Art History 101 – Part 5: 1600-1799

Welcome to Part 5 (1600-1799) of my survey of art history. The seven Art History 101 lists contain every work of art that was on at least two of the 24 Best Works of Art lists that I collected from the Internet and books. Although most of the resources available to me focused almost exclusively on the art of Western Civilization, the list does identify some of the most significant artworks produced by the artists of Asia, Africa and South America. Each entry includes the date of the work, the artist’s name, the name (or names) of the work, the style or culture associated with the work, and the location where the work was produced. In addition, I have included a brief essay with description (including measurements), artistic materials used, background and interpretation.

Because I believe visuals are essential for discussing the visual arts, I have included images of the art works,  In most cases, you can click on the images to enlarge them. (I have tried to use public domain images where possible. In other cases, I believe this is a fair non-commercial use for educational purposes. If there are copyright concerns, please let me know.)

To see the other Art History 101 pages, click on the links below:
Part 1 (Prehistoric Era – 399 CE) 
Part 2 (400-1399 CE)
Part 3 (1400-1499)

Part 4 (1500-1599)
Part 6 (1800-1899) 
Part 7 (1900-Present)

1600-1699

307. Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (Portrait of a Cardinal)

Artist: El Greco (born Doménikos Theotokópoulos)
Date: 1600
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Spain; religious portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.6 ft. tall by 3.5 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

Born in Crete and living in Toledo, Spain, El Greco had spent time in both Venice and Rome, where he was influenced by the works of both the Mannerists and the Venetians, particularly Titian. El Greco’s portrait of Cardinal Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara owes much to Titian’s psychological portraiture. The subject was at the time the Grand Inquistor of Spain, at whose hands many heretics had been put to death, and El Greco conveys the intensity of this man, with his unusual black-rimmed glasses, and his powerful position with an overall sense of heightened tension. The use of color is quite Venetian (as is the signature, contained on the piece of paper lying on the floor), but the painting also includes many Mannerist elements, such as the exaggerated, elongated forms and unusual gestures, including as the cardinal’s left hand clutching the arm of the chair, while the right hand seems lifeless and limp. El Greco also brought his love of the Byzantine to the work. As one commentator noted, “The painting’s surfaces … seem to suggest the flickering light and glow of a Byzantine icon . The cardinal, enveloped under these watery surfaces, seems about to dematerialize.” The portrait was probably commissioned by a relative, possibly the cardinal’s nephew Pedro Lasso when the cardinal spent time in Toledo with Philip III and members of the Madrid court.

308. Scenes from the Life of St. Matthew

Artist: Caravaggio (full name: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio)
Date: The Calling of St. Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew were completed in 1600. The Inspiration of St. Matthew was finished in 1602.
Period/Style: Baroque; Rome, Italy; religious
Medium: Three paintings made using oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The Calling of St. Matthew measures 10.6 ft. tall by 10.8 ft. wide; The Martyrdom of St. Matthew is 10.6 ft. tall by 11.25 ft. wide, and The Inspiration of St. Matthew is 9.6 ft. tall by 6.1 ft. wide.
Current location: Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi Church, Rome, Italy


When French cardinal Matthieu Cointerel (Contarelli in Italian) died in 1585, he left money to decorate a chapel in Rome’s San Luigi dei Francesi Church with scenes from the life of St. Matthew, his name saint. Contarelli’s heirs commissioned Mannerist painter Giuseppe Cesari to paint frescoes but by 1593, Cesari had only completed one of the three walls. In 1599, Caravaggio was commissioned to finish the project by making two paintings for the walls using oils on canvas. By July 1600, Caravaggio had painted two early Baroque masterpieces: The Calling of St. Matthew (top image above) and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew (second image above) on facing walls (see first and second images above). The original plan had been that Flemish sculptor Jacques Cobaert would create marble statues of Matthew and an angel for the altar, but when Cobaert delivered the statues, the church elders rejected them and instead commissioned Caravaggio (whose first two paintings had already caused a sensation) to paint The Inspiration of St. Matthew. The church rejected Caravaggio’s first version, but delivered an acceptable representation in about 1602. The Martyrdom of St. Matthew was the first of the St. Matthew paintings. Scholars identify this work as a turning point in the move from Mannerist to Baroque style. Caravaggio expertly uses chiaroscuro to highlight the drama of the precise moment just before the assassin plunges his sword into Matthew, at the same time that the saint reaches out for a palm frond (symbol of his martyrdom) offered by an angel only he can see. The Calling of St. Matthew depicts the moment when Jesus and St. Peter approach Matthew and Jesus beckons the tax collector to “Follow me.” Scholars praise the painting for Caravaggio’s dramatic use of light and shadow; they also note that Jesus’ finger recalls the finger of Michelangelo’s God in the Creation of Man on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. While the men at the table wear contemporary clothing, Jesus and St. Peter are clad in the timeless robes of classical antiquity, thus distinguishing the earthly sphere from the heavenly. The Inspiration of St. Matthew (see image below left) shows an angel in swirling drapery floating above St. Matthew making a point with his fingers, while the saint, kneeling below, watches and learns. The glowing yellows and oranges of Matthews robes pop out of the sea of darkness behind him, while his leg, stool and arm threaten to break the picture plane and enter the viewer’s space, in quintessential Baroque fashion. Random Trivia: The church rejected Caravaggio’s first version of The Inspiration of St. Matthew. which became known as St. Matthew and the Angel (see black and white photo below right). They didn’t like St. Matthew’s crossed legs and bare feet, and disapproved of the angel-muse’s overly familiar attitude toward the saint. The painting was destroyed by bombing in 1945 during World War II. 
 

309. Conversion of St. Paul on the Way to Damascus 

Artist: Caravaggio
Date: 1601
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7.6 ft. tall by 5.75 ft. wide
Current location: Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, Italy

When Tiberio Cerasi, treasurer-general for Pope Clement VIII sought artists to decorate his chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, he selected two of the best painters working at the time: Annibale Caracci and Caravaggio, who had made a name for himself with the first two St. Matthew paintings in the Contarelli Chapel. Caravaggio painted two canvases for the Cerasi Chapel in 1600-1601, The Crucifixion of St. Peter and The Conversion of St. Paul on the Way to Damascus. The Conversion that hangs in the Cerasi Chapel (see image above) is Caravaggio’s second attempt at the subject. The first, more conventional rendering, with an angel, was rejected by the executor of Cerasi’s estate (Cerasi died in 1601), although some experts suspect that the executor rejected the painting so he could keep it for himself (see image below). The second version has a simpler composition than the first but is also highly theatrical. We see no angel, only a heavenly light illuminating the horse’s flank. Having heard the voice of Jesus, Paul lies on the ground in state of religious ecstasy, his hands raised in prayer and awe. The groom seems unaware of what has happened and is more concerned about the horse than the fallen rider. Caravaggio effectively uses the technique of tenebrism – the horse, groom and Paul are spotlit against a black, featureless background. The contrary diagonals of the horse and Paul create a sense of tension, as does the horse’s raised leg. Some scholars have criticized the composition for showing “too many legs”, but others find that the fence of horse and human legs heightens the sense that the foreshortened body of Paul is being pushed backwards, towards the picture plane and into the viewer’s space. In this and other paintings from the period, Caravaggio is in some ways inventing the Baroque style, the philosophical underpinnings of which can be traced to the Council of Trent (1545-1563), in which the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church endorsed visceral religious art that spoke to the illiterate populace by appealing to the senses, not the intellect.

310. Supper at Emmaus

Artist: Caravaggio
Date: 1601
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.7 ft. tall by 6.4 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK 
Caravaggio-Supper_in_Emmaus 3The Baroque style is best understood in the context of the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Revolution that began in the 16th Century. The Council of Trent in the 1540s decreed that the Church should use art as a tool to keep Catholics in the church and to bring Protestants (who mostly eschewed religious imagery) back to the fold. The art should be dramatic, vivid, personal, and not overly complicated. Caravaggio, who was one of the inventors of the Baroque style, produced a textbook example of Counter-Reformation art in his Supper at Emmaus. The painting depicts a story from the Gospel of Luke in which two of Christ’s disciples meet him on the road after he rose from the dead but do not recognize him until, at lunch, he blesses the bread. Caravaggio paints the precise moment of recognition. The figures are real people with all their flaws. Caravaggio is less concerned with depth and perspective than with bringing the scene forward to connect with the viewer. In gestures of astonishment and disbelief, the disciples reach their arms toward the plane of the painting, as if trying to draw us in. The basket of fruit leans over the table edge so precariously, we worry it will fall on our floor, not theirs. In contrast to all the activity in the foreground, the back of the room is essentially featureless, though claustrophobically close. Caravaggio directs the production as if it were in a theater, with the dramatic lighting of a stage show.

311. The Entombment of Christ

Artist: Caravaggio
Date: 1602-1603
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions:10 ft. tall by 6.7 ft. wide
Current location: Vatican Museums, Vatican City

In some ways, The Entombment of Christ (also known as The Deposition) is a typical Caravaggio painting. Using tenebrism, the artist isolates a group of figures in a spotlight, while the background is nearly invisible.  The chiaroscuro effects of this type of lighting are highly dramatic. The figures here – the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Aramithea, Nicodemus, and the dead body of Jesus – are arranged in a diagonal composition that begins with Magdalene’s hands raised to heaven and ends with Jesus’s hand and shroud connecting with the cold stone in which he will be buried. The people are real, not idealized. Caravaggio represents the Madonna as an older woman, whose hand reaches out to touch her son. The man in orange holding Jesus is foreshortened, sending him into the viewer’s space, along with the body of Jesus and the massive stone slab. In a graphically realistic detail that tells us that Jesus is truly dead, the man carrying him has slipped his hand around Jesus’s side and his fingers have entered the wound made by the soldier’s sword. The Entombment of Christ was originally commissioned by Alessandro Vittrice for the Santa Maria church in Vallicella, part of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri; it is now in the Vatican Museums.

312. Frescoes, Farnese Gallery (The Loves of the Gods)

Artist: Annibale Carracci (with assistance from members of his studio, including Agostino Carracci, Giovanni Lanfranco, Francesco Albani, Domenichino, and Sisto Badalocchio)
Date: Begun in 1597; completed in 1608 
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Baroque; Italy
Medium: Frescoes painted on residential ceiling
Dimensions: The frescoes cover the entire vaulted ceiling of a large room.
Current location:  Palazzo Farnese, Rome


In the last years of the 16th Century, Annibale Carracci and members of his studio began to paint an ambitious program of frescoes on the walls and ceiling of the Farnese Gallery, a large barrel-vaulted room in the Palazzo Farnese (now the French Embassy) in Rome (see top image above). Carracci used a technique called quadratura, which combines integrates the frescoes with the actual architecture of the space and enhances the effects by adding painting architecture, sculpture and even picture frames. The themes of most of the frescoes are mythological in origin; the centerpiece (on the ceiling) depicts The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne (see second image above), in which a procession of animals, putti and various mythological creatures accompany the loving couple. The image below shows Diana and Endymion, with framing figures that show Carracci’s expertise at painting faux marble sculpture in grisaille. The frescoes were very influential in their move away from Mannerism to the Baroque style, and even anticipate the Classical revival of the 18th Century.

313. The Flight into Egypt

Artist: Adam Elsheimer
Date: 1609
Period/Style: Baroque; Germany/Italy; religious landscape
Medium: Oil paints on a sheet of copper
Dimensions: 12.2 inches tall by 16 inches wide
Current location: Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany

Adam Elsheimer, a German Baroque painter working in Italy, painted small landscapes designed for the cabinet, a private room in a spacious home. In The Flight into Egypt, which may have been Elsheimer’s last painting, the artist depicts a familiar story from Matthew’s Gospel in an unfamiliar way. According to the Gospel, it was nighttime when Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus into Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the firstborn, but most previous artists depicted the flight into Egypt as a daytime event. Elsheimer was among the first to meet the challenge of telling the story in a realistic nocturnal setting. The work contrasts the few, limited light sources (the moon, Joseph’s torch and the shepherds’ fire) with the vast darkness of forest and sky. (See detail below showing the shepherds.) The overall effect is of the holy family seeking the small pools of light (hope and warmth) amid the unknown mystery and fearful power of the darkness. Elsheimer was an amateur astronomer and may have had access to a telescope (a device that was invented in The Netherlands in 1608), which may explain the accuracy of his depictions of the Milky Way, Ursa Major (the Big Dipper), other stars and the moon, all of which are consistent with the sky in Rome during June 1609.

314. Fray Hortensio Félix Paravicino

Artist: El Greco
Date: 1609
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Baroque; Spain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.7 ft. tall by 2.8 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

Fray Hortensio Félix Paravicino, born in Madrid of Italian parents, was a cleric and intellectual who became friends with El Greco during the artist’s last years. A professor of rhetoric, an acclaimed poet and a sought-after orator, Paravicino sat for his portrait at the age of 29. In 1641, long after El Greco’s 1614 death, Paravicino dedicated four sonnets to him in a published collection, which included the line: “Crete gave him life, Toledo his brushes and a better homeland… .” El Greco restricts his palette to the blacks and whites of his subject’s clerical vestments, producing the effect that we are seeing past the physical and into the psychological reality of the man. El Greco was rejected by the painters of his time for his failure to adapt to the new Baroque style. Instead, he continues to paint using his own personal blend of the Byzantine-influenced Mannerism. Neil Collins analyzes the ways in which El Greco evokes the subject’s spirituality:  First, the composition is dominated completely by Paravicino’s face and the spiritual energy or other-worldliness it exudes. Second, the ghostly, shroud-like white of the Friar’s tunic endows him with a certain ethereal quality, reinforced by the paleness of his skin and hands. Third, the folds of the friar’s habit, the angle of his left arm and the books, all contribute to the creation of an imperceptible rhythm or movement, which further adds to the sense of other-worldliness.”  Random Trivia: The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston purchased the painting in 1904 for $17,166 on the advice of painter John Singer Sargent.

315. Judith Slaying Holofernes (Judith Beheading Holofernes)

Artist: Artemisia Gentileschi
Date: There are two versions. The Naples version was painted c. 1611-1613; the Florence version was painted c. 1620-1621
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy; religious
Medium: Both versions were made with oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The Naples version measures 5.2 ft. tall by 4.1 feet wide, but most art historians believe that it has been trimmed, removing a significant portion of the left side. The Florence version measures 6.5 ft. tall by 5.3 ft. wide.
Current locations: The first version is at the National Museum of Capodimonte in Naples, Italy. The second version is in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

In the Book of Judith, Assyrian general Holofernes is preparing to destroy the people of Israel when he falls in love with Judith, a beautiful Jewish widow from the village of Bethulia. Taking advantage of Holofernes’ fondness for her, Judith invites herself into his tent one night and waits until he gets drunk. When he passes out, she cuts off his head, saving herself and the Jewish people. The story has generated many works of art, but until the Baroque era, Judith was usually shown with the head of Holofernes post-decapitation. Caravaggio was one of the first to ratchet up the violence with his painting from 1598-1599 depicting the act of decapitation itself (see second image below). When Artemisia Gentileschi – one of the few well-known women artists of the 17th Century – painted the Biblical story of Judith and Holofernes, contemporaries might have recognized a hidden meaning from the artist’s own biography. Gentileschi, a distinguished painter and first woman member of Florence’s Accademia di Arte del Disegno, and had certainly seen Caravaggio’s work, painted the theme twice. The first version (1612-13) was probably trimmed considerably on the left side (see image above). The second version (c. 1620) is considerably larger than the first canvas and appears to show the full intended composition for both paintings, including Holofernes’ legs on the left (see first image below). Both paintings are highly dramatic, as Judith and her maid fight against a very conscious Holofernes. One can see the determination and physical exertions of both women and feel the pressure of Judith’s hand on the blade as she saws through living flesh. In the later painting, Gentileschi is less influenced by Caravaggio; also, she has added a realistic spurt of blood from Holofernes’ jugular vein to let us know that Judith has hit her mark (in contrast with the unrealistic blood spurts from Caravaggio’s treatment). Those who viewed the painting may have also recognized in Judith’s rage at Holofernes Gentileschi’s rage at painter and former tutor Agostino Tassi, who raped Gentileschi when she was an 18-year-old art student. Gentileschi’s father, the highly-regarded painter Orazio Gentileschi, had hired the private tutor to teach his daughter because the art academies did not admit women. Gentileschi attempted to save her honor by marrying Tassi but he reneged, so she took the daring step of coming forward and publicly accusing Tassi of his crime. At the time, rape trials included torturing the complaining witness with thumbscrews to see if she was lying. Although Tassi was convicted of committing the rape, he was almost immediately pardoned and was never punished.

316. Descent from the Cross

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Date: c. 1612-1614
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders (now Belgium); religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: The center panel measures 13.8 ft. tall by 10.8 ft. wide
Current location: Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium
descent from the cross
The late 16th and early 17th centuries were a time of tumult, war, revolution and religious conflict in Flanders, including the Flemish city of Antwerp. The mostly Catholic city was taken over by Calvinists in the 1577, which resulted in a purge of religious art in 1581. The Catholics regained the upper hand in 1585 when the Spanish drove out the Calvinists during the Eighty Years’ War (also known as the Dutch War of Independence). A treaty signed at Antwerp in 1609 established a truce that would last for 12 years, during which it was safe again for art in the churches. In 1611, the Confraternity of Arquebusiers (a shooting club) commissioned Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens to paint an altarpiece for their chapel in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. Rubens had recently returned from eight years in Italy, and he had absorbed lessons from both the Baroque style of Caravaggio and his followers, as well as artists of the Venetian School. The resulting altarpiece is a masterful blend of Flemish tradition and Italian innovation. The Descent from the Cross is the center panel of a triptych (see image above), which also shows the Visitation of Mary with Elizabeth on the left, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on the right (see full altarpiece in image below). We see ladders on each side of the cross, and at the top, two unidentified workers taking down the pale corpse of Jesus, while holding the shroud they will use to wrap the body (one of the men holds the shroud in his teeth). A little lower, we see Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea preparing to accept the body. The four men form a square. Still lower, St. John assists on the right and the three Marys (the Madonna, Mary Magdalene and Mary Cleopas) stand or kneel on the left. The Madonna reaches out to her son, while Jesus’ lifeless, punctured foot rests poignantly on Mary Magdalene’s shoulder. At the right a brass or copper bowl holds the crown of thorns and the nails, which sit in a pool of congealed blood. Diagonal lines establish a sense of movement, while the pale whiteness of Christ’s dead body contrasts with the blue of Mary’s gown and St. John’s red robe. But for this group of nine figures, the landscape is deserted. A sliver of sunlight emerging from the dark clouds provides illumination.
The_Descent_from_the_Cross_(Rubens)

317. The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (The Abduction of the Daughters of Leucippus)

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Date: 1617-1618
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders (now Belgium); mythology
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7.3 ft. tall by 6.8 ft. wide
Current location: Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany
Rubens_-_The_Rape_of_the_Daughters_of_LeucippusPeter Paul Rubens’ artistic style blended the Classical harmonies of the High Renaissance, the control of color of Titian and other Venetians, and the drama and vigorous activity of the Baroque. The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, a large mythological painting, combines these stylistic threads brilliantly. The painting shows twin brothers Castor (left) and Pollux abducting Phoebe and Hilaeira, the daughters of King Leucippus of Aros, whom they will force to marry them. Thematically, the work is controversial because of an apparent ambivalence on the part of the subjects: Castor and Pollux seem less than enthusiastic about the abduction; and in some ways, the women seem a bit too enthusiastic, not fully objecting. Against the background of a calm sunny landscape, there is intense drama among the men, women and horses, who twist and bend in unlikely ways, but the composition, which runs along two crossing diagonal lines to form an X, is almost classical in its unity. The spatial gap between the two women’s bodies is a source of dramatic tension, as the eye wishes to see one massive swath of pink, and there are several visual rhymes. Rubens’ treatment of light and color – particularly the flesh tones of the nudes (in contrast to the tan bodies of the brothers) – is masterful. The term “Rubenesque” arose from the ample women figures in paintings like this one.

318. The Water Seller of Seville

Artist: Diego Velázquez (born Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez)
Date: 1618-1622
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: Each version is approximately 3.4 ft. tall by 2.6 ft. wide
Current location: Version 1: Apsley House, London, England, UK; Version 2: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy; Version 3: Private collection (?).

Between 1618 and 1622, Spanish painter Diego Velázquez made three very similar paintings entitled The Water Seller of Seville (also known as The Water Carrier of Seville). Made early in Velázquez’s career, before he became court painter for the King of Spain, the paintings are notable for their dignified treatment of the main subject, an old, poor man in tattered clothing who ekes out of a living by selling fresh water from a jug, a common profession for the very poor and a much needed service during Seville’s scorching summer heat. The old man hands a glass of water (with a fig for flavoring) to a boy, while (in two out of the three versions) an adult man drinks from a glass in the background (thus representing the three ages of Man). The most highly regarded of the three versions is the one in London’s Apsley House, the former home of the Duke of Wellington (see image above). How it got there is an interesting story. At the beginning of the 19th Century, the painting was located in Spain, but when Napoleon’s troops invaded Spain, they took the painting with them as the spoils of war. Then, in June 1813, anti-Napoleon troops led by the Duke of Wellington won the Battle of Vitoria, and in the process recaptured over 80 looted masterpieces from Napoleon, including The Water Seller of Seville. When the Duke returned the artworks to their rightful home in Spain, the Spanish King allowed the Duke to keep the Velázquez masterpiece as a token of his gratitude. The version in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence gives more prominence to the third figure, who is drinking from a glass (see image below left). In a third version, which may be in a private collection, this background figure has completely disappeared (see image below right). 
  

319. Aurora

Artist: Guercino (born Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)
Date: 1621-1623
Period/Style: Baroque, Rome; mythological
Medium: Fresco painted on residential ceiling
Dimensions: The fresco covers the entire ceiling of a large room
Current location: Villa Ludovisi, Rome, Italy
aurora guercino

In about 1620, the wealthy and powerful Ludovisi family commissioned the Italian painter known as Il Guercino (the squinter, born Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) to paint a series of frescoes in the Casino dell’Aurora of their country home, the Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi. Guercino devoted the ceiling to a dramatic, yet classically balanced depiction of Aurora, the goddess of dawn, riding her horse-drawn chariot across the sky (see top image above and detail in second image above). Art historian Frederick Hartt praises “[t]he opulence and grace of his style, the rich soft coloring, and the strong light-and-dark contrasts” as “more naturalistic” than many of his contemporaries. Guercino’s choice of subject was a brazen case of one-upsmanship, as his rival Guido Reni had painted an identically-themed fresco on the ceiling of a wealthy patron’s home just a few years earlier (see Reni’s ceiling, with painted frame, in image below). The consensus of art historians is that Guercino’s Aurora is more alive and dynamic – a more fully-realized work of art – than Reni’s. Random Trivia; Guercino’s painted architecture creates the illusion that the ceiling is much higher than the actual 16 feet, except for one corner (see lower right quadrant in top image) where Guercino deliberately ruins the illusion in what Hartt calls an “alarmingly effective” “prank.”

320. David

Artist: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Date: 1623-1624
Period/Style: Baroque; Rome; religious
Medium: Sculpture carved from marble
Dimensions: 5.7 ft tall
Current location: Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy

the David is one of several Bernini statues commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese to decorate his home, the Palazzo Borghese. (Other highlights include Apollo and Daphne and The Rape of Persephone.) When compared with other famous Davids by Donatello, Verrocchio and Michelangelo, Bernini’s is the most active, the least static, the most expressive and the least symmetrical, all in keeping with the Baroque philosophy that art, especially religious art, should produce a simple but powerful emotional reaction in the viewer. Instead of representing David standing calmly after killing Goliath, Bernini shows him in motion, in the very act of throwing the stone at the giant (see detail in images below). In the words of Beth Harris and Stephen Zucker, “When looking at Bernini’s David, we immediately start to feel what David is feeling. This empathy is very important to Baroque art.”
 

322. The Laughing Cavalier

Artist: Frans Hals (full name: Frans Hals the Elder)
Date: 1624
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.2. ft. wide
Current location: The Wallace Collection, London, England, UK

We know very little about the subject of The Laughing Cavalier, the famous portrait by Dutch Golden Age painter Frans Hals, except that he was 26 when Hals painted him in 1624. There is no evidence that he was a cavalier, and he is definitely not laughing. The current title arose in the late 19th Century during an exhibition in London and has stuck. Hals animates the portrait by having the subject turn and smile while looking straight at the viewer, and by choosing a low angle. The angle also emphasizes the subject’s elaborate outfit, and gives the viewer a close-up look at the cupids and other love symbols on his sleeves. A close look at the painting shows that, foreshadowing the Impressionists, Hals often used quick, broad brushstrokes, sketching out details in a way that creates an illusion of realism at a distance. Hals’ visible brushstrokes were both innovative and controversial; while a few criticized his work as unfinished, his technique brought a new sense of immediacy to the art of portraiture. Hals’ innovations proved highly influential on his fellow Dutch Golden Age artists. Random Trivia: The logo for McEwan’s, a Scottish-based brewer, is loosely based on The Laughing Cavalier, with the addition of an actual smile and a frosty mug of ale (see image below).

323. Apollo and Daphne

Artist: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Date: Work begun in 1622; completed in 1625
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy; mythology
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 8 ft. tall
Current location: Galleria Borghese; Rome, Italy
 
In his Metamorphoses, Ovid relates a tale in which Cupid punishes the god Apollo for a slight by making him fall in love with Daphne, a beautiful river nymph, while at the same time shooting Daphne with an arrow that makes her incapable of falling in love. Apollo chases Daphne relentlessly until she is exhausted and Apollo finally catches up to her. A distressed Daphne then prays to her father, the river god Peneus, to either take away her beauty or transform her body. As Apollo reaches out to touch Daphne, she begins to be transformed into a laurel tree. When Apollo finally places his hand on her, he only touches tree bark, although he can feel her heart beating underneath. It was this moment that Bernini captured in his 8-ft.-tall marble sculpture Apollo and Daphne, which was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. In order to justify the presence of a pagan myth in a Catholic cardinal’s home, Borghese had a moral lesson engraved on the original base of the statue: “Those who love to pursue fleeting forms of pleasure, in the end find only leaves and bitter berries in their hands.”  A more applicable lesson may be that within a sculpture of cold stone we may find a beating heart that is the true representation of real life. The statue is Bernini’s most admired, although some scholars believe that a member of Bernini’s workshop, Giuliano Finelli, sculpted some of the details of Daphne’s metamorphosis. 

324. The Martyrdom of St. Serapion

Artist: Francisco de Zurbarán
Date: 1628
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.9 ft tall by 3.4 ft wide
Current location: Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut
Zurbaran st serapion
The Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives, commonly known as the Mercedarians, was an order of Catholic monks whose mission was to offer themselves as hostages in exchange for Christians imprisoned or enslaved around the world. As a result of this mission, many Mercedarians became martyrs, including the subject of this painting, St. Serapion of Algiers. Serapion, who was born in the British Isles, joined the Mercedarians in the 13th Century after fighting in the Crusades. In 1240, he went to Algiers to offer himself as a hostage for the release of some Christian captives, but when the ransom money did not arrive on schedule, he was nailed to an X-shaped cross, then dismembered and disemboweled. The Mercedarians in Seville, Spain commissioned Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán, who did most of his work for monasteries, to paint a portrait of St. Serapion of Algiers for their De Profundis chapel, which was set aside for the laying out and funeral services of deceased members of the order. Instead of highlighting  the gruesome physical violence or the pain and suffering that St. Serapion experienced, Zurbarán shows his subject in a quasi-crucified pose (the wood of the cross just barely visible), head slumped in the tranquil peace of death. The saint’s white robes (the Mercedarian medal hanging on his chest is the only splash of color) would have reminded the monks viewing the painting not of the human suffering he endured but the sacred eternal light they believed he now shared. The Martyrdom of St. Serapion is now at the St. Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut where it recently underwent an extensive cleaning and restoration (click to see video).

325. The Triumph of Bacchus (Los Borrachos)

Artist: Diego Velázquez
Date: 1628-1629
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.4 ft tall by 7.4 ft wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
velazquez los borrachos
In The Triumph of Bacchus, (often referred to by the nickname Los Borrachos “the drunks”), Spanish painter Diego Velázquez takes a mythological subject and inserts in into a contemporary setting. On the left are the god Bacchus, sitting on a wine vat, his bare flesh painted an unearthly white, with classical robes and a classical satyr behind him. The rest of the painting, however, appears to be set in 17th Century Spain; Bacchus is carousing with folks from all walks of life, but particularly the poor, one of whom holds up a bowl of wine and grins directly at us, as if to invite us to the party. The message to viewers would have been clear; Bacchus’s gift of wine is meant to ease the cares of daily life, and the poorest people had the most cares and were the most deserving of the gift. 

326. Mosaics, Imam Mosque (formerly Shah Mosque) (Masjed-e Imam)

Artists: Shayk Bahai was the architect, but the identities of the mosaic artists are unknown.
Date: Work began 1611; completed 1629
Period/Style: Islamic: Safavid Dynasty; Persian; Isfahan, Persia (now Iran); religious
Medium: Tile mosaics decorating interior and exterior walls
Dimensions: 475,000 mosaic tiles were used to decorate the mosque, which measures 330 ft. by 430 ft., with a central courtyard measuring 230 ft. square. The dome is 174 ft. tall. The entrance is 89 ft. tall and has two minarets each 138 ft. tall. There are four iwans (rectangular halls walled on three sides), the largest of which is 108 ft. tall.
shah mosque 2

The Shah Mosque (known since the 1979 revolution as Imam Mosque) is located in Naghsh-i Jahan Square in Isfahan, Iran. It was built between 1611 and 1629 under Persian leader Shah Abbas I, of the Safavid Dynasty, and was designed by architect Shaykh Bahai. Both the building and the 475,000 mosaic tiles that decorate it combine Islamic (mostly Arab) traditions with local Persian styles. For example, unlike monochrome domes found in other traditions, Persian domes such as the Shah Mosque’s are covered with colorful tiles, both outside (see image below left) and in (see second image above), where there is a sunburst pattern. Shah Abbas wanted the mosque to be completed in his lifetime (it was not to be) so he asked the builders to invent new, faster techniques, such as the haft rangi (seven-color) style of making tile mosaics, in which instead of firing small individual tiles of a single color, each large tile (17-20 in. square) incorporates multiple colors. (The seven colors are: dark blue, light blue, white, black, yellow, green and bisquit.) The resulting tiles are quicker to make and allow for more colorful designs. They shimmer in direct sunlight, although they are less vivid in shadowy rooms than earlier Safavid and Timurid mosaics. Among the most elaborate mosaics are those on and inside the four iwans or large formal entrance halls. The entrance iwan, or gateway, includes two minarets and a recessed half-moon with stalactite tilework (see image below right). Around the rim of the iwan, royal calligrapher Reza Abbasi, using white script on dark blue, inscribed verses praising Muhammad and his cousin and son-in-law Ali, as well as the date of the groundbreaking. Although the dominant color of the interior mosaics is blue, some of the halls include a brighter arrangement of yellows and greens (see top image). As with almost all Islamic religious art, there are no depictions of humans or animals; aside from the inscriptions, the designs in the Imam Mosque are generally abstract.
dome of shah mosque  

327. Statue of St. Andrew

Artist: François Duquesnoy
Date: Duquesnoy’s full-size stucco model was unveiled in its niche in St. Peter’s in 1629, but the completed marble sculpture was not delivered until 1633 or later.
Period/Style: Baroque; France; religious
Medium: Marble statue
Dimensions: 14.8 ft. tall
Current location: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

During the 1630s, an aesthetic battle raged between Classical and Baroque sculptors. Flemish-born François Duquesnoy, who lived in Rome most of his life. was thought to possess a mixture of characteristics, although some labeled him a classicist. When Pope Urban VIII decided to place marble statues in the octagon of St. Peter’s Basilica to represent important relics possessed by the Vatican, Duquesnoy was one of the four sculptors he chose, along with Andrea Bolgi, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Mochi. Duquesnoy was charged with the Statue of St. Andrew, one of the 12 apostles, who, according to legend, was martyred on a diagonal or saltire cross. As for the relic, the Vatican had received a skull reported to be St. Andrew’s in 1462. Duquesnoy sculpted St. Andrew looking up to heaven, one arm outstretched, the other carrying his cross. The draperies are considered classical in style, while the upper body and head are more theatrical, in keeping with the Baroque. Although one critic described the piece as “static and posed”, another noted that the entire composition “accentuates the diagonals.”

328. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Artist: Rembrandt (full name: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn)
Date: 1632
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7.1 ft. tall by 5.5 ft. wide
Current location: Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands
The_Anatomy_Lesson
In January 1632, 26-year-old Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was just beginning his career. His commission from the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons to paint a group portrait for their board room may have been his first group portrait. To complicate matters, the portrait would be taken at a public dissection. The Guild allowed just one such event each year, and it was a true social occasion, with members of the public, dressed for the theater, paying admission to watch the Praelector Anatomiae expound on the mysteries of human anatomy. By law, the cadaver was the body of an executed criminal. Therefore, the Guild scheduled the public dissection for January 16, 1632, the day that convicted armed robber Adriaan Adriaanszoon (alias Aris Kindt) was to be hanged. Rembrandt sketched as a preparator performed the dissection of the cadaver’s left arm and when Dr. Nicholaes Tulp stepped in to begin the lesson. In the resulting group portrait, known as The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrandt represented the anatomy of the arm with remarkable accuracy (although medical experts note that Rembrandt has the flexor compartment originating at the lateral epicondyle, where it should be the medial epicondyle). More importantly for those who commissioned the portrait, Rembrandt portrays each man as a unique individual who is engaged in the lesson. (For posterity, one of the figures is shown holding a list of the names of the portrait subjects.) Rembrandt has grouped his subjects into a triangular composition, with Dr. Tulp, the only one in a hat, in a featured position; light illuminates each of the men’s faces and the cadaver. Instead of painting nine separate individuals, Rembrandt has created a unified mass to which each individual contributes. Some experts believe that the figures at the top and far left were added at a later date. This is the first painting that the artist signed simply as “Rembrandt” and one critic has noted that the cadaver’s navel is also in the shape of an “R.”  The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp was originally hung in Anatomical Hall in Amsterdam, home of the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons. Twenty-three years later, Rembrandt painted a companion piece – The Anatomy Lesson of Jan Deijman – but it was damaged by fire in 1723 and only a fragment remains.

329. The Garden of Love

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Date: c. 1633
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders (now Belgium)
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.5 ft. tall by 9.4 ft wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
rubens garden of love
The Garden of Love, which at one point hung in the bedroom of the King of Spain, is believed to be celebration of Rubens’ marriage to his second wife, Hélène Fourment, and some scholars believe that the man in the hat on the left is a self-portrait of the artist. The painting converts a realistic scene of the well-to-do cavorting in their fashionable finery into an allegorical fantasy of love, marriage and fertility by adding supernatural and symbolic elements, including: a dog (symbol of faithfulness), a pair of doves, numerous Cupids (who interact with the mortals), fountains with sculptures of the Three Graces and Nursing Venus, and a peacock (symbol of the goddess Juno, protector of matrimony). Although many of the elements are Classical in inspiration, the architectural setting is based on the Mannerist portico of Rubens’ house in Antwerp. 

330. Malle Babbe

Artist: Frans Hals
Date: c. 1633-1635
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; genre painting
Medium: Oils on canvas
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide 
Current location: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliches Museen, Berlin

For many years, viewers of Frans Hals portrait of Malle Babbe (“loony Babs”) thought this was a tronie of a woman dressed as a witch, interpreting the owl on her shoulder as a symbol of witchcraft and black magic, and the work acquired the nickname Witch of Haarlem. But modern researchers have learned that Malle Babbe was a real person and so now classify this is a genre painting – a slice of life portrait of a mentally ill woman drinking and laughing, probably at a tavern. Instead of black magic, the bird probably refers to the Dutch saying “drunk as an owl.” Hals may have met his subject at the asylum for the mentally ill just outside the walls of Haarlem, where his own son had been confined. The quick, almost manic brush strokes give us a sense of a fleeting moment frozen in time. The unsentimental representation of Malle Babbe – isolated in the frame so that we don’t know if she is laughing at someone else’s joke or her own – provides a glimpse into the sometimes uncomfortable reality of interacting with the mentally ill in our communities. The painting was much admired by contemporaries, and many 17th Century copies were made. The version of Malle Babbe in the Metropolitian Museum of Art in New York, which takes a somewhat less frenetic approach, is attributed to a “close follower” of Hals (see image below).  

331. Rape of the Sabines (Abduction of the Sabine Women)

Artist: Nicolas Poussin
Date: There are two versions. Version 1 was made c. 1633-1635. Version 2 was made c. 1637-1638.
Period/Style: Baroque; France; history painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: Version 1 measures 5.1 ft. tall by 6.9 ft. wide. Version 2 measures 5.2 ft. tall by 6.75 ft. wide.
Current location: Version 1 is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Version 2 is in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Nicolas Poussin painted two versions of the legendary Roman story of the abduction of the Sabine women in the 1630s (see earlier version in image above and later version in first image below). According to the myth, the Romans decided to resolve their ongoing strife with the neighboring Sabines by forcibly abducting, marrying and impregnating their women, thus uniting the tribes. The Romans invited the Sabines to a festival and, when Roman leader Romulus raised his cloak, the Roman men abducted the Sabine women.  It is this moment that Poussin chooses to paint in both versions.  Romulus stands on a raised platform at left, giving the signal, while mayhem takes place below. As the Metropolitan Museum of Art curator notes, “This dramatic story gave Poussin the opportunity to display his command of gesture and pose and his knowledge of ancient sculpture and architecture.” The two paintings are quite similar, but there are differences, as Neil Collins points out: “The painting in the Met is more controlled, more static, but more colorful; while the Louvre picture is more dynamic and has more depth.” Both paintings use the architectural background as a way to keep the eye from wandering, and to anchor the artist’s use of linear perspective.  Random Trivia: The pose of the man and woman in the lower left sector of the painting may have been inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s marble sculpture, The Rape of Proserpina (1621-1622), at the Galleria Borghese in Rome (see detail in second image below).

332. The Surrender of Breda (Las Lanzas)

Artist: Diego Velázquez 
Date: 1634
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain; historical
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 10.1 ft. tall by 12 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Velazquez-Surrender of Breda
On its face, The Surrender of Breda celebrates the winning of a battle in a losing war; but hidden beneath the surface meaning is an attempt to rehabilitate a man’s reputation. The story begins on a long sea voyage in 1629. Italian-born military hero Ambrogio Spinola, who fought for Spain in the war of Dutch Independence (also known as the Eighty Years’ War) was returning to his home in Genoa. At the suggestion of Peter Paul Rubens, Spanish king Philip IV sent his 30-year-old court painter Diego Velázquez to accompany Spinola, giving the artist an opportunity to obtain an artistic education in Italy. Only four years earlier, Spinola had won his most illustrious victory. In 1624, Spinola lay siege to the heavily fortified Dutch city of Breda. After 11 months, Justin of Nassau surrendered to Spinola, giving Spain a significant victory. Spinola was praised not only for his military skill but also the reasonableness of the terms of surrender. But Spain’s prospects in the war turned soon after the victory at Breda, and Spinola was blamed by some at court for the change in fortunes. At the time he and Velázquez sailed to Italy, Spinola’s legacy as a hero was in jeopardy. He died a year after the voyage at the siege of Casale. Four years later, when Philip IV commissioned Velázquez and others to create 12 paintings showing Spanish military victories to decorate the royal reception room in his new Buen Retiro Palace on the outskirts of Madrid, Velázquez saw his opportunity to rehabilitate the reputation of the man he had known and admired. The Surrender of Breda shows Spinola (drawn from memory) accepting surrender from Justin of Nassau. Justin hands Spinola the key to the city, which forms the center point or ‘key’ to the composition. Both the historical record and the personal recollections of Velázquez support the painting’s depiction of Spinola as showing restraint, respect and dignity in victory. Ironically, the Dutch permanently recaptured Breda soon after Velázquez painted his canvas and the Dutch ultimately obtained their independence from Spain.

333. Charles I at the Hunt

Artist: Anthony van Dyck
Date: 1635
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders (now Belgium); royal portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.7 ft. tall by 6.8 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre,Paris, France
Charles I-Van Dyck
At less than five feet tall, diminutive English monarch Charles I was looking for an artist who could make him look like a king and court portraitist Daniel Mytens was not getting the job done. Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck (a student of Rubens) had gained a reputation in Italy and Flanders as a superb portraitist, and he had gained Charles I’s attention by assisting his agents in building the king’s art collection and by sending Charles a few of his own works, including a portrait of Charles’s sister, Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia. In 1632, Charles I made van Dyck his new principal court painter, granting him a knighthood and an annual salary of 200 pounds. Given van Dyck’s specialty, it is not surprising that his finest works during this period are his portraits of the king, which are accurate depictions but never reveal his below average stature. Charles I at the Hunt is a 1635 portrait of Charles I in an informal setting. The king appears to be taking a break from a hunting trip to survey his domain – the lands and sea spread out below – when he turns to the viewer with a look of both supreme confidence and utter indifference. Van Dyck deliberately chose a low angle to depict the king to avoid drawing attention to his height, and placed him in the left, brighter side of the canvas, away from the shadows that engulf the bowing horse and courtiers. To ensure that the king’s face stands out against the bright sky, van Dyck used a black hat as a frame. While there are few definitive royal accoutrements (except for the cloak the groom holds and the statement, “Charles I, King of Great Britain” inscribed on a rock), there is no doubt that this is not just a nattily dressed aristocrat, complete with fashionable teardrop earring, but a king who knows how to play at the aristocrats’ sports without compromising his power and majesty. It is, perhaps, a sign of his confidence in himself and his power that he allowed himself to be portrayed in this informal manner. Van Dyck died in 1641, while Charles I was still on the throne; eight years later, the Puritans overthrew the king and eventually beheaded him.

334. Interior of Grote Kerk in Haarlem

Artist: Pieter Jansz. Saenredam
Date: 1636-1637
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands
Medium: Oil paints on oak panels
Dimensions: 1.9 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
grote kerk
Grote Kerk (now St. Bavo’s Church), was the largest church in Dutch artist Pieter Saenredam’s home town of Haarlem in the Netherlands. Grote Kerk began its life in the Middle Ages as a Gothic-style Roman Catholic church, but by the 1630s, the Protestant revolution had swept through the Netherlands, taking paintings and sculptures out of the churches and whitewashing the walls. Stripped of icons, the post-Reformation church interior emphasized the pure lines of the architecture, something that Saenredam spent much of his time capturing in a number of splendid paintings of Grote Kerk and other Protestant churches.  He combined a dedication to realism with a willingness to alter the facts to make a better picture. He studied perspective and made measurements of the churches, but he also felt free to alter perspective rules (as in Interior of Grote Kerk at Haarlem) and omit furniture and other clutter from the final product. This 1636-1637 work was one of several views of Grote Kerk that Saenredam painted over the years. This view is from the north side of the choir, east of the north transept.

335. Consequences of War (Horrors of War)

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Date: c. 1637
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders (now Belgium); allegory/mythology
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.75 ft. tall by 11.3 ft wide
Current location: Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy
Rubens-Horrors of WarFlemish Baroque master Peter Paul Rubens was an accomplished diplomat as well as an artist, so it is no surprise that his allegorical painting Consequences of War contains rich political insights. Commissioned by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand II de’ Medici, Consequences of War is a commentary on the Thirty Years War then raging in Europe, told using mythological imagery. Rubens places a blood-red Mars (his sword already bloody) at the center of the composition. The Fury Alecto leads Mars into battle, while his lover Venus tries ineffectually to hold them back. A woman in black, symbolizing Europe, grieves at the destruction. Behind them, the doors to the temple of Janus are open, as they were only in times of war. Elsewhere, a trampled book, a broken lute, a fallen architect and scattered arrows stand for war’s devastating impacts on learning, building, art, harmony, and peace. By placing two children beside Venus and a mother and child at lower right, Rubens reminds us of the traumatic effects of war on the young. Stylistically, the painting exhibits Rubens’ trademark synthesis of Venetian use of color, Michelangelo’s treatment of the human figure, the compositions of Annibale Carraci and other Italians, with his own Flemish roots. The Rubenesque nude Venus, symbol of love, forms a diagonal slash of light in an otherwise dark, forbidding canvas.

336. Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power (The Triumph of Divine Providence) 

Artist: Pietro da Cortona (born Pietro Berrettini)
Date: Begun in 1633; completed in 1639
Period/Style: Baroque; Rome, Italy; mythology/allegory;  “di sotto in sù”
Medium: Fresco painted on palazzo ceiling
Dimensions: 4,300 square feet
Current location: Palazzo Barberini (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica), Rome, Italy
cortona barberini ceiling
Italian artist Pietro da Cortona painted the massive fresco titled The Triumph of Divine Providence (also known as Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power) on the ceiling of the grand salon in the Palazzo Barberini, home of Rome’s powerful Barberini family, between 1633 and 1639. The fresco was intended to celebrate the family’s power and good fortune, particularly the election of Maffeo Barberini to pope (as Urban VIII) in 1623. In true Baroque fashion, the work as a whole is filled with a swirling, ecstatic energy. Allegorical figures abound in the crowded composition: scholars have identified Truth, Beauty, Peace, Chronos (Time, eating his children), the Three Fates, Immortality (carrying a crown of stars), Hercules, Vulcan, Minerva and St. Peter, to name a few. (See detail in image below left Divine Providence, Immortality, Time and the Three Fates.) The mythological content is so complex that visitors to the Palazzo receive a detailed guidebook to help them decipher the many symbols, including those specifically referring to the Barberinis: the family’s coat of arms and squadrons of giant bees, the family mascot (see detail in image below right). Cortona also added plenty of trompe-l’oeil effects, including the apparent crumbling of the marble frame due to the weight of Providence, in one case, and Vulcan at his forge, in another. Some art historians have suggested that the fresco was intended to dispel any notion that Maffeo Barberini’s election to the papacy was rigged, a powerful rumor at the time. Instead, the fresco shows that Pope Urban VIII is in his place because of Divine Providence. The fresco may also have been intended to demonstrate the supremacy of Catholicism over its rival religions, although the reliance on figures from classical mythology may have undermined that message somewhat.
 cortona barberini bees

337. Peasant Family in an Interior

Artist: Louis Le Nain and/or Antoine Le Nain
Date: 1640-1642
Period/Style: Baroque (with elements of proto-Realism); France; genre painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.7 ft tall by 5.2 ft wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
lenainbrothers_peasantfamily
On the surface a simple, straightforward depiction of a peasant family by one or more of the Le Nain brothers, this painting explores two themes: one sociopolitical and the other aesthetic. On the first theme, the artist presents the nine peasants shown in a frieze-like relief not as grubby, drunken caricatures, but as dignified human beings worthy of our admiration as they struggle to survive – a controversial notion in the 17th Century. The aesthetic mission is the artist’s use of a restricted palette to examine of the effects of two sources of light. Cool sunlight coming from our left streams across the room and lights up the sides of faces, the meager meal of bread, wine and salt and the folds of garments. At the left, we see a second source of light, the warm glow of a fire, which lights up the faces of two younger family members and places another entirely in silhouette. Random Trivia: At least one art historian believes that the painting is meant to be an allegory representing The Three Ages of Man.

338. The Club-Footed Boy

Artist: Jusepe de Ribera
Date: 1642
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain/Italy; genre painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

The subject of the painting known as The Club-Footed BoyThe Clubfoot, or The Boy with the Club Foot was a Neapolitan boy who was severely disabled and so poor that he had to beg for a living. Yet  Jusepe de Ribera, a Spanish-born painter who worked primarily in southern Italy, does not present him to us as an object of pity, condescension, sentimentality or even derision. Ribera uses a low angle to give the diminutive boy some stature, and he fills the canvas with his stunted body so we see him as a fellow human being. Most importantly, he does not idealize. The boy is playful – he wears his crutch like a soldier wears his rifle – and he is also clever. Being a beggar means being a performer, and here, he is performing for the artist, striking a pose. Ribera could have used the darker side of his palette to remind us of the horrors of poverty, but instead he paints the sky blue, the clouds white and the trees green. At bottom, Ribera never lost his roots in Spanish realism, even after many years in Italy. In the boy’s hand is a paper with the words in Latin, “Give me alms, for the love of God.” Italians of the 17th Century would have known that this was not Ribera’s attempt to tug at the viewer’s heartstrings – the paper was a type of permit or license that beggars had to carry to be allowed to solicit. Ribera knew that we do not need to see the boy’s misfortunes in order to claim him as a brother – it was enough to grant him a little dignity. 

339. The Night Watch (The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch)

Artist: Rembrandt 
Date: 1642
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; group portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 11.9 ft. tall by 14.3 ft. wide
Current location: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Rembrandt_-_The_Nightwatch 2Despite its name, Rembrandt’s painting commonly known as The Night Watch does not depict a watch (which only occurs in times of danger) and does not take place at night. The members of a local militia commissioned Rembrandt to paint their portrait as they marched from their headquarters, during the day, in formation. The painting’s unwieldy original title is The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch Preparing to March Out. The work demonstrates Rembrandt’s signature expertise in employing the technique of tenebrism, using dramatic lighting to draws the viewer’s attention to certain elements of the composition, while keeping the rest in shadow or complete darkness. The viewer focuses on the two leaders of the militia and a young girl, who carries the traditional symbols of the militia company (see detail in left image below). This large work has suffered numerous indignities through the years. First, the glazes Rembrandt used have darkened over the centuries, causing the loss of some details, especially in areas outside the brightly-lit focal points, and causing viewers to think that the scene takes place at night. Second, when The Night Watch was moved to Amsterdam Town Hall in 1715, the canvas was trimmed on all four sides so it could fit on the wall between two columns. The trimming cut off portions of figures on the right and eliminated two figures on the left, changing the balance of Rembrandt’s composition. (A 17th Century copy of the untrimmed work by Gerrit Lundens is shown below right.) Finally, on three separate occasions (in 1911, 1975 and 1990), vandals have damaged the painting, although restoration work has repaired most of the damage.
night watch detail lundens night watch copy

340. The Supper at Emmaus

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: 1648
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; religious
Medium: Oil paints on mahogany panels
Dimensions: 2.2 ft tall by 2.1 ft wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Rembrandt was much taken with the story in the Gospel of Luke in which two of Jesus’ disciples meet him in Emmaus and join him for supper without recognizing him until he breaks bread, when suddenly they realize whom they are dining with. He painted at least three versions of the story and made a number of sketches as well. An earlier rendering from 1628-1629 is stark and highly dramatic, with Jesus seen almost in silhouette (see image below), while the 1648 version is almost neoclassical in the clarity and definition of the characters and the space they inhabit (see image above). The curator at the Louvre comments, “In this symphony of natural and divine light, everything is nuanced, from the iridescent colors of Christ’s robe to the gradated emotions of the faithful recognizing the risen Savior.” Coming later in Rembrandt’s career, the painting poses a problem for those who claim that Rembrandt’s work progressed consistently over his career from smooth and clear at the beginning to rough and dark at the end. 

341. Portrait of Pope Innocent X

Artist: Diego Velázquez
Date: 1650
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain; portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.75 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: Galleria Doria Pamphili, Rome, Italy
diego-velazquez-pope-innocent-
Considered by some art historians to be the greatest portrait ever made, the Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez excels both in its representation of color and in its plumbing the depths of human character. Velázquez, who was court painter for King Philip of Spain, made his second visit to Italy in 1649-1651. During an audience with Pope Innocent X, Velázquez offered to paint the pontiff’s portrait. According to one account, the pope hesitated before accepting the offer, as he was not sure of the painter’s talent. A shrewd and politically savvy politician, the pope (who was born Giovanni Battista Pamphilj) eventually agreed to sit for the Spanish artist. The result was a masterpiece. The artist renders faithfully the grandeur of the Pope’s garments and symbols of office; his treatment of the reds, from the garments, the chair and the walls to the red tints in the subject’s ruddy skin, is considered unequalled. In realizing the Pope’s face, Velázquez goes beyond outer appearances to reveal a fierce determination (some have called it ruthlessness) just beneath the surface. Legend has it that Innocent X, upon first seeing the portrait, said “Troppo vero!” (“Too much truth!”) Nevertheless, the Pope hung the painting in his chambers, and it is now in his family museum, the Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome, where it is paired with a marble bust of the Pope by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (see image below left). Random Trivia: Twentieth Century Irish-British artist Francis Bacon used the Portrait of Pope Innocent X as the starting point for a number of truly unsettling paintings known as the Screaming Popes (see Bacon’s 1953 Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X below right).
 

342. Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers)

Artists: Gian Lorenzo Bernini (overall design, flora and fauna); Jacopo Antonio Fancelli (Nile/Africa); Antonio Raggi (Danube/Europe); Claude Poussin (Ganges/Asia); Francesco Baratta (Rio de la Plata/America).
Date: Work began in 1648; the completed fountain was unveiled in 1651. The obelisk was made in Rome in 81 CE.
Period/Style: Baroque; Rome, Italy; allegory
Medium: The fountain’s sculptures (including the large figures symbolizing the four rivers) are carved from travertine marble. Atop the fountain stands an Ancient Roman obelisk made of porphyry.
Dimensions: The obelisk is 115 ft. tall.
Current location: Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy

According to a 17th Century account, when Pope Innocent X sought proposals for a new fountain in the Piazza Navona in Rome, across from the Palazzo Pamphili, Innocent’s family palace, he contacted every major architect and sculptor in Rome except Gian Lorenzo Bernini, arguably the most famous sculptor in Italy at the time. Bernini’s support of Innocent’s predecessor (and rival) Pope Gregory XV may have soured the new pope, or it may have been a rumor campaign by Bernini’s enemies. A powerful friend of Bernini’s convinced the artist to ignore the snub, create a design and make a model of it, and then arranged for the model to be displayed anonymously in a room in the Palazzo Pamphili. When the Pope saw the design, he publicly judged it the best and had no choice but to commission Bernini to make the fountain, reportedly saying at the time, “He who desires not to use Bernini’s designs, must take care not to see them.” The centerpiece of the fountain is an Ancient Roman copy of an Egyptian obelisk, topped with the Pamphili family emblem of a dove with an olive branch. The structure below consists of what one critic called “a mountainous disorder of travertine marble” adorned with numerous sculptures, including a palm tree, a lion and a horse, and anchored at the corners by semi-prostrate river gods, one each for the four continents where Christianity had spread. Bernini selected different sculptors for each river god, each of which is identified by an attribute: (1) The god of the Nile River (Africa) wears a cloth over his face in recognition that the source of the Nile had not yet been discovered (see left side of image below). (2) Because, of the four rivers, the Danube is closest to Rome, its god of the Danube River (Europe) displays Pope Innocent X’s coat of arms. (3) The god of the Ganges River (Asia) carries an oar to show that the Ganges is navigable (see image above). (4) The god of the Rio de la Plata (America) sits on a pile of coins to show the potential for riches in the New World, but the god shows fear of a serpent, reminding us that those who are rich fear thieves (see right side of image below). Scholars have praised the revolutionary design of the fountain, and its dynamic fusion of architecture and sculpture. It embodies the Baroque style: realistic yet theatrical, full of ornamentation and a dynamic sense of movement.

343. The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa 

Artist: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Date: The work was commissioned in 1647 and completed in 1652.
Period/Style: Baroque; Rome, Italy; religious
Medium: The sculptural group of Teresa and the angel is made of white marble as are the figures of the Cornaro family in the balconies. The niche and other elements of the chapel are made of wood, bronze (much of it gilded), and polychrome marble.
Dimensions: The sculptural group of St. Teresa and the Angel is 11.5 ft. tall.
Current location: Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria dell Vittoria, Rome, Italy
bernini ecstasy of st theresa

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is a masterwork of the High Roman Baroque style in its emphasis on theatricality and its appeal to the senses of the viewer. The life-sized white marble sculpture of St. Teresa and an angel is set in an elevated space in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. The statue was commissioned by Cardinal Federico Cornaro, who had chosen the church of the Discalced Carmelite order of nuns and priests for his burial chapel. Teresa of Ávila, who described her experience of religious ecstasy in almost sexual terms, had become the first Discalced Carmelite saint in 1622. St. Teresa appears to lean back on a cloud as she experiences a vision of an angel who has plunged his arrow into her heart, causing her physical pain but spiritual joy. Bernini, who was also an architect, sets the sculptural group in a niche where natural light can filter through a hidden window in the church dome. A moan escapes from St. Teresa’s throat as her face and body express her love of God through the metaphor of physical ecstasy. Meanwhile, at the sides of the chapel, marble statues of Cardinal Cornaro’s family member watch the drama from theater balconies, thus turning a personal religious experience into a public spectacle.

344. Pope Leo Driving Attila from Rome

Artist: Alessandro Algardi
Date: Begun in 1646; completed in 1653.
Period/Style: Baroque (with Neoclassical elements); Italy; religious
Medium: Relief sculpture on a church wall
Dimensions: 24.6 ft. tall
Current location: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

Italian sculptor Alessandro Algardi was out of fashion in the early 1640s. Although he was getting commissions, his more formal, classical style was not nearly as popular as the vivacious theatricality of Bernini and the other High Baroque sculptors. Then, in 1644, the wind began to blow in Algardi’s direction. Pope Innocent X was a fan of the severe style, and he commissioned Algardi to create what would become the largest high relief sculpture in the world at that time for a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica. The subject of the relief was the legendary moment in 452 CE when Pope Leo I confronted Attila the Hun at the gates of Rome and convinced him (with the assistance of soldier angels flying down from heaven) not to pillage and loot the city. In the relief, which is known as Pope Leo Driving Attila from Rome or The Meeting of Leo I and Attila, the pope stands on the left, stern and full of courage, while Attila, on the right, is dejected and fearful (see detail in image below left). The two figures – each more than nine feet tall – emerge almost completely from the marble background and beyond the edge of the relief panel into the viewer’s space. Above them, the warrior angels are coming to the rescue – a supernatural event that apparently only Pope Leo and Attila can see (see detail in image below right). While the story dates to 452 CE, the message to the pope’s enemies was clear: If you cross me, I may bring divine retribution down upon you. The marble panel was a tremendous success for Algardi, who, sadly, died within a year, barely having had time to enjoy his good fortune. Algardi’s achievement had ripple effects throughout the art world. Illusionistic reliefs, which, like Algardi, had fallen out of fashion, surged in popularity and the art form saw true development for the first time in decades. 
 

345. The Three Crosses

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: c. 1653
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; religious
Medium: Prints on paper and vellum made from drypoint engraving
Dimensions: 15.5 in tall by 18 in wide
Current location: Various collections

In the early 1650s, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was struggling financially and needed cash. First, he sold most of the engraved plates he had used for previous prints, and then he began work on a new print. Unlike paintings, which took a long time to paint and then copy, multiple copies of prints were relatively easy and quick to make, thus providing a good source of income. For The Three Crosses, also known as Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves, he primarily used the drypoint technique, which allowed him to employ a more painterly hand to the plate than traditional engraving. The problem with drypoint was that the raised edge, or burr, quickly deteriorated after several uses, so to make a series of multiple prints required Rembrandt to rework the piece, so that earlier prints look quite different from later ones.  The Three Crosses is considered a masterpiece of the drypoint method, with a wealth of detail and drama, particularly in the complex treatment of the stream of light coming down from heaven to illuminate the moment of Jesus’ death. Due to the nature of drypoint, each extant print is unique. Art historians have divided up the prints into five “states” based on the time they were printed, and the amount of reworking that has been done. The first three states are similar, but for the fourth, Rembrandt made significant changes essentially creating a new work of art. For a comparison, see a third state print in the image above and a fourth state print, in the image below.

346. Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer)

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: 1653-1654
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; history/portrait/allegory
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.7 ft. tall by 4.5 ft wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Aristotle_with_a_Bust_of_HomerRembrandt was a master of tenebrism, a technique in which a powerful light illuminates the central subject, but all else is cast into shadow or darkness. Tenebrism is a fitting technique for the Baroque, with its emphasis on drama and theatricality: the painted light performs the same function as a spotlight in a theater. The imaginary portrait of the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle with a bust of the even more ancient Greek poet Homer was purchased by Sicilian nobleman Don Antonio Ruffo, but art historians believe that Rembrandt chose the subject himself. He portrays Aristotle as a wealthy 17th Century gentleman. He wears an expensive gold chain with a medallion depicting the face of a man, perhaps Aristotle’s most famous student, Alexander the Great. The ancient custom giving of such chains as rewards by royalty had recently been revived in Europe. Aristotle’s hand touches the bust, but his eyes are focused somewhere in the distance. Scholars have proposed that Homer represents the integrity and wisdom gained through poetry and literature, with little or no material gain, and fame only long after death. Aristotle, on the other hand, represents the compromises made by the intellectual in search of wealth and fame in his own lifetime. We see the wistful contemplation, perhaps regret, by a wealthy man of the path of artistic integrity not chosen. Random Trivia: See image below for New Yorker magazine cartoonist Michael Crawford’s contemporary take on Rembrandt’s masterpiece.

347. The Jewish Cemetery 

Artist: Jacob van Ruisdael (born Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael)
Date: First version (Detroit): c. 1654-1655; second version (Dresden): c. 1655-1660
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; landscape
Medium: Both versions were made with oils on canvas
Dimensions: First version (Detroit): 4.7 ft. tall by 6.2 ft. wide. Second version (Dresden): 2.7 ft. tall by 3.1 ft. wide.
Current locations: First version: Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan. Second version: Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, Germany. 
jewish cemetery
The painting of landscapes reached a peak in the Dutch Golden Age. With the Protestant Revolution eliminating most of the need for church art and political upheavals leading to a reduction in aristocratic commissions, many Dutch artists began to focus on paintings that bourgeois individuals and families could hang in their homes and workplaces: portraits, genre paintings (scenes from everyday life) and landscapes. Unlike French and Italian landscapes, which almost always included a religious or mythological scene, Dutch landscapes and seascapes purported to show life in the present day. This is not to say that these landscape paintings were accurate depictions of Dutch scenery. The artists generally manipulated the elements of the scene to form a pleasing combination – adding, subtracting and moving things about to create a harmonious composition. Jacob van Ruisdael was among the very best landscape painters of the Dutch Golden Age. A physician as well as an artist, van Ruisdael was especially praised by contemporaries for his treatment of clouds (clouds were important because the sky generally took up a large portion of many landscape paintings). Van Ruisdael’s most highly-praised works are two somewhat atypical paintings of a Portuguese-Jewish Cemetery at Ouderkerk near Amsterdam. While most Dutch landscapes contained little in the way of moralizing or narrative, the two versions of The Jewish Cemetery belong to an allegorical genre known as vanitas, in which the artist reminds the viewer that this life and its pleasures are fleeting and death awaits us all. Van Ruisdael goes further, however, and provides hints (the rainbow, a patch of blue sky, the illuminated grave) that there is hope for salvation in the afterlife. The earlier, larger and better preserved of the two is in the Detroit Institute of Arts (see image above). The second, somewhat different version, which is smaller, later and has darkened somewhat over time, is in Dresden, Germany (see image below). While the three central graves were present, as a contemporary sketch proves, the rest of the scene in both versions of The Jewish Cemetery is pieced together from disparate elements. The actual cemetery occupied level ground; the hill, the rushing stream and the dead beech never existed, at least not here. Van Ruisdael borrowed the ruins behind the graves from nearby Egmond: an ancient abbey church for the Detroit version and a ruined castle for the painting in Dresden. For van Ruisdael, the emotional impact of the paintings was more important than whether the landscape depicted had an exact counterpart in nature. He painted imagined scenes that triggered powerful emotions, prefiguring the Romantics. Van Ruisdael had a difficult time finding buyers for his emotional landscapes, which followed a Germanic tradition that was not afraid to explore desolation and other dark themes. Unfortunately, the fashion at the time was for lighter fare, in the Italian style and it was not until long after his death that the art world fully appreciated van Ruisdael’s mastery of the landscape genre.

348. Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: 1656
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.7 ft. tall by 6.8 ft. wide
Current location: Museumslandschaft Hessen, Kassel, Germany
Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph
In Chapter 48 of the Book of Genesis, Joseph brings his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim to his father, the patriarch Jacob, for his blessing. When Jacob blesses Ephraim, the youngest son, first, Joseph questions him, and Jacob explains that while both sons will father great kingdoms, Ephraim’s will be greater than Manasseh’s. In painting the scene, Rembrandt makes two important changes to the Bible story. First, he omits the questioning by Joseph. Instead, Joseph tenderly guides his father’s hand as he blesses Ephraim. Second, although the Bible story does not mention Joseph’s Egyptian wife Asenath, Rembrandt has given her an essential role in the blessing scene. Asenath stands apart from the blessing, but her approval is evident. Her quiet dignity gives the scene an emotional gravitas and her presence balances the composition. She is the link between the dying world of Jacob and the future that lies ahead for her, Joseph and especially their children. As one scholar commented, Rembrandt’s choice of warm yellows, browns and reds creates a mood that is “both intimate and sacred, both tender and solemn.’”As usual, Rembrandt carefully manipulates the light and dark areas, using chiaroscuro and tenebrism to emphasize the emotional intensity of this intimate moment. The painting is called, among other things,  Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph, Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph and Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh.

349. Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor)

Artist: Diego Velázquez 
Date: The traditional date for the painting is 1656, but some recent scholarship supports a later date of 1659-60.
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain; royal portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 10.4 ft. tall by 9 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

By the time Diego Velázquez painted Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor), he had been court painter for Spanish king Philip IV for over 30 years; he lived in the palace with the royal family, had painted dozens of portraits of Philip, his family and entourage, and had numerous other duties, including managing the king’s art collection, and arranging various pageants, festivals and other court events. After two visits to Italy, his unique interpretation of the Baroque style was well established; his loose, economic brushstrokes and consummate skill at portraying human faces would influence painters as diverse as Goya and Manet, while Picasso and Dali both paid tribute to him in their work. Of all Velázquez’s works, Las Meninas has generated the most scholarly debate. What does it mean? On one level, it is a portrait of the Infante Margaret Theresa, daughter of King Philip and his second wife, Mariana of Austria, and her entourage (chaperon, ladies in waiting, and others). But there is so much more going on here. The painting appears to be less a posed portrait than a snapshot of a moment in time. The artist paints himself into the picture (the tallest figure in the composition) working on a large canvas in what we know is his studio at the palace (see image below left). Is this a self-portrait? He is proudly displaying the insignia of the Order of Santiago (which he received in 1659, one of the reasons some scholars believe the traditional date of 1656 is incorrect). Is this painting a thank you to the king for the honor? And what about the mirror in the back of the room? The faces shown there are of the king and queen, who appear.to standing exactly where the viewer would be (see image below right), watching the scene; what does it mean that we, the viewers, are given the perspective of the royals? What does it mean to be outside the painting but also inside it, by means of a reflection? Note that Velázquez would have been familiar with the mirror in Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, which hung in King Philip’s palace at the time.) Or is Velázquez painting the portrait of the king and queen, and the mirror is reflecting what is on his canvas? Who is the courtier in the background? Is he pulling the curtain open or is he closing it? And what about the dwarves, one of whom (the jester) has his foot on the dog’s back? While at first glance the composition seems balanced, Velazquez has not established a central point toward which all the perspective lines converge. Why not? One theory says that the painter was painting a portrait of the Infante when the king and queen stopped by for a visit. They explain the behavior of the ladies in waiting as their attempts to persuade the young girl to stand still so the painter can do his work. Another theory says the Infante and her attendants are visiting the artist’s studio while he is painting the king and queen. In raising all these questions, Las Meninas goes far beyond a mere royal portrait to address some of the most important truths about art iself, the nature of perception and its relationship to an objective reality. According to Hugh Honour and John Fleming in their art history textbook, Las Meninas is “Velázquez’s supreme achievement, a highly self-conscious, calculated demonstration of what painting could achieve, and perhaps the most searching comment ever made on the possibilities of the easel painting.”
velazquez in las meninas   

350. The Milkmaid

Artist: Johannes Vermeer 
Date: Painted between 1657 and 1661, with most sources narrowing the date to 1657-1658.
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; genre painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 18 inches tall by 16 inches wide
Current location: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes (Jan) Vermeer rejected the dramatic light/dark compositions of Baroque masters like Rembrandt and Caravaggio, choosing instead to celebrate the effects of light in a different way. His detailed paintings, with their myriad textures and lovingly-rendered objects and surfaces, harken back in some ways to the Early Netherlandish style of Jan van Eyck and others. But Vermeer has added new elements: his tiny white dots (pointilles) emphasize the way light punctuates uneven surfaces; his palette of yellows and blues (the latter using expensive lapis lazuli pigment) are unique in this period; also, he varies his brush strokes to highlight differences in textures – the rough leather of the maid’s upper garment is painted very differently than the silky blue wrap beneath. Despite the title, Johannes Vermeer’s small painting known as The Milkmaid portrays not a milkmaid but a kitchen maid, who is pouring milk while making bread pudding from leftover bread (the saying “waste not, want not” comes to mind). Vermeer establishes a pyramidal composition, with two diagonals that meet at the maid’s right wrist. The light streaming from the window (note the broken pane) leads the eye from the objects hanging on the wall (see detail below left) down to the maid’s face – half hidden in shadow, we wonder what she is thinking about – and then down to the pouring milk. The overall tone is one of respect for the dignity of hard work and other domestic values. In this respect, Vermeer’s Milkmaid differs from the typical Dutch genre stereotype of female domestic workers as objects of male sexual fantasies. There are some elements that may pay tribute to this notion, although they are subjugated to the main theme: there is a Cupid barely visible on one of the baseboard tiles (see detail below right), the rolling up of the maid’s sleeve to reveal whiter skin could have been titillating to some; the shape of the milk jug could echo female anatomy, and the footwarmer on the floor (which held coals to warm the worker in a cold room) was sometimes given sexual meaning. On the other hand, these same symbols, and the tile showing a man with a stick on a journey, could imply that the maid is thinking about a romance with someone far away. The high level of detail has led some scholars to speculate that Vermeer used a camera obscura to trace the scene before painting it, but the recent discovery of a pinhole in the canvas, which could have been used to anchor a string to determine perspective lines, argues against this theory.
 

351. View of Delft

Artist: Johannes Vermeer
Date: Dates range from 1658 to 1664, but most art historians place the work in 1660-1661.
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands

Of the 34 surviving paintings by Vermeer, the vast majority depict interior scenes. The artist’s landscape view of his hometown, View of Delft, is a rare outdoor subject. Perhaps given the Dutch penchant for landscapes (although usually of country, not city scenes), View of Delft was the most highly-regarded of his works during his lifetime. We view the city from the opposite side of the Lange Geer canal, probably from a second story window, looking down. A small group of people mills about at the lower left. A shaft of morning sunlight illuminates some of the buildings, including the tower of the New Church on the right, which houses the grave of Willem of Orange (see detail in image below left). As usual, Vermeer is masterful at showing how light reflects off various surfaces and how shadow changes not only color but texture. To capture the reflections of the water on the boats on the right, Vermeer uses tiny dots of paint (pointilles) (see detail below right). While the painting appears to be a faithful representation of the cityscape, comparison with contemporary sketches reveals that Vermeer made some changes to enhance the artistic effect he sought, including spreading the buildings more widely along the waterfront. Art historians have long debated how Vermeer was able to capture such a high level of detail in his paintings, with some theorizing that he had help from technology. Art critic Martin Bailey is one of those who believes Vermeer used a camera obscura to paint View of Delft: “The pointillist technique that Vermeer used to suggest reflections flickering off the water, most easily visible on the two herring boats on the right, is evidence that he probably used a camera obscura to help compose the picture; diffused highlights such as these would appear when a partially focused image was obtained from this device.” Random Trivia: French author Marcel Proust was enamored of the painting, calling it “the most beautiful painting in the world.” Proust later incorporated View of Delft into a scene in his masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time.
view of delft detail tower  Vermeer-view-of-delft-detail-boats

352. Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild (The Staalmeesters)

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: 1662
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; group portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.3 ft. high by 9.2 ft. wide
Current location: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
syndics of the drapers guildCalled by many names (e.g., Syndics of the Drapers’ GuildThe Wardens of the Amsterdam Drapers’ GuildThe Syndics of the Clothmakers’ GuildThe Sampling Officials, and The Staalmeesters), Rembrandt’s group portrait of the government-appointed body that determined the quality of cloth sold by Amsterdam weavers is a masterpiece of the genre. The five syndics sit at a table covered with a Persian-style rug on a raised platform, while their attendant (in the back, hatless) stands ready to assist (first image). A book lies open on the table, but all five men are facing the viewer. Scholars disagree about what activity the men are engaged in. According to one theory, the syndics are making a presentation to an audience of Drapers’ Guild members and the book is a list of accounts. Others believe the men are conducting a private working meeting in which they are assessing a length of Persian-style rug against exemplars from a swatch book. In either case, Rembrandt’s genius was to create a portrait that defines the group, while also portraying the men as individuals. Each of the syndics is posed uniquely and shows a different facial expression, so that a range of complementary emotions greets the viewer. Each syndic is given equal weight in the composition. X-ray analysis shows that Rembrandt rearranged the positions of the men a number of times before arriving at a favored combination. Yet Rembrandt did not allow this emphasis of individuality to compromise the unity of the group. Three horizontal lines join the composition together: (1) along the table edge and the arm chair on the left; (2) through the hats and heads of the four seated syndics; and (3) the wainscoting on the wall above the figures’ heads. The hat of the man half-standing up forms a scalene triangle with the other hats. Furthermore, Rembrandt’s trademark chiaroscuro technique creates a light-filled space that isolates and unites the men between the front of the desk (where a warm, soft glow emanates from the redness of the rug) and the wall behind them. The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild was commissioned by the Drapers’ Guild and hung in the Guild hall in Amsterdam until 1771; it is now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Random Trivia: Rembrandt’s group portrait of The Staalmeesters is the source for the logo for Dutch Masters cigars (see image below).

353. The Regentesses of the Old Men’s Almshouse

Artist: Frans Hals
Date: c. 1664
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; group portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.6 ft. tall by 8.4 ft wide
Current location: Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands

The merchants and other leaders of The Netherlands in the 17th Century favored painted group portraits as a way to impress their peers and rivals and cement their legacy.  Both Frans Hals and Rembrandt made such portraits, which were usually hung in the establishments where the subjects did their work. The group portrait shown in the image above depicts the four regentesses (shown with their servant) of  the Old Men’s Almshouse (Oude Mannenhuis) in Haarlem, a charitable institution for the elderly indigent. The group portrait is a companion piece to a portrait of the more numerous male regents, also by Frans Hals (see image below left). Both paintings were hung on the walls of the Almhouse (now the Frans Hals Museum), where they remain today. The composition and palette unites the five women, as do their austere Calvinist clothes, but the painter’s attention to detail brings out the individuality of each subject through facial expression and gesture. Instead of the jovial group portraits of early in his career, this late group portrait by Hals emphasizes dignity and even a sense of the mortality of the aged subjects. The 1664 date is a guess based on the loose brush stroke technique (evidence that it was made late in Hals’ career) and the style of clothing worn by the subjects. Random Trivia: Hals’ painting of the Regentesses has been much studied and copied by other artists, including Americans John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase and James McNeill Whistler. (See image below right, showing Sargent’s 1880 copy of the right side of the painting, which is now in the Birmingham Museum of Art in Birmingham, Alabama.) 
  

354. Girl with a Pearl Earring

Artist: Johannes Vermeer (born Jan Vermeer van Delft)
Date: c. 1665
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; tronie
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 17.5 in. tall by 15 in. wide
Current location: Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands
Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_(1665)
Girl with a Pearl Earring
is Vermeer’s most famous painting, but that wasn’t always the case. In 1881, when it went on sale, the purchase price was about $25. The small painting is a tronie – a painting of someone in costume intended to represent a character or type. In the 17th Century, Turkish turbans had become fashionable, due perhaps to the recent wars between Europeans and the Ottoman Empire. In fact, when it was first donated to Mauritshuis in The Hague, the painting went by the name “Girl with a Turban. “(Other names given to the work over the years are: “Portrait in Antique Costume”, from a 17th Century catalogue, “The Pearl”, and the generic “Head of a Young Girl.”) The painting now called Girl with a Pearl Earring exhibits many of Vermeer’s trademarks: the lapis lazuli blues set off by yellows, the close attention to the way light reflects off different surfaces, and the variety of brushstrokes. The painting of the turban is atypically lacking in detail, with barely any effort made to highlight folds in the fabric. What has made the painting so popular is not the painting technique as much as the expression of the girl, which is so enigmatic that it has led some to call the painting the Mona Lisa of the north. Some, such as novelist Tracy Chevalier, have read a romantic longing into the girl’s expression, leading to a 1999 novel and subsequent movie starring Scarlet Johansson. Others read her differently: she is mocking, or seductive, or resentful. The inability to pin down the girl’s feelings may be exactly what keeps viewers intrigued with this work of art. Recent high-tech analysis of the canvas have revealed that the girl originally had eyelashes, which have faded, and the background was originally a greenish curtain, which has darkened. The pearl itself has generated a fair amount of scholarship among art historians. Pearls feature in 21 of Vermeer’s 34 surviving works. The curator at the Mauritshuis describes the pearl in this painting as “improbably large” and another scholar has noted the Vermeer never painted anything connecting the pearl to the ear. Finally, one curmudgeonly art historian swears that the earring is not a pearl at all but is a teardrop shaped piece of tin.

356. The Feast of St. Nicholas (St. Nicholas Eve)

Artist: Jan Steen (full name: Jan Havickszoon Steen)
Date: c. 1665-1668
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; genre painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.3 ft.
Current location: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In this genre painting, Dutch artist Jan Steen represents the 10 members of a middle class family celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas, which takes place on the evening of December 5th every year. A Catholic holiday that was adopted by Dutch Protestants, the Feast of St. Nicholas involved many rituals, many of which Steen represents in the painting: children left their shoes at the bottom of the chimney for St. Nick to fill with toys and candy (if they were good) or coal and sticks (if they were bad). Here we see an older brother showing two of his awed siblings the chimney that St. Nick came down, two children with toys and goodies and one crying bad boy who received only sticks (although Grandma is hinting that she has a gift for him). There are also certain special baked goods associated with feast, including the diamond-shaped duivekater (seen leaning against a table at lower right). Although The Netherlands was primarily a Protestant country at the time, art historians believe this painting was made for a Catholic, based on two clues: (1) the “golden girl” at the center is holding a doll dressed as St. John the Baptist (see detail in image below); and (2) despite a Protestant ban on baked goods in the images of saints, the little boy being held up by his older brother is holding a Sinterklaas-shaped cookie. The composition is organized along several diagonals, and Steen creates balance and interconnection through the postures, gestures and glances of the family members. The little boy near the center looks straight out, as if to invite the viewer to join in the festivities.

357. Cathedra Petri (Chair of St. Peter)

Artist: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Date: There is some dispute about the dates of Bernini’s work. Some sources say it was executed between 1647-1653, but most say Bernini did the work between 1658 and 1666, and the latter date is most likely when the Chair of St. Peter was installed in its current location.  
Period/Style: Baroque; Rome; Italy
Medium: Wooden chair; gilded bronze throne and statues; alabaster and gilt stucco sunburst with glass window
Dimensions: The throne is 20 feet tall. The statues of the Doctors of the Church are 13-16 ft. tall.
Current location: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City


The Chair of St. Peter (Latin: Cathedra Petri) is an immense work of sculpture/architecture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini that houses a sacred relic – a wooden chair that some believe was used by St. Peter, one of the Apostles of Jesus – inside St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. (The piece is located in the apse, behind Bernini’s Baldachino.) At the center of the enormous work is a gilt bronze throne that contains the ancient chair (see detail in second image above). The container appears to be floating up to heaven, and only seems to be held in place by the efforts of four Doctors of the Church – also rendered in bronze: St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, from the West, and St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius, from the East. Around the throne is a panoply of clouds and putti, with sun rays shooting down from heaven, all rendered in gilt stucco. Above the throne is an alabaster sunburst (placed in front of a window to allow light to stream through) with a dove (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) at its center (see detail in image at left below). There is much dispute over the provenance of the actual chair. Although there is documentary evidence from the 3rd Century CE of a chair that Roman Christians believed was used by St. Peter in the 1st Century CE, most experts believe that chair was looted during the sack of Rome in 410 CE. According to the Vatican’s literature, the chair in St. Peter’s Basilica was given to the Pope in the 9th Century CE by Charles the Bald. The front of the chair, which was last shown to the public in 1867, is decorated with 18 squares of ivory with carvings illustrating the 12 labors of Hercules and some astronomical or astrological images (see detail in image below right). Experts who have analyzed the wood say the oldest parts of the chair date to the 5th Century CE. 
 

358. The Jewish Bride

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: 1667
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; portraits/religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4 ft. tall by 5.5 ft. wide
Current location: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Rembrandt_-_The_Jewish_Bride 2
Late in his career, Rembrandt’s style changed significantly. His palette became warmer, with more use of reds; he often laid his paint on the canvas in thick, impasto layers, using a knife instead of a brush; his backgrounds became more perfunctory; and, most importantly perhaps, his paintings acquired a deeper emotional intensity than was evident in his early work. The painting known as The Jewish Bride exhibits all these late-Rembrandt qualities. Like The Night Watch, the title is a misnomer. Apparently a 19th Century cataloguer decided this was a portrait of a man and his daughter on her wedding day, but that interpretation has almost no support among scholars. Instead, most believe that this is a portrait historié, a genre in which individuals had their portraits painted while dressed up as characters from history, mythology, or – in this case – the Bible. The Rijksmuseum curators have solved the name problem by labeling the work “Portrait of a Couple as Isaac and Rebecca, known as ‘The Jewish Bride’.” The story of Isaac and Rebekah is one of the most romantic in the Old Testament. A husband and wife pretend to be brother and sister to escape danger, but are discovered having an intimate moment by the king. Fortunately for them, the king recognizes their true love and rewards them instead of punishing them. Earlier in his career, Rembrandt had drawn a sketch of the Biblical scene in which the couple is discovered in an embrace – the poses in that sketch are nearly identical to those in The Jewish Bride. As art historians have pointed out, it is the couple’s hands, not their faces, that show their romantic attachment. The faces show detachment, even worry, but the gentle placement of the couple’s hands on each other tells us volumes about the loving kindness they feel towards one another. Rembrandt focuses all our attention on the man and his wife – the background is negligible, and he has omitted the element of the observing king entirely. What remains is a tender portrait of mature romantic love.

359. The Return of the Prodigal Son

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: 1668-1669
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.6 ft. tall by 6.7 ft. wide
Current location: State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
prodigal son
Perhaps the last canvas Rembrandt completed before his death in 1669, The Return of the Prodigal Son is a subdued yet powerful meditation on the love of a parent for a child and the power of forgiveness. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of a man with two sons. One stays at work, obeys his father and works hard. The other runs off and squanders his inheritance on liquor and prostitutes. Yet when the second, prodigal son returns home, the father welcomes him with open arms and throws a big party, while the other brother smolders. The theological point is that, according to Christian teaching, God will forgive us and welcome us into eternal life no matter what we have done in the past, as long as we repent. The father is the key figure – his hands express warmth and tenderness, but also support and strength. By his use of light, Rembrandt directs our eyes to the disheveled appearance of the returning prodigal, dressed in rags, shoes falling off, yet unwilling to sell his last good possession – a short sword. The older brother, at right, is clearly unhappy with the situation, while another wealthy man, who is unidentified, looks on with interest, and a servant seems truly moved. The woman hiding in the shadows on the left may be the prodigal’s mother – her attitude toward the scene is ambiguous (see detail in image below). By facing the prodigal son away from us, Rembrandt transforms an individual into Everyman, and the moment of family drama attains universal significance. Though near the end of his life, Rembrandt demonstrates that he is still the master of light, shadow and color, as well as emotional depth, in this large canvas.

360. The Art of Painting (The Allegory of Painting; The Artist in His Studio)

Artist: Johannes Vermeer
Date: 1670
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; allegory/self-portrait (?)
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
Jan_Vermeer_-_The_Art_of_Painting
In The Art of Painting, the artist Johannes Vermeer allows the viewer a privileged look at the process of making art and in so doing, seeks to elevate the status of art and the artists who make it. A colorful tapestry curtain (a framing device known as a repoussoir) is drawn back to reveal the creative act in progress. An unusually well-dressed artist (probably a Vermeer self-portrait), appears to be painting his model as Clio, the Muse of History. A highly detailed depiction of Claes Janszoon Visscher’s 1636 map of The Netherlands hangs on the back wall (see detail in image below). The light enters the room from the back left and illuminates portions of the room, highlighting certain details and creating shadows elsewhere. The square tiled floor allows Vermeer to demonstrate his control of linear perspective. The painting held a special place in Vermeer’s heart – he never sold it, even when he was in debt – but his family lost control of it after Vermeer’s death in 1675. In 1813, it was purchased for 50 florins by Bohemian-Austrian Count Czernin, whose descendant Count Jaromir Czernin sold it (possibly unwillingly) to Adolf Hitler in 1940 for 1.65 million Reichsmarks. During World War II, the Nazis protected the painting from Allied bombs in a salt mine. The Americans retrieved it in 1945 and gave it to the Austrian government. The Czernin family has sought the return of the painting since the 1960s, without success.

361. Milo of Croton Attacked by a Lion (Milo of Croton)

Artist: Pierre Puget
Date: Commissioned in 1670; completed in 1682; delivered to Versailles in 1683
Period/Style: Baroque; France; mythological
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 8.8 ft. tall
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
milo of croton 2  milo of croton
The Greek legend of Milo of Croton was a cautionary moral tale about hubris. Milo, who lived in Croton, a Greek colony in southern Italy, was a huge man who was considered one of the strongest men on earth in the 6th Century BCE. A champion wrestler, he was said to have carried a live ox through the Olympic stadium and then eaten the entire beast in a single day. Late in his life, the legend continues, he was walking in the forest when he saw an oak tree partly split open. He tried to wrench it apart using a wedge, but the wedge fell and his hand was caught in the tree. Trapped, the defenseless Milo was attacked by a lion and killed. In 1670, French Baroque sculptor Pierre Puget convinced Louis XIV’s first minister of state Jean-Baptiste Colbert to hire him to make sculptures for the gardens of the new Palace of Versailles. Colbert commissioned statues of Milo of Croton and Perseus and Andromeda. Giving the commission to Puget was a bit of a risk, as Puget’s sculptures did not conform to the more reserved classical artworks now referred to as the Style Louis XIV. Instead, Puget invested his art with the drama and movement characteristic of the Baroque style. Puget completed Milo of Croton in 1682 and delivered it to Versailles in 1683. It was given a place of honor, at the entrance of the Green Carpet. In the sculpture, we see Milo, his left hand trapped, writhing in agony as the lion leaps on him from behind. On the ground, we see a cup Milo won at the Olympic games, useless now in his hour of need. Puget’s twisting hero and ferocious lion exhibit Baroque features – strong diagonals and violent movements – but the geometric framework pays tribute to the classical style. In 1820, Puget’s Milo of Croton was moved to the Louvre in Paris.

1700 – 1799

362. Portrait of Louis XIV

Artist: Hyacinthe Rigaud
Date: 1701
Period/Style: Baroque; France; royal portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 9.2 ft. tall by 6.25 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

When French noble Philip, Duke of Anjou, became king of Spain during a successional crisis, he asked his grandfather, French king Louis XIV for a portrait to bring with him to Madrid. Philip recommended French artist Hyacinthe Riguad to paint the portrait. Rigaud, who painted four generations of Bourbon monarchs, their family, friends and officials (as well as a few less prestigious subjects) knew how to present royalty in the best light. The 63-year-old Louis XIV was short of stature and suffering from gout, but you could never tell from Rigaud’s larger-than-life portrait, painted in 1701. Although the Sun King was somewhat past his prime in 1701, Rigaud’s portrait shows a confident king at the height of his powers. To emphasize his royal power, Louis wears his coronation robes (adorned with the fleur-de-lys, symbol of the House of Bourbon) and carries the scepter (upside down) from his grandfather Henry IV, with his crown nearby. He pulls back his robes to reveal the Sword of Charlemagne, which was used in coronation ceremonies. Louis XIV, who had strong opinions on fashion, wears an immense wig, red high-heeled shoes (with diamond buckles) and silk stockings with garters. The painter’s loving emphasis on the monarch’s legs is intentional: Louis XIV danced in many court ballets as a young man and prided himself on both his dancing ability and his dancer’s legs. Note how Rigaud was careful to drape the large column in the rear in such a way that it does not appear taller than the king, who dominates the composition. The Portrait of Louis XIV was so popular that, after delivering the original, the king asked Rigaud for a copy to keep at his palace in Versailles. Legend has it that when the king was out of town, the portrait was hung above his throne as a substitute, and those who entered the throne room were prohibited from turning their back on it.

363. The Embarkation for Cythera (Pilgrimage to the Island of Cythera)

Artist: Jean-Antoine Watteau
Date: 1717
Period/Style: Late Baroque; Rococo; France; fête galantes
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.2 ft. tall by 6.4 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
watteau cythera
When French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau submitted The Embarkation for Cythera to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture as his required piece upon being granted admission, the academy had to invent a new category to describe the painting. It wasn’t a history painting, a mythological work or a group portrait; Watteau had invented a new genre: the “fête galante”, an outdoor entertainment featuring numerous individuals. In this case, the individuals are a series of amorous couples who are waiting to board a ship. We see an armless statue of Venus and Cupids in the air and on the ground. Cythera was a Greek island that, according to legend, was the birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of romantic love, and Watteau may have been familiar with plays and poems promising that visitors to the island would find their true love there. (Note that not all the couples are romantically involved, at least not yet: the woman on the far right appears unresponsive to the man’s entreaties, although the seducer is getting some assistance from a Cupid tugging on the woman’s dress.) While the title is Watteau’s and there is a tower in the background that appears to be the destination, some art historians claim that it makes more sense to interpret the scene as lovers leaving Cythera after pairing up. Watteau is a transitional figure between the Baroque and the newer, lighter Rococo style that he helped invent. Watteau and other Rococo artists were rebelling against the seriousness of French academic painting, as represented by such painters as Nicolas Poussin. Unfortunately, the Rococo style went out of favor quickly at the time of the French Revolution, when its celebration of the frivolous lives of the aristocracy became anathema. A somewhat different version, usually referred to as Pilgrimage to Cythera, painted in 1718-1719, hangs in the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin (see image below).

364. Pierrot, formerly known as Gilles

Artist: Jean-Antoine Watteau
Date: 1718-1719
Period/Style: Late Baroque; Rococo; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.1 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
watteau pierrot
Both Pierrot and Gilles were stock comedic characters of French pantomime and Commedia dell’Arte, with similar costumes and roles, so it is perhaps no surprise that art historians have had trouble deciding the identity of the main figure in Jean-Antoine Watteau’s painting of a character in a white costume. The painting was generally known as Gilles until the 20th Century, when a critical mass of scholars decided that Watteau had painted Pierrot, leading to the Louvre’s awkward title, Pierrot, formerly known as Gilles. The Pierrot character was a buffoon (but often treated sympathetically) who was introduced to French audiences by a traveling Italian acting troupe in the late 17th Century. In the traditional story, Pierrot loves Columbine, who breaks his heart when she leaves him for Harlequin. Watteau, whose work as assistant to painter Claude Gillot, who often worked on painting theater sets, often featured theater characters or theater-goers in his work. Here, Pierrot stands alone on what seems like a stage, his expression a mix of sadness, humiliation and confusion. Is he worrying about Columbine’s faithfulness, or has she already left him? Or, as some have proposed, is the actor playing the part of Pierrot embarrassed to be standing in costume before the artist? Others have even wondered if Pierrot is a Watteau self-portrait (see 1721 portrait of Watteau by Rosalba Carriera below). Behind Pierrot, other stock Commedia dell’Arte characters that would have been recognizable to Watteau’s audience – the Doctor on his donkey, the lovers Leander and Isabella, and the Captain – ignore the sad clown, possibly a self-portrait. Some have speculated that the large canvas was intended as a theatrical sign for a performance at a café or fairground.

365. L’Enseigne de Gersaint

Artist: Jean-Antoine Watteau
Date: 1720-1721
Period/Style: Rococo; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.3 ft. tall by 10.1 ft wide
Current location: Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin, Germany

One of Watteau’s last works, L’Enseigne de Gersaint (“The Shop Sign of Gersaint”)  was painted to fit into the arched space over the doorway to the Paris booth of the art dealer Edme François Gersaint on the Pont Notre-Dame. (According to Gersaint, it was Watteau himself who suggested the commission.) The current rectangular shape (and the division into two parts – see in image above) did not occur until later (sometime before 1732) by an another artist (possibly Watteau’s assistant Jean-Baptiste Pater), who added sections at the top of the painting. (The outline of the original arch is just barely visible in the image above.) The overall sense is of Parisian elites shopping for art as part of their daily routines. Watteau cleverly compares and contrasts the well-dressed aristocrats with the scantily-clad or nude figures in the paintings on the walls behind them, implying perhaps that the mythological figures are expressing the inner (lustful) desires of the mortals in the shop, who interact with genteel politeness.  Some commentators also see a political message. At the lower left, a shop worker places a portrait of Louis XIV (based on a portrait by Pierre Mignard) in a box (see detail in image below). Louis XIV had died in 1715, to be replaced by Louis XV; the painting signals the end of one regime and the beginning of the next.  Random Trivia: In an intriguing online essay, Martin Eidelberg suggests that the composition of the painting indicates that Watteau conceived of the work as a diptych of sorts, with two separate parts: “The figures in the right half are all inclined to the right, just as those in the left half turn in the opposite direction. It is almost as though each group had an aversion to the other. These poses emphasize the division of the signboard into two, independent units, and demonstrate that the two parts were from inception intended to be separate.”

366. The Stonemason’s Yard (Venice: Campo Santa Vidal and Santa Maria Della Carita)

Artist: Canaletto (born Giovanni Antonio Canal)
Date: c. 1725-1730
Period/Style: Venetian Landscape; Venice, Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4 ft. tall by 5.3 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
canaletto stonemason
It was de rigeur for well-heeled young men of the aristocracy to go on a Grand Tour of Europe around the time they turned 21. Venice was a mandatory stop on the Grand Tour, and the best souvenir one could send home from a visit there was a vedute – a type of painted postcard with a view of the city. Canaletto made his name painting highly detailed and accurate landscape views of Venice and its environs for Grand Tourists, paintings that found their way to upper class homes all over Europe. The comparison with postcards is somewhat demeaning to the artist: Canaletto’s skill at rendering Venice’s unique light and water, his accurate rendering of architecture, and his attentiveness to the working lives of everyday Venetians elevate these vedute (and those of Francesco Guardi, who worked later in the century) to the realm of high art. The Stonemason’s Yard, an early work considered one of Canaletto’s best, is somewhat atypical in that it reveals a side of the city that many tourists would not have seen. For that reason, scholars believe it was probably made for a Venetian patron. In the foreground is Campo Santa Vidal, a small square in front of the Santa Vidal Church (which is unseen, behind the viewer). Masons are using the Campo to store (and work on) the stones they are using to repair the Santa Vidal. Behind the Campo is the Grand Canal, with its gondolas, running parallel to the picture plane. Across the canal is the medieval church of Santa Maria della Carità, with its campanile (belltower), which collapsed in the 1740s, and, to the viewer’s right, the Scuola Grande della Carità (now the Gallerie dell’Accademia). Modest residential apartments, with their flared chimney pots and open windows, frame the Campo in the foreground. Throughout the painting, Venetians old and young go about the activities of daily living. The painting’s warm tonality may result in part from the reddish brown background layer that Canaletto painted over. The strong diagonals of sun and shadow as storm clouds disperse overhead help to define the space and articulate the lines of the architecture.

367. A Rake’s Progress

Artist: William Hogarth
Date: c. 1732-1733
Period/Style: Rococo; England
Medium: series of eight oil paintings and paper prints made from engravings 
Dimensions: Each painting is 2 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide. The prints are 12.5 in. tall by 15.2 in. wide.
Current location: The paintings are in Sir John Soan’s Museum, London, England, UK. The prints are in various collections.


In 1732-1733, William Hogarth painted eight scenes from the life of the fictional Thomas Rakewell, heir to a rich merchant, a moral tale of about irresponsibility and living in excess done in the rococo style. In 1735, Hogarth had the paintings engraved, with some alterations, and then published as prints. The eight chapters of the Rake’s decline and fall are as follows: (1) The Heir: Tom’s father is dead and Tom has his fortune; he buys new clothes and rejects his pregnant fiancée, Sarah; (2) The Levee: Tom is attended by various hangers-on offering their services, including music, fencing, quarterstaff and dancing teachers (see painting in top image above); (3) The Orgy: Tom’s watch is stolen at a drunken orgy at the Rose Tavern, a famous brothel; (4) The Arrest: Sarah intervenes to prevent bailiffs from arresting Tom for debts as he takes a sedan chair to a party, has his cane stolen and has oil poured on his head; (5) The Marriage: Tom marries a rich old maid to get out of debt, while Sarah arrives too late (see painting in second image above); (6) The Gaming House: Tom looks to heaven to help after gambling away his new wife’s money, while a fire breaks out; (7) The Prison: Tom is now in debtors’ prison, where Sarah and his wife lament his state, and there are signs that he is losing his sanity; (8) The Madhouse: Insane and violent, Tom ends up in Bedlam (Bethlehem Hospital) mental asylum, where Sarah, still ignored, continues to comfort him (see print in image below. 

368. Mercury Attaching His Wings (Mercury Tying His Talaria)

Artist: Jean Baptiste Pigalle
Date: 1742-1744
Period/Style: Baroque; Neoclassical; France; mythological
Medium: Sculpture with versions made of carved marble and lead
Dimensions: The life-size marble and lead statues measure 6.1 ft. tall, 3.5 ft. wide and 3.4 ft. deep. The smaller marble statue in the Louvre measures 1.9 ft. tall, 1.1 ft. wide and 1.1. ft. deep.
Current locations: Musée du Louvre, Paris

pigalle mercury louvre  
In 1740, when sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle traveled to Paris, he brought with him a terracotta statue of the messenger god Mercury. The model showed the god sitting on a rock, tying on his winged sandals, or talaria, and posed dynamically. The twisted shape of his crouching torso, the upward slant of his limbs and shoulder, his face turned skyward, not looking at his hands, and the weight of his left leg on his toes all created the powerful impression of imminent action. Pigalle offered the terracotta to the Art Academy as an admission piece, but the officials asked him to come back with a marble version. Pigalle first made a larger plaster version of his Mercury, added a plaster statue of Venus giving Mercury a message and exhibited them both at the 1742 Paris Salon. In 1744, he presented the Academy with a marble Mercury and was promptly admitted (see image in second row above, at left, showing the statue at the Louvre). In 1746, the Royal Administration ordered Pigalle to make two more life-size marble statues of Mercury and Venus, which Louis XV presented to Frederick of Prussia in 1748. The statues can be found on the grounds of the Sans-Souci Castle in Berlin (see top image above). In 1753, a life-size cast was made in lead, which is also in the Louvre (see image in second row above, at right). Scholars have praised Pigalle’s creation, which incorporates both Baroque and Neoclassical elements,  for its concentration of form and concentrated pose, such that it has become an allegory of speed. Random Trivia: PIgalle’s Mercury is so iconic that soon after 1744, other artists began incorporating it into their paintings, such as Jean-Baptiste Chardin’s 1748 The Drawing Lesson, now at the Art Institute of Chicago (see image below).

369. Marriage à-la-mode 

Artist: William Hogarth
Date: 1743-1745
Period/Style: Rococo; England
Medium: The six original paintings were made with oil paints on canvas. The prints are made from copper engravings.
Dimensions: Each painting measures 2.3 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide. The paper prints measure approximately 15.5 inches tall by 19 inches wide.
Current location: The original paintings are in the National Gallery, London, England, UK.  The prints may be found in various collections.
hogart marriage 1Hogarth marriage 2Marriage à-la-mode is a series of six satirical paintings by 18th Century English artist William Hogarth that the artist used as the basis for making engraved copper plates and ultimately paper prints. The series satirizes the upper classes, particularly marriages arranged between the bankrupt old guard seeking funds (symbolized by the Earl of Squanderfield) and the nouveau riche, seeking status (symbolized by the miserly merchant). The chapters of the story are: 1. The Marriage Settlement: The Earl, whose building project is bankrupt, arranges for his dissolute (and syphilitic) son to marry the daughter of the wealthy merchant (see painting in top image above). 2. The Tête à Tête: A morning scene after some months of marriage makes it clear that both members of the couple have been unfaithful (see painting in second image above). 3. The Inspection: The husband and his ‘girlfriend’ receive bad news at the physician’s office regarding their venereal diseases. 4. The Toilette: The Earl having died, the son ascends, but is also clearly a cuckold thanks to Silvertongue, the lawyer who arranged the marriage. 5. The Bagnio: The son walks in on the Countess and her lover and is killed (see print in image below). 6. The Lady’s Death: The lover is hanged for murder, and the Countess commits suicide. Each frame contains many symbolic and allegorical details that support the theme of the painting and add to the satirical impact.

370. Horses Being Restrained by their Grooms (The Marly Horses)

Artist: Guillaume Coustou the Elder
Date: Commisioned in 1739; completed and delivered in 1745.
Period/Style: Baroque; France
Medium: Pair of marble sculptural groups
Dimensions: Each group measures approximately 11 ft. tall, 9 ft. long and 4 ft. wide.
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
 Marly_horse_Louvre_MR1803
In 1739, French king Louis XV commissioned sculptor Guillaume Coustou the Elder to create two statues of horses being restrained by their grooms for the grounds of Château de Marly, a small French royal residence. The king sought a reimagining of the Ancient Roman Horse Tamers from the Piazza Quirinale in Rome (see image below). The resulting statues were the foremost achievements of Coustou’s career and among the finest examples of Baroque sculpture (see images above). Coustou carved two groups from blocks of Carrera marble – each with a groom and a horse (with the models selected personally by Louis XV in 1743). Each groom reaches up to grasp the reins of a rearing horse – the overall composition of each group is similar but with significant variation in pose and expression. Art historians have noted the tangible realism of the work, the spirited impetuosity of the figures, and the equestrian elegance and power that emanate from the energetic marble horses.  Unlike the Roman precursors, in which sizes of the humans and horses are not realistic with respect to one another (the humans are too large, or the horses are too small), Coustou has followed modern tradition in representing the figures on the same scale. Coustou delivered the sculptures to Château de Marly in 1745, and they soon became known as the Marly Horses or the Horses of Marly. In 1794, they were moved to Paris and installed on high plinths on the Place de la Concorde, at the entrance to the Champs Elysées until 1984 when concerns about weather damage led to their replacement by concrete replicas. The original Marly Horses, also known as Horses Being Restrained by their Grooms and the Horse Tamers, are now in the Louvre in Paris.

371. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews

Artist: Thomas Gainsborough
Date: 1748-1750
Period/Style: Romanticism; Great Britain; portrait/landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.3 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London
andrews
At the time of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, the French hosted an art exhibition in Paris to celebrate and asked the royal family to send some paintings to represent British art. Thomas Gainsborough’s Mr. and Mrs. Andrews – with its depiction of genteel respectability in the agrarian countryside – was chosen as one of only four paintings sent. Members of the landed gentry, Robert Andrews, aged 22, married Frances Carter, age 16, in November 1748. As part of Frances’ dowry, she brought to the marriage a portion of her father’s estate near the town of Sudbury, and when they had their portrait taken a year or two later, they made sure that the extensive property was included. Mr. Andrews’s rifle and dog imply that his crops and livestock are so well managed, he has plenty of time for a relaxing hunting break. By devoting so much of the canvas to the well-groomed estate, Gainsborough drew upon the trend of less formal ‘conversation piece’ portraits, in which a group of subjects engages in an activity instead of sitting in a formal pose. This portrait is a hybrid, since Mr. and Mrs. Andrews do pose for the artist, although in a less formal setting. (The married couple probably posed in a studio with their fine bench and dog and were placed in the landscape through the magic of painting.) Gainsborough grew up in the same neighborhood as Robert and Frances, but somewhat further down the social ladder, which may explain the disdainful expression on Mrs. Andrews’s face. What is not explained is the patch of bare canvas on Mrs. Andrews’s lap. Gainsborough apparently intended to show her holding something – freshly-killed game, a baby, a dog, flowers – but for some reason delivered the painting to the family unfinished (see detail in image below). (One source theorizes that the painting was delivered unfinished because Gainsborough had a falling out with the couple.) The unusually shaped portrait (most were vertical, not horizontal) stayed in the Andrews family’s private collection until 1960. The work came to the attention of the public in 1927 when it was exhibited in Ipswich and caused a sensation with its charm and freshness.

372. Le Carceri d’Invenzione (Imaginary Prisons) 

Artist: Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Date: 1750 (1st Edition); 1761 (2nd Edition)
Period/Style: Neoclassical; Italy
Medium: Paper prints made from etchings
Dimensions: Each print measures 2.1 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide
Current location: Various collections

A Venetian who spent most of his career in Rome, Giovanni Battista Piranesi was fascinated with architecture, especially Ancient Roman architecture, and the vast majority of his artistic output consists of highly-detailed etchings (made into prints) of Roman buildings, monuments and ruins. These etchings combine a Neoclassical dedication to realism with a sense of play and even some social commentary. But Piranesi’s most well-known works do not reproduce any existing Roman architecture. The bizarre and complicated spaces of the 16 prints in Le Carceri d’Invenzione are all the products of Piranesi’s imagination, filtered through his formidable knowledge of architecture and engineering. No 18th Century Italian prison ever looked like these mysterious and foreboding chambers of horror. The architecture is fanciful and sometimes defies the laws of physics (which has led to comparisons with M.C. Escher). Elaborate machinery and instruments of torture dwarf the few tiny figures in these images, leading some to find a critique of the Italian justice system (or that of Ancient Rome?). Piranesi published 14 of the prints in 1750; 11 years later, he released a new version, with the etchings much reworked and two additional scenes. The 1761 version is more complicated, more detailed and more sinister than the originals.  The images shown are Title Page (1st edition) (above) and Lion Bas Reliefs (2nd edition) (below).

373. Frescoes, Würzburg Residence 

Artist: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Date: Begun in 1750; completed in 1753.
Period/Style: Baroque, with Rococo elements, Italy/Germany
Medium: Frescoes painted on residential walls
Dimensions: The Apollo and the Four Continents fresco measures 62 ft. by 100 ft. and covers an area of 7,287 square feet. The Marriage of Emperor Frederick to Beatrice and the Investiture of Herold as Duke of Franconia are each 13 ft. tall and 16.4 ft. wide.
Current location: Würzburg, Germany
tiepolo wurzburg
tiepolo allegorical ceiling  tiepolo wedding
One of the greatest works of 18th Century Italian art is located in Germany. In 1750, in response to a commission from Karl Philipp von Greiffenklau, the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, Germany, Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and his sons traveled from Italy to paint frescoes on the walls and ceilings of the Würzburg Residence, the palace of the Prince-Bishops the episcopal principality of Würzburg. (Würzburg is now a city in the German state of Bavaria.) Considered the last great Venetian painter, Tiepolo was a master of the Rococo style but without the frothy frivolity often associated with the style as practiced elsewhere (particularly France). Contemporaries praised Tiepolo’s sprezzatura, an untranslatable term that refers to his ability to combine precise rendering of images, dramatic poses and tension-creating (but bright) color schemes to keep the pictures engaging but with a soft, romantic quality that eases tension without sacrificing liveliness. Based on his early works, such as the frescoes in the Ca’ Dolfin on the Grand Canal of Venice, Tiepolo’s reputation spread beyond the borders of Italy. Tiepolo’s first job at Würzburg was the decorate the Imperial Hall of the residence. He and his sons painted the allegorical Apollo Presenting Beatrice of Burgundy to Frederick Barbarossa on the ceiling as well as two historical events on the walls (see image above left): the Marriage of Emperor Frederick to Beatrice (see image above right) and the Investiture of Herold as Duke of Franconia. Based on his success on this first project, Tiepolo was asked to decorate the ceiling over the grand staircase (designed by star-architect Balthasar Neumann); at 7,287 square feet, this may be the largest fresco of all time. Tiepolo first presented the Prince-Bishop with a large painted sketch of his plan, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The theme was The Allegory of the Planets and the Continents (also known as Apollo and the Four Continents) (see top image). Around the tops of the four walls, Tiepolo created scenes of the animals, plants and products of Africa, Asia, Europe and America, with allegorical figures to represent each continent (see detail with Africa below left). In the center of the ceiling, he showed the vast heavens, with Apollo (lover of the arts) at the center, and various mythological figures representing the known planets (see detail below right). The fresco is integrated seamlessly into the architecture, such that visitors report that photographs cannot capture the brilliance of the effect on the viewer. For example, the perspective changes based on where the viewer is standing; based on his patron’s instructions, Tiepolo focused on several viewing spots as one ascends the massive staircase. Included in the fresco are portraits of Balthasar Neumann, the Prince-Bishop, and Tiepolo’s own son, Domenico. The Würzburg frescoes are the pinnacle of Tiepolo’s career and a high point of 18th Century artistic achievement.
tiepolo africa  tiepolo apollo

374. A Lion Attacking a Horse (A Horse Attacked by a Lion)

Artist: George Stubbs
Date: The series of 16 paintings was created between 1762 and 1770
Period/Style: Neoclassical, with elements of Romanticism; France
Medium: Most of the paintings were made with oil paints on canvas, but one was made with enamels on a copper plate
Dimensions: The sizes of the paintings range from 8 ft. tall by 10,9 ft. wide to 9.5 inches by 11.1 inches.
Current locations: Various collections

 
British artist George Stubbs was obsessed with the theme of a lion attacking a horse; he made at least 16 paintings of the subject during his career, most of which are somewhat confusingly referred to as either A Lion Attacking a Horse or Horse Attacked by a Lion. Known primarily for his paintings of horses, Stubbs went to the zoo to sketch lions and other wild animals to increase the drama and invoke a sense of the untamed wild in his work. One art historian suggests that Stubbs’ dramatic renderings of noble horses under attack move us because they invoke what Edmund Burke called the sense of the sublime, brought on by experiencing a frightening event from a safe distance or through the lens of art. The examples shown above are:
(1) A Lion Attacking a Horse (1770), Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; oil paints on canvas; 3.2 ft. tall by 4.1 ft. wide (top image), where the struggle between the king of beasts and his prey is reduced to a corner in a vast landscape;
(2) A Lion Attacking a Horse (1762), Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut; oil paints on canvas; 8 ft. tall by 10.9 ft. wide (bottom row at left), the first in the series and perhaps the largest of Stubbs’s paintings on the theme; and
(3) Horse Attacked by a Lion (1769), Tate, London, England, UK; enamels on copper plate, 9.5 in. tall by 11.1 in. wide (bottom row at right), with an unusual octagonal shape.

375. The Swing (The Happy Accidents of the Swing)

Artist: Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Date: 1767
Period/Style: Rococo, France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.6 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide
Current location: The Wallace Collection, London, England, UK

In the mid-18th Century, French artists rebelled against the heavy seriousness of Baroque art in favor of a lighter style, fond of playful curves and pastel colors that became known as Rococo (after “rocaille”, the shells used to decorate artificial grottoes). The style soon spread north into Germany and Austria. One of the finest Rococo painters was Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and The Swing is considered his best work and a paragon of the style. Originally titled The Happy Accidents of the Swing, the painting reveals a creamy pastel pink and green paradise (one writer describes it as a “confection”), where an elderly man pushes a young lady (possibly his wife) on a swing. She impetuously kicks off her shoe in Cupid’s direction, while giving her young lover, hiding below in the foliage, a scandalous peek beneath her dress at her legs. Cupid (based on a statue by Étienne-Maurice Falconet) holds his finger to his lips, asking us to keep a secret. The young man holds his arm out stiffly with his hat in his hand, a metaphor that most viewers would have understood as sexual (a bare foot and missing shoe also had sexual connotations). Another sculpture with two more putti (riding a dolphin) hides in the shadows and a dog (symbol of marital fidelity) barks at the impropriety. The painting made a name for Fragonard and inspired many imitations. The frivolous nature of this and similar works of the time led to a backlash from some Enlightenment philosophers, who argued for more serious art showing man’s nobility. (The Neo-Classicists would heed their call.) Despite these criticisms, Fragonard was a highly regarded artist among the French aristocracy and earned fame and fortune in the decades before the Revolution. After 1789, Fragonard and the Rococo style fell out of fashion, perhaps because it was too closely identified with the decadence of the Ancien Regime and its aristocrats. Random Trivia: The cover art of Little Feat’s album Sailin’ Shoes by Neon Park (a.k.a. Martin Muller) pays homage to both Fragonard’s The Swing and Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy (see image below).
Little_Feat_-_Sailin'_Shoes

376. An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

Artist: Joseph Wright of Derby
Date: 1767-1768
Period/Style: Elements of Baroque and Neo-Classical; precursor of Romanticism; Great Britain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6 ft. tall by 7.9 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_an_Air_Pump_by_Joseph_Wright_of_Derby 2
Like many of his time, English artist Joseph Wright of Derby was fascinated with science and progress and he wanted to use his art to celebrate the intellectual advancement of mankind in the 18th Century. In particular, he wanted to invest painted scenes of scientific discovery with the same reverence accorded to historical and religious scenes. An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump depicts a man – possibly an itinerant lecturer in natural philosophy – recreating Joseph Boyle’s 1659 vacuum (or air) pump experiment, in which air is removed from a container for a group of spectators. To demonstrate the vacuum, a bird is placed in the container – when all the air is removed, the bird dies. (The idea that a rare and expensive cockatoo would be used in the experiment, as shown here, is probably a bit of poetic license on Wright’s part.) Consistent with Wright’s beliefs about the importance of science, while he shows some of the spectators expressing concern about the bird (and two love-birds making eyes at each other), most of them seem in awe of the scientific discovery. An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump was one of a number of candlelit scenes that Wright painted in the 1760s. He excelled at painting the dramatic chiaroscuro effects resulting from the unusual and challenging lighting choice and used this technique to great effect in other artificially-lit indoor scenes.

37. The Death of General Wolfe

Artist: Benjamin West
Date: 1770
Period/Style: Neoclassicism, British America/Great Britain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.9 ft. tall by 7 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada
Benjamin_West-The_Death_of_General_Wolfe
Neoclassical painter Benjamin West was born in Colonial Pennsylvania but moved to London in 1763; there he co-founded the Royal Academy of Art, taught numerous American painters, and painted the king’s portrait. Before Benjamin West’s The Death of General Wolfe, most history paintings depicted events from the distant past and draped the characters in the togas of classical antiquity, thus imparting a timeless quality to the events. But West, disregarding the advice of artist friends and mentors, rejected those traditions. For his large history painting, he chose a recent historical event – the death of British general James Wolfe at the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec during the Seven Years’ War – and he dressed his figures in historically accurate clothing. The break with tradition is particularly stark here, where Wolfe is shown (accurately) wearing the somewhat plain red uniform of a field officer, not a major-general’s dress finery. Ironically, however, for all West’s attention to historical accuracy, the painting contains numerous fictions. The majority of the individuals pictured at the death scene are identifiable, and they were not present at the battle. The messenger fortuitously arriving to tell the dying Wolfe that the French are defeated (symbolized by the fleur-de-lys) is also a fiction. So is the Native American warrior, although West’s intention in adding a representative of the indigenous people was probably to place the scene definitively in the New World. Perhaps most outrageous was West’s decision to pose Wolfe in a manner that reminds us of Jesus in various Lamentations and Depositions, and implies that Wolfe was a martyr to a good cause. West’s new conception of history painting was popular: prints made from an engraving of the painting were soon best sellers in England and elsewhere. As for the future of history painting, the popularity of The Death of General Wolfe meant that recent events were fair game and togas were no longer de rigueur.

378. Voltaire Nude

Artist: Jean Baptiste Pigalle
Date: 1776
Period/Style: Baroque; Neoclassical; France
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 4.9 ft. tall, 2.9 ft. wide, 2.5 ft. deep
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris
Pigalle-Voltaire Statue  pigalle voltaire
In the 1770s, when sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle set out to immortalize Voltaire, the lion of the French Enlightenment, neither Pigalle nor Voltaire was a young man. Pigalle’s goal was to present the truth, in form, expression and gesture. The artist spent eight days at Voltaire’s home in Ferney working on his head and face. Later, he had an elderly soldier pose nude for the body. The result was a life-size marble sculpture of a mostly nude Voltaire (there is a cloth in his lap), seated, with a dynamic pose and a facial expression that seems to show a belief in mind over matter. The placement of the head on the body is somewhat awkward, but otherwise the anatomy of the human form is rendered naturally and without idealizing. The contemporary reaction to Pigalle’s Voltaire was loudly and universally negative. One head of state offered to buy the statue a coat. The public was not ready to see its intellectual giant presented to them as a frail old man. The statue remained in Pigalle’s studio until his death in 1785. Its reputation has been rehabilitated over time.

379. Watson and the Shark

Artist: John Singleton Copley
Date: 1778
Period/Style: American realism; Neoclassical; portraiture; Colonial America/Great Britain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6 ft. tall by 7.5 ft. wide
Current location: The original is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. A full-size copy by the artist is at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A second, smaller copy by the artist with a vertical instead of horizontal orientation is at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Watsonandtheshark
Born in colonial Boston (where Copley Square is named for him), John Singleton Copley first made a name for himself as a painter of American portraits, but he moved to England in 1774, in part to escape the Revolution, and there he began to take up history paintings. One of his first was Watson and the Shark, which tells the story of Brook Watson, a British merchant of Copley’s acquaintance, who lost his right leg to a shark in the waters off Havana, Cuba in 1749, when Watson was a 14-year-old cabin boy. The attack occurred while Watson was swimming alone, and it took three attempts by rescuers before he was saved. Copley’s canvas, which was commissioned by Watson himself, depicts the third, successful rescue attempt. The artist plays down the gore of the true story: there is a trace of blood, but the loss of the leg is merely hinted at. In order to see Watson’s body in the surf, Copley made the water translucent. Watson’s body is modeled on the Hellenistic sculpture known as the Borghese Gladiator (100 BCE), now at the Louvre (see image at right below). The men in the boat show a range of facial expressions. Marine biologists have pointed out that shark, while frightening, is not rendered realistically: sharks have no lips, their eyes don’t face forward, and they don’t blow air from their nostrils. Copley exhibited Watson and the Shark at the Royal Academy in 1778, where it caused a sensation and helped secure his reputation as the best artist to come from the American colonies.  (The image above shows the original; the image below left shows the vertical version now in the Detroit Institute of Arts.)
 

380. Zen Garden, Ryoan-ji Temple

Artist: Unknown
Date: The current garden is dated to c. 1780-1789, but there have been earlier iterations going back to the 15th Century
Period/Style: Edo period; Kare-sansui; Japan; landscape design
Medium: White pebble, stones and moss
Dimensions: 78 ft. long by 30 ft. wide
Current location: Kyoto, Japan

The Ryoan-ji Temple (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon) in Kyoto, Japan, is home to what is probably the finest surviving example of kare-sansui, or dry landscape garden design (see first image). The minimalist garden consists of 15 large rocks in groups of five, three or two, some surrounded by green moss (see detail in image below), in a sea of smooth white pebbles that is raked every day by Buddhist monks into linear patterns. A low clay wall with a shingle roof surrounds the garden on three sides. On the fourth side is the veranda of the abbot’s residence, from which the garden is designed to be contemplated and meditated upon. The designers have constructed the garden so that someone sitting on the veranda cannot see every stone at once. Attempts to date the garden exactly have been unsuccessful. The temple was founded in 1450, destroyed between 1467 and 1477 and rebuilt in 1488, but even though tradition holds that the garden was established in the first half century of the temple’s existence, there is no hard evidence to support the theory. Another theory states that the garden was designed in the early 16th Century, but again there is no evidence. The first documentary evidence of a garden in the current location comes from 1680-1682, in an account that describes only nine stones instead of today’s 15. Then, after a fire in 1779 destroyed temple buildings, the rubble was dumped in the garden. The garden was rebuilt on top of the rubble in the late 1700s;  an engraving from a 1799 book by Akisato Rito shows the garden as it is today. The most cautious estimate, then, would place the construction of the garden in its current form in the 1780s or 1790s. 

381. Portrait of Voltaire, Seated

Artist: Jean-Antoine Houdon
Date: Houdon began work in 1778 and produced the two marble versions of the statue in 1781.
Period/Style: Neoclassicism; France
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 4.5 ft. tall
Current locations: Full-sized marble versions are located in the foyer of the Comédie-Française in Paris and the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
 
When Enlightenment intellectual hero Voltaire returned to Paris in 1778 after a 20-year political exile, he stopped by the studio of French neoclassical sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon to have a portrait bust made. Houdon sketched Voltaire, now 84, as a man with a weary face, few teeth left, deep lines and a compressed but still lively smile. In the course of the sitting, Houdon also made some full-length sketches of Voltaire sitting. Only a few months after returning from exile, Voltaire died. His niece, Mme. Denis, asked Houdon to produce a life-sized statue based on his sketches. The result was Portrait of Voltaire, Seated, which shows Voltaire sitting in a chair, looking to his right with a warm, thoughtful expression. His aged body is covered in the robes of classical antiquity, linking him with the philosophers of Ancient Greece. The early results were so promising that Catherine the Great commissioned another copy. Houdon completed both white marble sculptures in 1781. Various smaller versions exist, including the original maquette, many of them made with plaster. The statue was highly praised by contemporaries, who saw Voltaire as a kind of secular saint, in contrast with the outraged reaction to Jean-Baptiste Pigalle’s nude portrait of a few years earlier, which realistically depicted a frail old man, not the philosopher-god realized by Houdon (see image below).

382. The Nightmare

Artist: Henry Fuseli
Date: 1781
Period/Style: Romanticism; Switzerland/Great Britain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft. tall by 4.2 ft. wide
Current location: The original is at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan. A 1791 version is at Goethe House in Frankfurt, Germany
Henry_Fuseli_-_The_NightmareVisitors to Sigmund Freud’s office in Vienna would have noticed a print on his wall of a sleeping woman with a gruesome incubus sitting on her chest and a horse peering through a set of curtains. The engraving was based on Henry Fuseli’s 1781 painting The Nightmare. Born in Switzerland and trained as a minister, Fuseli decided on art instead, and he moved to London in 1779 to pursue painting. Ever since Fuseli exhibited the The Nightmare at the Royal Academy in 1782, viewers have been fascinated and disturbed, while critics and scholars have offered multiple interpretations. At the most simple level, we see a woman sleeping, throat exposed and vulnerable, in a position commonly believed at the time to produce nightmares. Two of the elements of her nightmare are visible: the creature sitting on top of her and the horse with devilish white eyes. The whites and golds of the woman’s body and clothing shimmer brightly against the much darker, shadowy room and figures surrounding her, thanks to Fuseli’s expert use of the chiaroscuro technique and a Gothic-Romantic style. Viewers then and now sense a smoldering sexuality pervading The Nightmare. Some have suggested that the incubus is Fuseli and the woman his unrequited love, Anna Landholdt. Others say it speaks generally to sublimated sexual instincts. Some even interpret the horse piercing through the curtains as a phallic symbol. The incubus gazes directly at us, perhaps seeking our conscious complicity in some heinous act. The painting was Fuseli’s most renowned. Prints from a 1783 engraving of the work by Thomas Burke were very popular with the public, including Dr. Freud (see image of print, below left). Fuseli himself painted a number of versions, with variations. The 1791 version, now at Goethe House in Frankfurt, includes a sexually suggestive statue of a man and a woman on the night table (see image below right).
Burke_The_Nightmare_engraving fuseli 1791 nightmare

383. Monument to Peter the Great (The Bronze Horseman)

Artist: Étienne-Maurice Falconet
Date: The work was begun in 1770 and completed in 1782.
Period/Style: Baroque; Rococo; Neoclassical; France; equestrian portrait
Medium: Bronze sculpture on pedestal of red granite
Dimensions: The equestrian statue is 20 ft. tall; the pedestal is 25 ft. tall.
Current location: Senate Square, St. Petersburg, Russia
The_Bronze_Horseman_(St._Petersburg,_Russia)
When Russian Empress Catherine the Great commissioned a statue of Tsar Peter the Great (Peter I) for the center of St. Petersburg (the city bearing his name), her intentions were complex. Catherine was a German princess who married Peter I’s grandson, then overthrew him in a coup and seized the throne herself. The statue was designed to help her gain legitimacy for her rule by identifying herself with one of the great Russian leaders of the past, known for his Western reforms. She brought in French sculptor Étienne-Maurice Falconet, who had never sculpted a horse before, to make a larger-than-life bronze equestrian statue of Peter. Falconet designed a dramatic piece of contrasting elements, with a calm, classically-robed Peter pointing to the West with equanimity, while his horse, filled with raw naturalism, rears up explosively at the edge of a cliff and tramples a serpent symbolizing Peter’s enemies. The Tsar’s face was sculpted by Falconet’s 18-year-old assistant Marie-Anne Collot, using Peter’s death mask and portraits (see detail in image below). The right hand was modeled on a Roman-era bronze. Casting the immense bronze sculpture required technical innovations by Falconet and his chief caster Emelyan Khailov. It was also dangerous; at one point, the mold broke, releasing molten bronze and starting several fires. A proper pedestal to serve as a stage for the action was a crucial part of the design, and Falconet looked long and hard before he found the perfect boulder: a 1653-ton block of red granite nicknamed Thunder Stone. Hundreds of workers dug the stone out of the ground and then waited until winter to drag it nearly four miles over the frozen ground to the Gulf of Finland, where a ship waited to take it to St. Petersburg. During transport, masons and sculptors were carving the block to Falconet’s specifications, reducing the final pedestal to a trim 1378 tons. A grand unveiling took place in August 1782 (but without Falconet – due to a quarrel with Catherine the Great, he had left for Paris in 1778), revealing a monument that reached 45 feet into the air, with the engraving, “Catherine the Second to Peter the First, 1782” in both Russian and Latin. Fifty years later, Alexander Pushkin wrote a poem in which the horse and rider come alive, called The Bronze Horseman, and thus coined a new name for the monument. A myth also arose that St. Petersburg (also known as Leningrad) would never fall to an enemy as long as the Bronze Horseman still stood. During the Siege of Leningrad in World War II, the monument was covered with sandbags and a wooden shelter, and survived the bombing unharmed.

384. Oath of the Horatii

Artist: Jacques-Louis David
Date: 1784-1785
Period/Style: Neoclassical; France; history painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 5.5 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris. The Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio has a reduced-size replica by David from 1786 made for Comte de Vaudreuil.
Oath_of_the_Horatii
Jacques-Louis David’s history painting The Oath of the Horati, which was commissioned by French king Louis XVI after David returned from five years of study in Rome, is considered a paragon of the Neoclassical style. According to a legend, a dispute between the Roman Republic and the city of Alba Longa was resolved by a ritual duel by three brothers of the Roman family the Horatii and three brothers of the Curiatii family of Alba Longa. To complicate matters, one of the Horatii sisters is engaged to marry one of the Curiatti brothers, and one of the wives of the Horatii is a sister to one of the Curiatii. At the end of the duel, five of the six men would be dead, leaving only one Horatii brother alive. David chose to paint an imagined moment when the Horatii brothers (their expressions stoic and emotionless) give the Roman salute to their father (based on a figure from a Poussin painting), who holds their swords, while their mother and sisters (and two children) weep in sorrow. In keeping with the Neoclassical style, the background is deemphasized in favor of the foreground figures (who are posed as if in a sculpted classical frieze); there is a central perspectival vanishing point at the point where the father holds the swords; the painter’s technique is not emphasized; no brushstrokes are visible; and straight lines, stasis and symmetry (here, groups of three) abound. The subject matter is uplifting, with a moral lesson. Gone are the frivolity and casual movement of the Rococo; Neoclassicism is serious business. Presented at the Paris Salon in 1785, just four years before the revolution, the painting was praised by monarchists and republicans alike. The monarchists saw the message as support for king and country, while others noted that the brothers are pledging allegiance to a republic without a king.

385. Portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Artist: Thomas Gainsborough
Date: 1785-1787
Period/Style: Romanticism; Great Britain; portraiture
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7.2 ft. tall by 5 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Famous soprano Elizabeth Linley gave up her singing career to marry famous playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1773. Gainsborough painted her when she was 31 years old. Note the impressionistic way the subject’s dress and hair are painted as if it were part of the windblown landscape. Contrast the treatment of the subject’s face, which is rendered with precise detail to bring out her personality. According to the curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which owns the painting, it “is executed in liquid paint, blended wet into wet, applied in many layers in order to create a rich and sumptuous effect, with thin washes in free-flowing brushstrokes for the details.” The Portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan (also known simply as Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan) belongs to the tradition of grand manner portraits.

386. Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (Psyche Awakened by Eros; Psyche and Cupid)

Artist: Antonio Canova
Date: Commissioned in 1787; completed in 1793.
Period/Style: Neoclassicism; Italy
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 5.1 ft. tall by 5.5 ft. wide
Current location: The original marble version is at the Musée du Louvre, Paris. A slightly different full-size marble version from 1796 is at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a full-size plaster model prepared for the St. Petersburg version.

According to a story in Apuleius’ 2nd Century novel The Golden Ass, after Cupid fell in love with Psyche, Cupid’s mother Venus tried to end the romance by giving Psyche an impossible task: to go to the Underworld and bring back a jar with part of Proserpina’s beauty, with instructions never to open the jar. Psyche could not resist the temptation, of course; when she opened the jar, she found that it contained, not beauty, but a sleeping spell that put Psyche into a coma-like state of unconsciousness. Eros (Cupid) flew down to find the sleeping beauty and used one of his arrows to awaken her, after which she reached up to kiss him. It is this moment that Italian Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova captures in his marble sculpture Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Art historians believe that the pose in Canova’s sculpture was inspired by an Ancient Roman fresco from the recently excavated city of Herculaneum, showing a faun and a bacchante (or a maenad and a satyr) (see second image below). The composition consists of two intersecting diagonals, and includes details such as Cupid’s quiver, the arrow he used to prick Psyche, and the jar she carried (see first image below). Canova’s treatment of the marble to render the different textures of skin, draperies and rock has won him significant praise from art historians, who have also noted the way the artist has combined classical elements with Baroque drama and sensuality. There is no single viewpoint that allows one to take in all aspects of the sculpture – a fact that some have criticized, but which holds true for some of the great sculptures since the late Renaissance, such as Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women. In fact, when the work was installed at the Louvre in Paris, Canova had it equipped with a handle so it could be rotated. Canova made a second version of the grouping in 1796 that is now in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

387. The Death of Marat

Artist: Jacques-Louis David
Date: 1793
Period/Style: Neoclassicism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.4 ft. tall by 4.2. ft. wide
Current location: Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium
Death_of_Marat
Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David and journalist Jean-Paul Marat were both ardent supporters of the French Revolution; both were members of the Jacobins and the Montagnards, radical groups opposed to the more conservative Girondists. Marat published the radical newspaper L’Ami du peuple (The Friend of the People); David held prominent posts in the revolutionary government. On July 13, 1793, Girondist Charlotte Corday lied to gain access to Marat’s room. While Marat was working from his bath (where he spent much of his time due to a chronic skin disease), Corday stabbed him to death. The French government asked David to paint Marat’s portrait. The result is an idealized work depicting the dying Marat (shown with unblemished skin) as a secular martyr to the revolution, holding Corday’s false petition in his hand. As such, it echoes many paintings of Christian martyrs, particularly the various depictions of Christ’s descent from the cross. (The arm draped along the ground recalls both Michelangelo’s Pietà and Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ.) The presentation is stark and elemental: Marat leans towards us, his wound dripping, pen still in hand; we see the green blanket over the tub, the upturned box he used as a desk, the assassin’s knife on the floor. David had visited Marat the day before his death and painted the room from memory. The foreground scene is lit as if on a stage, leaving the background and upper half of the canvas in hazy darkness. The elements of the work combine to make Death of Marat a powerful blend of outrage and compassion – this is art, but it is also propaganda, and David’s students made many copies to distribute among the people. The painting received high praise until the fall of Robespierre and the end of the Reign of Terror, after which David himself became a target of the Thermidorian Reaction and he had to hide his more politically-charged paintings. The Death of Marat was kept safely hidden by one of David’s students, only to be rediscovered in the mid-19th Century by critics such as poet Charles Baudelaire, who wrote: “[T]he drama is there, alive in all its pitiful horror, and by an uncanny stroke of brilliance, which makes this David’s masterpiece and one of the great treasures of modern art, there is nothing trivial or ignoble about it. … It is the bread of the strong and the triumph of the spiritual; as cruel as nature, this picture has all the perfume of the ideal.” Random Trivia: The image below shows Marat (Sebastião) (2008) from Brazilian artist Vic Muniz’s Pictures of Garbage series. The work, made almost entirely from recycled garbage, is a portrait of a man who earns his living by finding resellable material in a huge garbage dump.
marat-sebastiao

388. The Ancient of Days (frontispiece to Europe: A Prophecy)

Artist: William Blake
Date: 1794
Period/Style: Romanticism; Symbolism; Great Britain; book illustration
Medium: Print made from etching, then handcolored with watercolors and ink
Dimensions: 9.2 in. tall by 6.6 in. wide
Current locations: There are 13 known copies in various collections
Blake - Ancient of Days  blake ancient of days
ancient of days ancient of days copy_E_1794_Library_of_Congress_object_1
William Blake was an original in every way. His writing style, his painting style and his religious beliefs are all unique to him, with little or no precursors and few if any followers. During his lifetime, he was not well-known for his artistic talents, but is now recognized as a part of the larger Romantic movement taking shape in the late 18th Century. The Ancient of Days was originally published as the frontispiece to William Blake’s 1794 poetic polemic Europe a Prophecy. It shows Urizen – a figure in Blake’s complex mythology who represents conventional reason and law – crouching in or before a sun-like circular design, while he stretches his left arm downward with an open compass in his left hand, held at a 70-80 degree angle. Golden rays emanate from the yellow circle/sphere, as dark clouds either part or encroach. According to Blake, he saw the image in a vision. Some have linked the painting to a statement about God in the Book of Proverbs, “when he set a compass upon the face of the earth.” Blake created prints from his own engraving but then used watercolors and ink to hand-colored every print of Europe a Prophecy, so that each existing copy contains a somewhat different version of The Ancient of Days. The images show four of the 13 known versions:
(1) Copy D, British Museum, London, England, UK (top row at left)
(2) Copy K, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England, UK (top row at right)
(3) Copy B, Glasgow University Library, Glasgow, Scotland, UK (bottom row at left)
(4) Copy E, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (bottom row at right)

389. The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch (The Skating Minister)

Artist: There is considerable debate over the attribution. Scottish painter Henry Raeburn has traditionally been considered the artist, but recent scholarship points to French painter Henri-Pierre Danloux
Date: c. 1795-1799
Period/Style:
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. high by 2.1 ft. wide
Current location: National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK

The Skating Minister is the short name for a small portrait of Church of Scotland minister Reverend Robert Walker, with the official title The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch. In addition to being minister of Canongate Kirk, Walker was a member of the Edinburgh Skating Club, which may have been the world’s first such organization. The club usually met on Duddingston Loch, where Reverend Walker is shown skating on Duddingston Loch. The Reverend is a confident skater (the position of his arms alone tells us this) who exhibits perfect control on the much-scarred ice. Some scholars have drawn an analogy between the intellectual and scientific accomplishments of the 18th Century Scottish Enlightenment and the coolly rational exercise of the Skating Minister. There is significant controversy about the identity of the artist who painted Rev. Walker’s portrait, which has become an icon for Scottish heritage and adorns t-shirts and coffee mugs. The work was attributed to renowned Scottish portrait painter Henry Raeburn in part because Raeburn and Walker were acquaintances, and certain aspects of the style matched Raeburn’s other work, although it was agreed that there were aspects of the painting that were unlike any other Raeburn painting. For example, Raeburn normally painted life-size portraits of figures at rest, so a small portrait of a figure in motion would be unique in his oeuvre. In 2005, a museum curator suggested that The Skating Minister had been painted by French artist Henri-Pierre Danloux, who had visited Edinburgh several times in the late 1790s and who commonly painted smaller portraits, often of subjects in motion. X-ray analysis also revealed that, where Raeburn always used lead white paint as underpainting on his subjects’ faces, there is no lead white paint under Walker’s face. Despite the mounting evidence in favor of Danloux, some experts still believe that the work should be attributed to Henry Raeburn.

390. La Maja Vestida y La Maja Desnuda (The Clothed Maja and the Naked Maja) 

Artist: Francisco Goya (full name: Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes)
Date: Most art historians say the Naked Maja was painted first, c. 1797-1800, with the Clothed Maja following c. 1800-1805, but some say it was the reverse order.
Period/Style: Romanticism; Spain; portraits
Medium: Both works were made with oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: Each canvas is 3.2 ft. tall by 6.2 ft. wide.
Current location: The paintings are presented side by side at the Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
goya the clothed maja
naked majaA pair of masterpieces or a misogynist parlor trick? According to one account, Francisco Goya, official painter for the Spanish royal court, created The Clothed Maja and The Naked Maja (also called The Nude Maja) for Spanish Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, who placed them is a special room where he kept all his nude paintings. According to a visitor, de Godoy rigged the paintings with a pulley system so that one first saw the Clothed Maja and then, with a flick of a switch, the Naked Maja appeared in its place, creating the illusion that the woman’s clothing had been removed by some kind of magic. Some years later, when the Spanish Inquisition learned about the paintings, they hauled both the painter and the prime minister before the inquisitors to answer for their alleged depravity. Goya’s answers are not recorded, but the painting was subsequently sequestered for years. While nude women had been a commonplace of painting and sculpture for centuries, until Goya’s Naked Maja, most artists who wanted to be taken seriously provided a non-erotic explanation for the nudity. The nudity was consistent with the figure’s mythological nature or with the religious of historical subject being depicted; if not, then the subject’s nudity was excusable because she was sleeping, trying to hide or otherwise unaware that she was being observed. Goya’s Naked Maja was suspect because he made no such excuses for the nudity of the woman subject. First, she is a very human model, someone a contemporary viewer might have passed on the street, who is not presented to us as a character from myth or history. The Clothed Maja proves the point. (The terms maja and majo refers to certain members of the lower classes at the time who enjoyed dressing in elaborate outfits that were exaggerated versions of traditional Spanish peasant clothing.) Second, the subject is very much aware of the artist’s (and therefore, the viewer’s) gaze, and boldly gazes back, perhaps even inviting an erotic encounter. Like real women, she has pubic hair, which Goya presents for perhaps the first time in the history of art. Scholars have long debated the identity of the model. Some believe it was the Duchess of Alba, a Spanish aristocrat who featured in a number of Goya’s paintings and who was also linked romantically with Goya. Others believe that Manuel de Godoy’s mistress Pepita Tudó was the model. In either case, according to legend, the model asked Goya to alter her face so she would not be recognized, so we may never know the maja’s name. Random Trivia: The two paintings are exhibited side-by-side at the Prado. See Elliott Erwitt’s photograph Prado Museum, Madrid (1955) below.

391. Los Caprichos (The Caprices)

Artist: Francisco Goya
Date: The plates were created in 1797 and 1798. The print were published in an album in 1799.
Period/Style: Romanticism; Spain
Medium: Paper prints made from etchings (also using aquatint, drypoint and burin techniques)
Dimensions: Each paper print is approximately 12 inches tall by 7.8 inches wide; the image in the center of each print is approximately 8.5 inchest tall by 5.9 inches wide.
Current location: Various collections 

Los Caprichos (The Caprices)
 is a series of 80 prints created by Goya with the techniques of etching, aquatint, drypoint and burin; he made the images in 1797 and 1798 and published them as an album in 1799. The most famous image in the series is No. 43, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, in which Goya pictures himself asleep among his drawing implements with demons flying above (see image above). Goya’s full description of the scene, from a manuscript now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, is: “Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her (reason), she (fantasy) is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.” The majority of the prints in Los Caprichos are bitingly satirical comments on modern society. According to Goya himself, the series depicts “the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and … the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance or self-interest have made usual.” Goya skewers the rich and powerful, the clergy, prostitution, law enforcement, and examples of corruption, hypocrisy and venality. Note: The Wikipedia page for Los Caprichos contains images of all 80 prints from the series. Random Trivia: Goya removed Los Caprichos from the marketplace after selling only 27 copies for fear of reprisals the Spanish Inquisition for the anticlerical themes in many of the images. Other prints from the series shown below are:
No. 42: Tú que no puedes (Thou who cannot): Nobles in the form of donkeys ride on the backs of the hard-working poor (top row, left)
No. 60: Ensayos (Trials): A woman (possibly a witch?) tortures a man (possibly her husband?) while a sinister cat and goat-devil look on (top row, right)
No. 75: ¿No hay quién nos desate? (Can’t anyone unleash us?): A woman and a man tied together are trapped by a large bird symbolizing vice or human moral weakness (bottom row, left).
No. 80: Ya es hora (It is time): Goblins in clerical garb wake and prepare for a day of leisure and idleness (bottom row, right).
 

To continue on to Art History 101 – Part 6 (1800-1899), click here.

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