that the painting moved to the Pitti Palace in Florence. By the early 19th century, writers could no longer trace the location of the original painting—apparently it was removed from the Pitti Palace and lost.

M&G acquired St. Sebastian in 1970 from the former great British collection of the Cook family. In 2005, the National Gallery of Canada requested St. Sebastian to participate in an exhibition, and we sent our work in advance for study and conservation. The conservator Stephen Gritt found, “In its materials and construction, the painting is entirely consistent with one from Sarto’s workshop. The complete absence of any change in the design from the drawing stage on the panel through to the painting would indicate perhaps that the design had reached a point of satisfactory refinement by the time this version was produced. While this may mean that some artist other than Sarto could have painted the work, it does not exclude his participation in its production as a supervisor.”

Regarding del Sarto’s workshop practice, Julian Brooks notes that “Andrea would have been closely involved in the production of all versions, or at least those produced in his workshop during his lifetime, and these were produced side by side in the studio.” He also made, used, and reused partial cartoons.

It is difficult to confidently confirm if M&G’s St. Sebastian is the missing painting by the master, thus the current attribution, studio of Andrea del Sarto. At the least, someone very close to del Sarto painted the work. Found in Italy, Spain, England, and Austria, more than 10 other variants of the St. Sebastian exist. Even so, M&G’s is considered by specialists as the “best surviving reflection of the original.”

 

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director

 

Resources:

 

Published 2023

 

Sébastien Bourdon

Hiding of Moses

Sébastien Bourdon

Below the image, click play to listen.

Whatsoever Things Are… Excellent: Mary Magdalene Turning from the World to Christ

 

Mary Magdalene is one of the most intriguing figures in Scripture, and her life story is as apropos today as it was when it was first recorded in Scripture.

 

Visit HERE for the next video to think on things that are Excellent.

Antonio Checchi (called Guidaccio da Imola): The Coronation of the Virgin

This is the only signed picture by this early Italian master. It also includes 55 faces!

 

David de Haen: The Mocking of Christ

The story behind the acquisition of a work is often as fascinating as the story within the frame.

Francesco Cavazzoni: Legend of the Finding of the True Cross

The refinement of High Renaissance art motivated mannerist painters like Francesco Cavazzoni to explore other avenues of expression. Legend of the Finding of the True Cross provides an intriguing example.