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Tag Archives: old masters

Object of the Month: June 2024

St. Sebastian Aided by St. Irene

Oil on canvas

Dirck van Baburen (attr. to)

Dutch, c. 1594–d. 1624

In 1581 several provinces in the Netherlands joined in signing The Act of Abjuration, a declaration of independence freeing them from allegiance to Philip II of Spain. With this abjuration these self-governing territories became known as the United Provinces of the Netherlands or simply the Dutch Republic. In Baroque Painting: Two Centuries of Baroque Masterpieces Stefano Zuffi notes that by the early 1600s this Republic “enjoyed a private prosperity and social harmony that was unique.” Precise indicators of this prosperity included documentation noting a healthy daily consumption of calories, high literacy rates, and peaceful co-existence among a diverse religious population. Equally interesting is the fact that these provinces also had “the highest ratio in Europe of works of art, particularly paintings, to number of inhabitants” (Zuffi, p. 154).  This cultural backdrop produces a stunning array of artistic talent—Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, Heemskerck, Honthorst, Terbrugghen, and the subject of this article Dirck van Baburen.

Although we know that Baburen was born in Utrecht in the late sixteenth century, pinpointing the precise year of his birth is not easily done. For example, in a 2007 monograph on the artist noted scholar Leonard Slatkes puts the date circa 1595. However, art historian Wayne Franits argues for an earlier date, circa 1592. According to Franits this date makes more sense because it places the painter “at an appropriate age for completing his training. . .and traveling to Rome.” Regardless, both scholars agree that the young Dirck began his career under the tutelage of Paulus Moreelse. Moreelse was a distinguished portrait painter who along with Abraham Bloemaert founded Utrecht’s “St. Lucas-gilde.”

After completing his training in 1612 Baburen set out for Italy. He soon settled in the “Eternal City” of Rome. There he came under the spell of the Caravaggisti—stylistic followers of the famed Michelangelo Caravaggio (1571-1610). Caravaggio was one of the most original and influential painters of the 17th century. What set him apart was the dramatic illumination of his canvases which he created by using dark tonalities punctuated with bright shafts of light. This technique called tenebrism is derived from the Italian word, tenebroso, meaning dark or gloomy. Figures 1 and 2 not only illustrate Caravaggio’s innovative technique but also point to the impact of this technique on followers like Baburen.

In comparing Baburen’s canvas to Caravaggio’s Wayne Franits writes: “The Dutch painter’s famed altarpiece The Entombment (Fig. 1), [was] painted in 1617 as part of a group of canvases . . . to adorn the Pietà Chapel in the church of San Pietro. . . . It is well known that The Entombment testifies to its maker’s knowledge of . . . Caravaggio’s famous painting of the same subject (fig. 2), which hung at that time in the Vittrice Chapel in Santa Maria in Vallicella. Van Baburen’s exposure to Caravaggio’s work must have impressed upon him the fact that strongly illuminated figures set against a dark background literally stand out forcefully within a dusky chapel. Van Baburen also deployed the same basic compositional structure as Caravaggio, with its wedgelike arrangement of figures set at a diagonal, cascading downward toward the body of the dead Christ. In van Baburen’s Entombment, however, the stone of the tomb, which, like the Italian’s, also serves as the stone of unction (with its eucharistic implications), is more tablelike while the body of Christ has been rendered in an upright, almost seated position.”

Baburen would return to Utrecht in 1620 where he, along with  Gerrit van Honthorst and Hendrick Terbrugghen formed the Utrecht Caravaggisti. Although he died only four years later, his style continued to develop becoming less Italian and more distinctly Dutch. A comparison of M&G’s St. Sebastian Aided by St. Irene to an earlier version he completed while in Rome (Fig. 3) highlights these distinctions especially in the physical appearance of the characters. St. Sebastian was the patron saint of plague victims and a popular subject in religious art throughout the 17th century. The article by Armand P. Gelpi in the Resources section provides a detailed overview of his iconography and connection to the plague.

Dirck van Baburen died in February 1624; he was buried in the medieval parish church of Buurkerk.  His teacher Paulus Moreelse would be laid to rest there 9 years later.

 

 

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education

 

Resources:

Baroque Painting: Two Centuries of Baroque Masterpieces, Ed. Stefano Zuffi

“Religious Policies in the Seventeenth-Century Dutch Republic,” Jo Spanns

“Dirck van Baburen and the ‘Self-Taught’ Master, Angelo Caroselli,” Wayne Franits

“Saint Sebastian and the Black Death,” Armand P. Gelpi, MD

Saint Sebastian Attended by Saint Irene and Her Maid, Dirck van Baburen (attributed to)

 

Published 2024

Easter-themed Works of Art in M&G’s Collection

Enjoy this focused selection of short video clips featuring M&G paintings depicting the Easter story.

Constantijn van Renesse (attr. to): Christ before Pilate
Picture Books of the Past: Unknown Dutch
Picture Books of the Past: Gustave Doré
Christ before Pilate: Master of St. Severin
The Risen Christ: Gerard David
Whatsoever Things Are… Pure: Christ Blessing
Whatsoever Things Are… Pure: The Risen Christ
Whatsoever Things Are… Just: Painted Crucifix
Whatsoever Things Are… Just: The Man of Sorrows
Whatsoever Things Are… Just: The Last Supper
Whatsoever Things Are… Just: Triumphal Entry
David de Haen: The Mocking of Christ
Giovanni Antonio Bazzi: Procession to Calvary
Jusepe de Ribera: Ecce Homo
Peter Paul Rubens: Christ on the Cross
Stefano Cernotto (attr. to): The Last Supper
Philippe de Champaigne: The Christ of Derision
The Easter Story: Two Centurions

 

 

If you enjoyed these objects from M&G’s collection, visit here to see more!

Merry Christmas from M&G!

Homeschool Days: 2024-2025

Artists in Focus

Join us for a monthly exploration of art and time from the 1600s through the 1800s! Students (ages 5-14) will closely study the lives of artists and the significant events influencing them and their choice of art medium. Each 75-minute lesson is interactive and includes a related art activity. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to view the world through various artistic styles.

Parent attendance is optional. Review our FAQs, which cover arrival and even co-op questions.

Registration: will open early August

Location: Mack Building (on the campus of Bob Jones University)

Fees per Lesson: Children–$8.50; adults–$3

Event fees are non-refundable. Adults may choose either to attend with their child(ren) or leave after student check-in for the 75-minute lesson.

 

Elementary School Lessons (K5-5th grade)

Thursday at 9:30AM and 2PM

Friday at 9:30AM, Noon, and 2PM

Middle School Lessons (6th-8th grade)

Friday at 9:30AM, Noon, and 2PM

 

Topics:

September 12-13

Rembrandt van Rijn, Master Etcher

October 3-4

Thomas Gainsborough, Prominent Draughtsman

November 7-8

Edgar Degas, Non-Traditional Sculptor

February 6-7

Claude Monet, Chief Impressionist

March 6-7

Berthe Morisot, Admired Artist

April 3-4

Vincent Van Gogh, Impasto Pioneer

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. Click on the images below to enjoy videos, articles, and audio stops.

 

Object of the Month: August 2023

St. Margaret, St. Ursula, and St. Agnus

Oil on panel

Unknown Rhenish School

Rhenish, active c. 1500

In last month’s article on the companion panel by this Rhenish Master, we discovered that context reveals a wealth of information. We also learned that although there are common symbols in Christian iconography, most saints have one or more distinct attributes that alert us to their identity. Such clues are particularly important when seeking to determine saints with common names like Catherine—or Margaret.

There are two Margaret’s mentioned in traditional hagiographies: St. Margaret of Antioch and St. Margaret of Scotland. The far-left figure in this panel is most likely St. Margaret of Scotland. How do we know? According to legend, Margaret of Antioch was a young beauty who endured several harrowing ordeals before being martyred, including being swallowed by a dragon. The absence of this mythical beast, which became Margaret of Antioch’s distinguishing attribute, provides the first clue. In addition, there are no accompanying symbols indicating that the figure in this panel was martyred (e.g., no laurel wreath, sword, etc.). This elegantly posed Margaret simply points to the cross she holds. The cross is, of course, a universal symbol of Christianity but it is also an integral part of Margaret of Scotland’s life and legacy.

A relative of Edward the confessor, Margaret and her brother were forced to flee England when William the Conqueror invaded the realm. They took refuge in Scotland at the court of King Malcolm Canmore where Margaret “as beautiful as she was good and accomplished” soon captured the heart the king. The two were married in 1070. Alban Butler notes, “This marriage was fraught with great blessing for Malcolm and for Scotland. He was rough and uncultured but his disposition was good, and Margaret through the great influence she acquired over him, softened his temper, polished his manners, and rendered him one of the most virtuous kings who ever occupied the Scottish throne. . . . What she did for her husband Margaret also did in a great measure for her adopted country” (Butler, p. 182). She encouraged (and in some cases spearheaded) much needed reforms in the arts, education, and religion. She would die just four days after her husband, who had been slain while trying to stave off an attack on their castle. In addition to a cross, Margaret is often shown wearing her crown as in the stained-glass panel to the right from the Royal Collection Trust. (For a more detailed overview of Margaret’s life and times see David McRoberts historical essay, “St. Margaret Queen of Scotland.”)

Unlike Margaret of Scotland, there is considerable doubt regarding the historicity of the center figure St. Ursula. According to legend Ursula was the daughter of a Christian monarch who caught the eye of a pagan king. Upon his proposal Ursula asked (and was granted) a three-year delay. During this time of reprieve, she sailed off to visit the shrines of the saints. Accompanying her on the journey were ten noble ladies-in-waiting and several thousand companions of “lower birth.” At the end of the grace period, this formidable entourage turned toward home. However, a storm-tossed sea drove them off course forcing them to disembark at Cologne. While awaiting favorable winds, they crossed the Alps to visit the tombs of the apostles in Rome. Unfortunately when the sojourners returned to Cologne, they found the city besieged by the Huns—whose chieftain demanded that Ursula become his wife. When she refused, she and her fellow travelers “were set upon and massacred for their Christianity by the heathen Huns. Then the barbarians were dispersed by angels, the citizens buried the martyrs, and a church was built in their honor” (Butler, 130).

In this panel, Ursula is pictured holding a heart pierced with the three arrows the Chieftain supposedly used to kill her. In addition to this distinguishing attribute Ursula is also sometimes painted surrounded by her martyred entourage. The painting to the left by Vittore Carpaccio is a good illustration. Carpaccio’s rendering of Ursula is part of a famous cycle in the Gallerie dell’ Accademia in Venice—which is currently undergoing restoration. The cycle consists of nine paintings from Ursula’s life. You can read more about the history and preservation of this impressive undertaking at Save Venice: Conserving Art, Celebrating History.

The third figure, St. Agnes, has always been extremely popular in the lexicon of saints. According to the eminent church father Augustine, she was just thirteen when martyred. Her death likely occurred in Rome at the outset of Diocletian’s persecution which began in March of 303 AD. Though just a girl, “her riches and beauty excited the young noblemen of the first families in Rome to contend as rivals for her hand” (Butler, p. 96). But Agnes had resolved not to marry and when her suitors failed to persuade her otherwise, they went as one before the governor to accuse her of being a Christian. The wily politician at first endeavored to procure her recantation through seductive promises of worldly treasure. To no avail. “He then made use of threats, . . .terrible fires were made, and iron hooks, racks and other instruments of torture displayed before her, with threats of immediate execution. The heroic child surveyed them undismayed” (Butler, p. 96). The profligate politician then sent her to a house of prostitution, but any who sought to harm her, “were seized with such awe at the sight of the saint that they durst not approach her” (Ibid, p. 96). She was sent back to the governor unscathed which so stoked his rage that he had her beheaded, making the sword one of her defining attributes. She is also often pictured with a lamb (relating her name to the word agnus which is Latin for lamb).  M&G’s St. Michael the Archangel and St. Agnes by the Flemish painter Colijin de Coter highlights this symbol. Although modern authorities tend to dismiss many of the particulars of Agnes’s story, there is little doubt that she was martyred during the Roman persecution and that she was subsequently buried in one of the catacombs just outside of Rome along the Via Nomentana.

 

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education

 

Reference:

One Hundred and One Saints: Their Lives and Likenesses Drawn from Butler’s “Lives of the Saints and Great Works of Western Art.” A Bulfinch Press Book: Little, Brown and Company (Compilation Copyright 1993).

 

Published 2023

 

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: July 2023

St. Barbara, St. Catherine, and St. Euphemia

Oil on panel

Unknown Rhenish School

Rhenish, active c. 1500

Although there is no biographical material on the painter of these works, we do know two facts. First, he was Rhenish (a designation coined in the 1300s referencing those who lived in a loosely defined region of Europe bordering the Rhine). Second, we know that he was active around 1500—at the height of the Renaissance. During his lifetime literacy and learning were increasing, capitalism emerging, scientific discoveries flourishing, and with the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press mass communication was transforming every aspect of European culture. In The Panorama of the Renaissance Margaret Aston notes, “The invention of printing changed the whole intellectual world forever. Without it, classical learning would have been confined to a Coterie of scholars; the reformation would have been a quarrel between theologians; popular literature would have been impossible; scientific discoveries would have languished unread” (p. 206).

This “revolution” had a tremendous influence on the visual arts as well. Artists across Europe could now readily disseminate images of their paintings, woodcuts, and engravings for critique and profit. In addition, printed versions of works like Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend reinvigorated the visual imagination. Originally compiled between 1260 and 1298, de Voragine’s hagiography (idealized biography of the saints) became the most printed book in Europe between 1470 and 1530. One 16th-century historian observed that “artists found in The Golden Legend a storehouse of events and persons to be illustrated,” and the imagery created in these “illustrations” helped codify the iconographic tradition we still reference today. For example, the figures in this panel painting are identified by their attributes—objects, clothing, colors, and symbols linked to their specific biographies. As we’ll see in our analysis, attributes may be shared by more than one saint; however, each saint usually has at least one key attribute that highlights his or her individuality.

Although St. Barbara, the first of the three saints in this panel, was one of the most popular saints during the Middle Ages, her story is most likely fictional. In Lives of the Saints, Alban Butler notes “There is considerable doubt of the existence of a virgin martyr called Barbara, and it is quite certain that her legend is spurious.” Regardless, her story is a fascinating read. According to legend, she was the beautiful daughter of Dioscorus—a wealthy Roman who built a lavish tower to hide her from the world. Dioscorus’s motivation for this sequestration varies. In some versions he is driven by protective love, in others simple cruelty. Details of her conversion also vary. In one of the more popular accounts, while her father is away on a journey Barbara invites a Christian disciple to visit her in the tower and is persuaded to accept Christianity. Soon after her conversion she summons a workman and insists that he create a third window in her tower wall. Upon his return, Dioscorus questions this architectural alteration. Barbara replies: “Three windows [symbolizing the trinity] lighten all the world and all creatures, but two make darkness.” She also reveals to her father her newfound faith. Enraged Dioscorus turns her over to the Roman authorities to be tortured. Then, at his own request, he is given a sword and “permitted to strike off her head.” But this cruel deed does not go unpunished. As Dioscorus travels home, he is struck down by a bolt of lightning and dies. In addition to the sword, Barbara’s key attributes include the sacramental cup and wafer pictured in M&G’s work and the three-windowed, cathedral-like tower shown in Jan van Eyck’s metalpoint brush drawing. The palm frond (which Romans used as a symbol of victory) is also included in van Eyck’s portrait and is a common symbol of a martyr’s triumph over death.

The sword held by the remaining two figures is also a commonly shared symbol of martyrdom by beheading. However, both figures are also pictured with an additional symbol unique to their individual narratives. Notice the broken, spiked “wheel” entwined in the hem of the central figure’s robe; this object identifies her as Catherine of Alexandria whose martyrdom involved not only a sword but also a spiked wheel.  Dr. Karen Jones covers the details of this Egyptian princess’s life and iconography in an article highlighting another M&G portrait of Catherine by Francesco Casella.

St. Euphemia is memorialized in both Catholic and Greek Orthodox hagiographic literature and art. The M&G image with its subtle blending of flesh tones and more complex figuration is characteristic of a western painting style, while the inset portrait to the right highlights the stylized form and painstaking precision of Greek icon painting. Both images, though vastly different, are equally compelling. Differences in the literary texts are minimal. In almost all versions, Euphemia is born in Chalcedon in 304 A. D. when Rome ruled the known world.  height. The narrative begins when the Chalcedon governor Priscus orders all inhabitants to attend a festival honoring the god Ares. Unwilling to participate in this pagan ritual 49 believers (including the young Euphemia) gather in a house to pray. Their hiding place is soon discovered, and the worshipers brought before Priscus. For 19 days they are tortured but all refuse to deny the faith. So Priscus sends all but Euphemia to Emperor Diocletian in Rome for execution. Separated from her fellow believers, the governor tempts her with promises of earthly blessings; still Euphemia stands firm. Enraged the governor orders her cast into fire, but the flames fail to burn her; he then sends her into the arena, but the wild animals refuse to attack her. It is here in the climax of the narrative that Greek and Catholic versions of the legend diverge. In the Greek version Euphemia prays that the Lord will allow her to die a violent death in the arena. In answer to her prayer a she-bear approaches and gives her a small wound in the leg. Blood begins to flow from the wound and eventually she dies. In the Catholic version she is eventually beheaded for neither lions nor bears will do her harm. Hence, her distinguishing attribute is either a bear or a lion like the one languidly resting at her feet in our Rhenish panel.

This is one of two panels created by this unknown master. His second panel (equally lovely) showcases Saint Margaret, Saint Ursula, and Saint Agnus. We’ll take a look at their stories in our next month’s article.

 

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education

Additional Resources:

The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275. First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483, Edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (Reprinted 1922, 1931.)

One Hundred and One Saints: Their Lives and Likenesses Drawn from Butler’s “Lives of the Saints and Great Works of Western Art.” A Bulfinch Press Book: Little, Brown and Company (Compilation Copyright 1993).

 

Published 2023

Domenico Fiasella

The Flight into Egypt

Domenico Fiasella, called Il Sarzana

Below the image, click play to listen.

The Collection

The Old Master Painting Collection

The Museum & Gallery’s Old Master painting collection provides a rare viewer experience outside European cities and metropolitan areas with beautiful masterworks by recognized artists and their students—all of which are aesthetically exhibited with period furniture, sculpture, and tapestries to lend a period ambiance to the galleries and give patrons a panoramic view of ages past.  Of special note, M&G’s baroque paintings represent some of the most important artists and their works in the country.

The Collection is one of the largest and most interesting collections of European Old Master paintings in America. These works of art from the 14th through the 19th centuries beautifully trace the religious, artistic, and cultural history of Western Europe. Included are important works of many major artists such as Vannuccio, Botticelli, Cranach, Gerard David, Rubens, van Dyck, Reni, Domenichino, Guercino, Murillo, Ribera, Honthorst, and Doré. For a glimpse, view this virtual tour.

Patrons can also enjoy M&G’s Bowen Collection of Antiquities with artifacts that span 37 centuries and represent every day life from ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Hebrew cultures; and the Benjamin West Collection, a series of paintings housed in the War Memorial Chapel (on the campus of Bob Jones University).

M&G’s Russian Icon Collection, which dates from the 14th through 20th centuries and includes several icons once owned by members of the Romanov family, the last tsars of Russia.

While not all of the collections are available online, we continue to add more monthly. You can see some of the individual works and objects through articles, short video clips, and audio stops. OR view the variety of Collection objects currently available online here.