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VMFAEU_100530_0345.JPG: Jacques Blanchard
Susannah and the Elders, ca 1628
Jacques Blanchard was known to his contemporaries as the "French Titian," a reference to the Venetian Renaissance artist who emphasized beautiful brushwork, coloristic effects, and emotional expression. This early work, painted on Blanchard's return to France after nearly four years in Italy, is remarkable for its sensitive coloring and controlled drama.
According to the Roman Catholic Old Testament, two elders in Babylon secretly plotted to seduce Susannah, the wife of a prosperous merchant. They surprised her wile she was bathing alone in her garden, and threatened to charge her with adultery if she did not yield. After rejecting their advances she was false accused by them and condemned to death as an adulteress. At the eleventh hour, the prophet Daniel discovered Susannah's innocence and she was saved.
In Hebrew, "Susannah" means "lily," a symbol of purity; traditionally for Christians, the Old Testament story often served as an allegory of the Christian Church and the opponents who threatened it. However, in post-Renaissance art the subject was also used as a vehicle for painting the female nude. But because of his interest in portraying for emotions of the various participants. Blanchard avoids both abstract allegory and prurience and offers empathy as a valid alternative to either of these extremes.
VMFAEU_100530_0356.JPG: European Art -- The Grand Manner: History Painting in Seventeenth-Century Europe:
History painting was a technical term used in the past to describe great and difficult subjects -- from the Bible, mythology, and history itself -- that were considered by critics to draw upon the artist's deeper powers to represent action and emotion convincingly. Implicit in this definition was the claim that such history paintings were of a higher order than landscapes still lifes, and portraiture. These lower genres, it was argued, were of less important because artists only had to reproduce things they saw with their own eyes. History painting, instead, drew upon the higher intellectual faculties of invention and imagination to represent the actions of gods, saints, and heroic mortals.
History painting was most prevalent in the Catholic countries of southern Europe, and Italy attracted ambitious foreigners (such as Nicholas Poussin from France and Peter Paul Rubens from the southern Netherlands) hoping to compete and excel in this genre. However, while at the time few doubted the great artistic effort required to portray these extraordinary subjects, there was little agreement about which style was best suited to them. While the Italian painter Caravaggio and his followers such as Artemisia Gentileschi and the Spanish artist Bartolome Esteban Murillo wanted to cast subjects from the past in a more contemporary guise, Poussin looked to the art of antiquity for inspiration. And Rubens celebrated the freedom of artistic invention with sketchy brushwork and brilliant colorism. Ultimately, there was no consensus about who was most successful at painting in the "Grand Manner." In this gallery, we invite viewers to decide for themselves.
VMFAEU_100530_0359.JPG: Bernardo Strozzi
Charity, date unknown
According to St. Paul (I Corinthians 13:13, Charity is the greatest of three theological virtues; the others are Faith and Hope. In Strozzi's painting Charity is depicted as a poor mother exhausted from caring for her children, one of whom nurses while the others tug at her arm and clothes. The idea of ceaseless giving, shown in earlier times as a somewhat grand yet remote ideal, is portrayed here as a goal achievable by the humblest of mortals.
Unlike Strozzi, the earlier Mannerist painter Francesco Salviari portrays Charity as a wealthy woman dressed in luxurious fabrics and wearing jewels, Salviati's Charity is in the collection of the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, Italy.
VMFAEU_100530_0369.JPG: Nicolas Poussin
Achilles on Skyros, 1656
According to classical legend, Thetis, the mother of Achilles, learned that her son was destined to die if he fought in the Trojan War. In an attempt to prevent his death, she sent him to live disguised as a woman with the daughters of King Lycomedes on the island of Skyros.
Learning of this ploy, Ulysses and Diomedes traveled to Skyros and laid a trap in which they presented the young women with jewelry and other finery, as well as a sword, spear and shield. Achilles, shown here dressed in women's clothes, instinctively grasped the sword, identifying himself to Ulysses and his companions as male. The source for Poussin's story was probably the popular Renaissance handbook Mythologiae by Natale Conti rather than Ovid's first century AD account.
VMFAEU_100530_0386.JPG: Follower of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
A Musical Group, ca 1620s
This enigmatic group consists of a young man singing from a sheet of music, an old man tuning a theorbo (a bass form of the lute often used in accompaniment), and a female figure who, with her laurel wreath, may represent a muse. The group might symbolize harmony, though the artist seems to have delighted in showing the struggle for this ideal rather than its attainment.
The realism and immediate drama of the scene are based on the revolutionary art of Caravaggio, who attracted numerous followers both in Italy (Rome and Naples) and in Northern Europe. Acquired as a painting by Valentin de Boulogne, a French follower of Caravaggio's, this work has since been attributed to a number of other artists without any resolution. However, we can still appreciate its achievement in both style and subject.
VMFAEU_100530_0395.JPG: Bust of Ferdinando Il de' Medici, ca 1627
The Medici family ruled Tuscany for generations, and literally thousands of portraits of family members were produced to commemorate their reign. Ferdinando Il de' Medici, the son of Grand Duke Cosimo II, is portrayed here in fantasy armor. The artist of this porphyry bust is difficult to determine because only a few such sculptures are signed. However, it may be the work of Raffaelo Curradi (after a design by Orazio Mochi) or Tommaso Fedeli; both artists were active in porphyry sculpture in early 17th-century Florence. Rare and difficult to carve, porphyry stone was prized for its purple color, which was associated with the Roman emperor. It was therefore a most appropriate choice of materials for representing these lofty Medici scions.
VMFAEU_100530_0404.JPG: Artemisia Gentileschi
Venus and Cupid, ca 1625-30
Artemisia Gentileschi, who trained in Rome with her father, Orazio, was the leading female artist of the 17th century. She worked mainly in Rome, Florence, and Naples. In 1616, she became the first female member of Florence's noted Academy of Painting.
Gentileschi's work, which is marked by strong contrasts of light and dark as well as unusual, bold compositions, was influenced both by her father's painting style and that of his famous associate, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Her subject matter often consists of powerfully rendered portrayals of women -- Judith, Susanna, Cleopatra, and Danae, for example -- dramatically depicted either as heroines or victims.
In this work, however, Gentileschi has created a sumptuous image of Venus, the Goddess of Love, asleep under a velvet handing. Her bedcover is painted with ultramarine, as expensive pigment made from powdered lapis lazuli. Behind her, Cupid wields a peacock-feather fan to keep pests fro annoying or waking her. At the left is a view of a mountainous landscape with a small circular temple,reminiscent of the one dedicated to Venus near Hadrian's villa in Tivoli, just outside of Rome.
VMFAEU_100530_0424.JPG: Luca Giordano
St. Paul the Hermit, 1685-90
St. Paul the Hermit was the first of the hermit saints, men whose devout lives made them models for Christian monasticism. In the third century AD, Paul fled into the Egyptian desert to escape the persecutions of Emperor Decius; there he lived a life of austere contemplation. He work only a garment of woven palm leaves and survived on bread that a raven miraculously brought to him daily.
Baroque artists, following the edicts of the Counter-Reformation, tried to make the images of saints and the emotional drama of sacred events as immediate and teal to the worshiper as possible. Giordano's painting of St. Paul faithfully records the effects of age and physical hardship on the saint's face and body. The large figure nearly fills the frame -- his knee even seems to protrude into the viewer's space.
However, this is a painting about a real man meeting with his God; accordingly the heavenly vision toward which the saint turns in ecstasy illuminates the painting with an unearthly brilliance.
VMFAEU_100530_0443.JPG: Peter Paul Rubens
Pallas and Arachne, 1636-37
Peter Paul Rubens was famous as a painter, a leading intellectual, and a diplomat in the Southern Netherlands where he was born and throughout Europe, especially Catholic south. In the later 1630s, Philip IV of Spain commissioned Rubens to decorate his hunting lodge, the Torre de la Parada. As seen in this oil sketch be made to prepare for that commission, Rubens's designs for the large-scale paintings show his quick imagination and bold style -- a few swift brushstrokes and touches of color and light sketch out entire compositions.
As told in Ovid's Metamorphoses, the Arachne boasted that she was a better weaver than the goddess Pallas Athena, who counted the art of weaving among her many achievements. When Athena challenged her to a contest, Arachne wove a flawless tapestry that depicted Zeus turning into a bull and abducting Europa, a story that illustrates how the gods deceive mortals. Athena fell upon Arachne in a fury, beating her so mercilessly that Arachne hanged herself in despair. Afterward, Athena turned Arachne into a spider so she could still weave, Rubens represents the most violent moment of the story, vividly and convincingly emphasizing both the goddess's rage and the moral's terror.
VMFAEU_100530_0465.JPG: Salvator Rosa
The Death of Regulus, 1650-52
Although ancient accounts do not discuss the actual method of Regulus's execution, Rosa shows him about to be enclosed in a spike-studded barrel, which would be rolled down a hill causing Regulus to be impaled on the spikes. Regulus's dignity in facing his death an enemy hands was considered a model of Stoicism, an ancient philosophy of self-denial that was revived by 17th-century European intellectuals. The windswept, rocky setting and the figures' emphatic gestures reflect the horror of the event.
Rosa's dramatic history paintings and landscapes influenced the Romantic painters of the 19th century. This painting is widely considered one of Rosa's most ambitious and successful evocations of the sometimes barbaric customs of the ancient world.
VMFAEU_100530_0472.JPG: Jan Siberechts
Herdswoman and Her Daughter, 1667
Jan Siberechts was one of the most important Flemish artists of the late 1600s. Almost all of the paintings from his best period, 1650 to the mid-1670s, are serious and unsentimental portrayals of peasants.
This painting is considered his masterpiece, though he painted the subject numerous times. Here, a herdswoman fastens flowers in her daughter's hair; in similar paintings of the period, however, the mother is shown picking lice. The flowers in this painting were probably added later, when picking lice became distasteful. At the time, having lice carried no stigma and a scene like this portrayed conscientious motherhood.
VMFAEU_100530_0484.JPG: Jan Van Der Heyden
Travelers in a Hilly Landscape
The hilly landscape, ruined castle, and farm buildings seem to denote a landscape, perhaps imaginary, in Northern Europe.
VMFAEU_100530_0492.JPG: Salomon Van Ruysdael
A River Landscape, 1645
Beginning in the late 1620s, Salomon van Ruysdael developed a style of landscape painting that included a limited range of colors, subtle atmospheric effects, and quiet views of rivers and fields. While he obviously based his landscapes on direct observation, Ruysdael painted these realistic views of the peaceful Dutch countryside indoors.
VMFAEU_100530_0507.JPG: Jan Van Der Heyden
A Fanciful View of Amsterdam, late 17th century
Paintings of city scenes -- sometimes accurate, sometimes invented -- were very popular in Holland. This painting by Jan van der Heyden, Amsterdam's leading painter of cityscapes, shows a fanciful view along the city's canal. The cupola in the distance belongs to the town hall, but the large palace in the foreground is imaginary.
Van der Heyden, who sold his carefully detailed, harmonious pictures for large sums, was also an important inventor. He devised a greatly improved system of streetlights for Amsterdam, which was especially important because the canals had no protective railings, as this painting shows. These oil streetlamps increased the likelihood of fires, but van der Heyden and his brother also invented fire hoses and pumps that could send water to the tops of tall buildings.
VMFAEU_100530_0517.JPG: David Teniers the Younger
The Village Holiday or Dance of the Peasants, ca 1650
David Teniers the Younger, an important painter of genre scenes representing peasants and poor people, was famous in his lifetime as the court painter to Austria's Archduke Leopold Wilhem and the founder of the Antwerp Academy, an organization that taught drawing and art theory.
Teniers probably made this picture for the archduke, who sent it to the Imperial Court in Vienna in 1651. The artist's painstaking attention to detail in the long line of carefully individualized dancers makes this one of his most important works.
As befits a painting made for a discriminating connoisseur, the peasants show none of the loutish behavior often present in paintings of the lower classes. Instead, it conforms to the idealistic perception at the time that country life was noble and poor people were joyous and carefree.
VMFAEU_100530_0529.JPG: Jan Brueghel the Elder
Extensive Landscape with View of the castle or Mariemont, 1609-11
The castle in the background of this painting is Mariemont, a hunting lodge -- now destroyed -- in the Southern Netherlands that belonged to Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella of Austria. Brueghel painted Mariemont several times. Here he shows Archduke Albert surveying the castle from a low hill. He holds a telescope, a newly invented scientific instrument introduced in 1609, which enables us to easily date the painting.
The panoramic landscape conforms to the color scheme used by many Flemish landscape painters at that time: darker tones for the foreground, bright greens for the middle distance, and blues for the background. The abundant detail here is also typical of Brueghel's work; note the birds and animals nestled in the foliage of the foreground. They serve to illustrate the charmingly rustic world of Mariemont as well as demonstrate the skill and accuracy of the artist.
VMFAEU_100530_0551.JPG: Alexander Keirincx
Landscape with Cephalus and Procris, ca 1620
This beautifully preserved painting with its brilliant colors, fantastic tangles of trees, and mythological figures shows the exotic, imaginary character of many Flemish landscapes of the early 1600s.
The tragic story of Cephalus and Procris comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Procris gave her new husband, Cephalus, a splendid spear and hunting dogs. Unjustly suspecting him of being unfaithful, she followed him through the woods. He mistook her for an animal in the brush and killed her with the spear. Here Keirincx shows the moment when Procris gives Cephalus the fateful spear. The story ends happily, though, when Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, takes pity on her subjects, restores Procris to life, and reunites her with her husband.
VMFAEU_100530_0576.JPG: European Art -- The Visible World Landscape & Still Life in 17th-Century Northern Europe:
In the 17th century types of painting that had been considered "minor" in comparison to large-scale religious, historical, and mythological scenes gained in prominence and popularity. Landscape, still life, portraiture, and representations of everyday life became important in the Netherlands -- especially in the Protestant northern Netherlands (sometimes now called "Holland" after its largest province) but also in the Catholic southern Netherlands (the present-day Benelux countries). Though we now usually think of these countries as separated by great religious and political differences, the situation was somewhat more complex, and styles as well as individuals crossed these boundaries with frequency.
Netherlandish art was always highly prized for its lifelike qualities and special attention to observed nature. Earlier artists such as Jan van Eyck and Pieter Breughel inspired this novel way of seeing. Soon after, landscape and still lifes became independent subjects and were no longer relegated to the background or seen as details. Some art historians argue that these subjects contain hidden meanings in the form of symbols (a certain flower representing purity, for example), while others maintain that they are simply celebrations of nature newly seen and observed. Whichever view one takes, the courage with which these northern specialists faced the challenge of replicating reality is evident in every work.
VMFAEU_100530_0581.JPG: Jan Van Os
Still Life, 18th century
Jan Van Os was the last great painter of Dutch flower and fruit still lifes of the 17th century. From firsthand observation, he made watercolor studies of individual flowers and fruits. He then used the studies to paint imaginative combinations, placing together those plants that actually bloom or ripen in different seasons. Van Os was a master of light, color, and optical effects, as can be seen especially in the white carnations and the grapes.
VMFAEU_100530_0587.JPG: Cornelis Jacobsz Delff
Interior of a Kitchen, ca 1610
Game, vegetables, and large copper pots fill the foreground of this sumptuous kitchen scene, a specialty developed in Antwerp in the late 1500s. The well-dressed group enjoying a fancy meal in the background may convey the moral message found in the biblical parable of the prodigal son -- here in contemporary dress -- squandering his money. The cuts of meat may symbolize humanity's carnal nature, an association strengthened by the flirtatious servants in the foreground and the wealthier but equally profligate diners in the background.
Though symbolic moral elements are undoubtedly part of the picture's meaning, it was most likely painted for a wealthy household and must be understood in that context. Rich contemporary viewers were likely to have taken some delight in the foibles of both servants and diners, and some pride in the magnificent and mouth-watering abundance displayed in the lavish still-life foreground.
VMFAEU_100530_0611.JPG: Isaac Soreau
Still Life with Grapes, Flowers, and Berries in a Wanli Bowl, ca 1620
In religious paintings of the 1400s and 1500s, flowers, fruits, and other objects often held symbolic meaning. However, in the 1600s still lifes of flowers and fruits became a more secular and important kind of painting.
Viewers and patrons particularly valued the artist's skill in representing luxurious objects with beautiful textures and colors. Here, ripe raspberries sit in an expensive Chinese porcelain bowl; several tulips stand in a vase at right. The tulip was immensely popular in the early 1600s, and new varieties were often extremely expensive.
Two views now exist regarding the artist's hidden moral messages in this painting. The traditional view asserts that the fly (a symbol of death and decay), the butterfuly (a symbol of renewed life), and the grapes (a symbol of Christ's sacrifice) are reminders that worldly pleasures are fleeting while spiritual values endure.
The other view allows that while earlier symbolism might survive residually, most viewers at the time would have looked at the objects in the painting with appreciation for their beauty and the skill with which they have been rendered.
VMFAEU_100530_0622.JPG: Jan Davidsz de Heem
Still Life, ca 1640-50
Elaborate still lifes featuring luxurious and exotic objects from around the world became popular after 1640. This generation of prosperous Dutch citizens looked at worldly goods less suspiciously than their parents had -- they enjoyed wealth and sophistication represented by expensive imports such as the African gray patriot shown here. Antwerp, where de Heem moved in 1636, was the most active market for such paintings; its citizens had never been as strict as their Calvinist neighbors.
A watch in a beautifully detailed golden case (lower right), its key attached by a blue ribbon, accompanies the lobster, parrot, and expensive vessels. However, watches in paintings were often reminders that worldly pleasures were fleeting and best enjoyed in moderation. Thus, despite its opulence, this painting still hints at an ambivalence toward wealth characteristic of the Protestant north.
VMFAEU_100530_0629.JPG: John Michael Wright
Randolph the John Corbet, Sons of Sir John Corbet, ca 1685
These two young men were the sons of Sir John Corbet, third baroner of Stoke and Adderley, who was a prominent Shropshire landowner in England's West Midlands. They are shown playing bowls in an elaborate, thought likely imaginary, 17th-century garden complete with statuary.
Compare these carefree aristocratic boys with the dutiful six-year-old in Ludolf de Jongh's A Young Boy, also on view in this gallery.
VMFAEU_100530_0639.JPG: Bartholomeus Van Der Helst
A Gentleman, 1650
Van der Helst moved to Amsterdam from his native Harlem at an early age and became one of the city's most popular and successful portrait painters. His portrait style during and after the 1640s featured careful attention detail perfectly controlled brushwork, and clear, even lighting. Van der Helst's neat, elegant style perfectly matched his wealthy Amsterdam clients' ideas of themselves.
At the time, van der Helst was seen by his customers as a viable alternative to Rembrandt -- which most likely contributed to his great success -- because Rembrandt often painted his sitters very realistically, sometimes with surprisingly devastating results.
VMFAEU_100530_0647.JPG: Ludolf de Jongh
A Young Boy, 1661
Because the Dutch believed that the values a person learned in childhood determined his ability to contribute to society in adulthood, they considered disciplined [sic] of the utmost importance.
This beautifully dressed little boy was trained his dog to sit up. The trained dog, then a well-known symbol of discipline, implies that the boy is himself also well disciplined. The rose at his feet makes this more explicit; just as a carefully tended rosebush results in beautiful flowers (left rear), a carefully tended child grows into a productive adult.
The style of the dress and the man's hat resting nearby identify the child as male. Boys commonly wore dresses in their early years. The inscription also tells us that the child is a six-year-old boy.
VMFAEU_100530_0655.JPG: Circle of Rembrandt van Rijn
Portrait of a Young Woman, ca 1630-40
Though scholars have attributed this painting to Rembrandt it is in all probability by a member of his immediate circle. A bust-length study of a young woman in fanciful dress is fanciful dress is typical of Rembrandt's work at this time. It is even likely that she is meant to represent his sister Lijsbeth.
Rather paradoxically, Rembrandt's students and followers often copied or emulated paintings he had done of his family and close circle. Even more surprisingly, Rembrandt himself often touched up their work. As a result, the students achieved their master's results -- the close study of intimately known people -- but ignored the methods he used to reach them. Many of these workshop paintings carry Rembrandt's "signature," as seen here, most likely added later to increase their value.
VMFAEU_100530_0666.JPG: Anthony Van Dyck
Portrait of a Woman, 1636-37
VMFAEU_100530_0678.JPG: European Art -- Society Depicted: Portraiture & Genre Painting in 17th-Century Northern Europe:
During the 17th century, artists in Holland and Belgium were engaged as never before in creating portraits and scenes of daily life (also called genre paintings). While artists such as Peter Paul Rubens or Rembrandt van Rijn sought to transcend everyday experience in their paintings, other artists used portraits and genre paintings to explore ideas about the society in which they were created. Developments in portraiture were spurred by the increasingly wealthy and powerful mercantile classes as well as the aristocracy, who sought images that both captured a faithful likeness and expressed something of the sitter's character. The most successful portrait artists, such as Gerald Ter Borch, were those who exploited all aspects of the portrait -- gesture, expression, and setting -- to capture those ideals that best characterized the behavior and manners of the sitter in a positive way. Such paintings go beyond simply recording appearance to present individuals as embodiments of the collective values of the society to which they belonged.
In genre scenes, which depicted anonymous characters, artists used allegory rather than the example of a known sitter to represent the values that governed public life. For example, Jan Miense Molenaer's masterpiece of allegorical painting employs complex imagery and symbolism to transform a simple scene of a musical group into an intricate illustration of the harmony of marriage. Images of the contemporary world were vital tools in navigating the social fabric of Baroque Europe. As we consider such paintings from a modern perspective, our delight comes not only from their artistic mastery but also from the glimpses they offer of the society that produced them.
VMFAEU_100530_0685.JPG: Circle of Frans Hals
The Violin Player, ca 1630s
Frans Hals's very distinctive style of painting -- characterized by broad brushstrokes, a monochrome palette, and the direct presentation of the subject -- attracted many followers. One of these was the famous female artist Judith Leyster who was active in Hals's circle and followed his style very closely. It is to her that many scholars have attributed this painting.
The artist's foregrounding of the subject challenges us to "hear" the violin as much as observe the player -- perhaps as an allegory of the sense of hearing or the art of music.
It is worth noting that Leyster was married to the painter Jan Molenaer, whose Allegory of Marital Fidelity is exhibited at left. Because both works represent music and contains allegorical elements it is worth comparing them: The Violin Player is slightly more up to date for its time in its monochrome palette and cropped composition, whereas Molenaer's colorful, crowded painting is slightly reminiscent of the earlier tradition of Mannerism.
VMFAEU_100530_0695.JPG: Jan Miense Molenaer
Allegory of Marital Fidelity, 1633
This painting, once thought to portray a simple musical gathering, is now considered a complex allegory about successful marriage. The man pouring the wine so precisely acts out the virtue of temperance of moderation. The musicians, keeping time to the music they make, represent harmony. Their restraint contrasts with the unrestrained peasants at left, who brawl with murderous results.
The fashionably dressed couple, far right, are probably newlyweds. Their dog, a familiar symbol of fidelity, guards them. The painting commemorates the couple's mutual pledge to pursue domestic peace and harmony and to control their baser natures, possibly symbolized by the chained monkey.
VMFAEU_100530_0717.JPG: Gerard Ter Borch
A Dutch Gentleman, ca 1640
A Dutch Lady, ca 1640
Gerald Ter Borch specialized in domestic interiors and in small, apparently simple, yet sophisticated portraits of well-to-do clients. He painted these portraits of an unidentified husband and wife on expensive sheets of copper; the metal's smooth surface allowed artists to paint with meticulous detail.
The figures stand before empty, neutral backgrounds; the irregular outlines of their hats, ruffs, and outfits enliven the paintings. Ter Borch's subtle characterization of the sitters also adds interest and variety. The man stands resolutely, cocking his head and pressing one arm behind his back. The woman turns sideways. The wide drape of her garments and her demure stance contrast with her husband's more active figure, conveying distinct ideals of manner and behavior considered them to be appropriate for each gender.
VMFAEU_100530_0741.JPG: Thomas de Keyser
A Gentleman, 1631
This portrait shows de Keyser's technical mastery; his rendering of the beautifully patterned black garments and bleached lace that prosperous Dutch burghers wore in the early 1600s is particularly striking.
This unidentified man stands before an idealized setting consisting of drapery, a classical column, and a landscape, a format taken from aristocratic portraits of the time. Similar devices appear in formal portraits by Anthony van Dyck and John Michael Wright also in this gallery. This attractive but very artificial style of highly finished, optically rendered textures and cliched settings was soon challenged by an emphasis on the psychology of the sitter, especially in the portraits by Rembrandt.
VMFAEU_100530_0746.JPG: Anthony Van Dyck
Portrait of a Woman, 1636-37
VMFAEU_100530_0755.JPG: European Art -- Society Divided: Religion & Art in 17th-Century Northern Europe:
Before the 16th century, Christians in northern Europe were united in their belief that images were useful for devotion and the papacy was the seat of religious authority. But these two major beliefs were challenged by Reformation theologists such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, and civil wars eventually separated the Protestant north from the Catholic south. In 1579, the Protestant northern Netherlands (what we sometimes call Holland) declared their political and religious independence from Spain, which separated them from the Catholic south and led to the traumatic division of a country once united by culture and language.
One consequence of this division was a change in attitude toward the function of images. Whereas earlier European art was sometimes marked by differences of style and emphasis, religious images were now not only used in different ways, but made in different ways. Some northern artists like Hendrick van Loon and Matthias Stomer went to Italy, where they could continue to make religious altarpieces and seek commissions. Dutch artists active in Rome mostly chose to follow the naturalistic style of Caravaggio. In the Catholic southern Netherlands, where they were influenced by Counter-Reformation theology, Flemish artists such as Jan Breughel the Elder, Jacob Jardaens, and Peter Paul Rubens particularly served as a kind of official Counter-Reformation artist to the many Catholic courts of Baroque Europe.
In the northern Netherlands, the situation was even more complex. Although images for worship were prohibited, artists such as Pieter Lastman continued to produce them, if only for private devotion. Other Dutch artists sought to present moral messages overtly or covertly through their works by means of other subjects, even, some argue, with still lifes or genre painting. Many turned to the Old Testament for stories with moral meanings, as in the poignant Jan Steen in this gallery. The stark interior of the Dutch church by Anthonic Delorme tells the story very well -- it is not a religious image but an image for religion itself.
VMFAEU_100530_0761.JPG: Cornelis Cornelisz Van Haarlem
Heraclitus and Democritus, 1617
Thought not a religious scene, this painting conveys a moral message in the guise of two ancient thinkers who had opposite attitudes to life. Democritus (right) was known as "the laughing philosopher" because he found amusement in the folly of the world. Heraclitus, on the other hand, was melancholic and represented the dark side of human nature. Democritus gestures optimistically toward the terrestrial globe, and Heraclitus looks suitably pessimistic.
It is worth comparing the formal language and expression Cornelis employs for these secular figures with those employed by Jacob Jordaens in his adjacent paintings of Saints Jerome and Paul.
VMFAEU_100530_0775.JPG: Matthias Stom (also called Stomer)
The Mocking of Christ, early 17th century
Matthias Stom was one of Italian painter Caravaggio's most faithful followers, despite the fact that Stom probably did not known him personally before coming to Italy sometime before 1630. Caravaggio was known for his many innovations that transformed the art of his time, including a preference for half-length formats that bring the subject closer to the viewer, and also for setting subjects at night. Both of these stylistic traits are evident in this painting, presenting with heightened drama a scene from Christ's last days.
VMFAEU_100530_0786.JPG: Jacob Jordaens
St. Jerome, 1620-30
St. Jerome, who lived in Dalmatia, is one of the four Latin (Western) Fathers of the Catholic Church. A man of great intellect and fiery passion, he spent four years in the Syrian desert as a hermit. While there, he studied Hebrew and struggled to overcome his physical desires. He often appears as a penitent. Here, disheveled and partly naked, he contemplates a skull, a symbol of human mortality.
VMFAEU_100530_0795.JPG: Jacob Jordaens
St. Paul, 1620-30
Starting in the early 1620s, Jordaens painted a number of saints in a half-length format, probably for sale singly or in pairs for use in small chapels and private devotion. The practice of using paintings as devotional aids was still used in the Catholic Southern Netherlands though they had been abandoned in the Protestant North.
Saul of Tarsus, of diligent persecutor of Christians, underwent a spectacular conversion, changed his name to Paul, and became a Christian missionary to the Gentiles. The symbols that identify him here are the sword with which he was executed and a book, which stands for his leaning and his authorship of the Epistles.
VMFAEU_100530_0804.JPG: Jan Brueghel the Younger
Virgin, Child and St. Anne with Garland, 1625-30
Jan Brueghel the Younger painted the landscape and large garland in this devotional picture; a second artist added the figures. In the 1500s and 1600s, artists with different specialties often collaborated on paintings, each attempting to best the other.
Here, the formal device of the garland is enlivened with the help of energetic and diligent cherubs; they bring the garland to earth and encircle Christ, the Virgin, and Mary's mother, St. Anne, and then carry it to heaven as seen in the upper left.
VMFAEU_100530_0815.JPG: Pieter Lastman
The Crucifixion, ca 1628
Lastman was a Roman Catholic in predominantly Protestant Holland. Based in Amsterdam, he taught both Jan Lievens and Rembrandt. Lastman traveled in Italy between 1602 and 1607 and brought back to the Northern Netherlands the new style of dramatic lighting and stark realism initiated by Caravaggio.
Lastman became an influential painter of figurative scenes based on biblical themes and ancient history. This moving depiction of the Crucifixion was probably made for a Catholic patron's private devotion. Though unofficial tolerated by the Protestants, mostly those in the sophisticated mercantile city of Amsterdam, prudent Catholics worshipped in either their own homes or in secret chapels.
VMFAEU_100530_0832.JPG: Denys Van Alsloot
The Flight into Egypt, 17th century
Flemish landscapes of the late 1500s and early 1600s were often used as vehicles for representing grander religious or mythological themes. Here, the Holy Family (Joseph, the Virgin, and the Christ Child) escapes to Egypt to avoid the Massacre of the Innocents (King Herod's attempt to kill the Messiah by slaughtering all male children under the age of two).
This painting continues the 16th-century tradition of representing religious subjects in settings that reflect local and Northern European surroundings rather than topographically and historically "correct" Middle Eastern landscapes. Eventually, many landscape artists would abandon such narrative subjects altogether in favor of a more naturalistic approach to both style and subject matter.
VMFAEU_100530_0843.JPG: Jan Steen
The Letter, ca 1660-70
Although Jan Steen is best known for comic portrayals of the Dutch society of his day, he also painted religious and allegorical themes. His works seem to reflect contemporary life even when the painting's subject is from the past. Thus, this apparently mundane picture of a woman reading a letter in a servant's presence actually depicts the Old Testament heroine Bathsheba poring over King David's letter of deceit. Steen is teaching the lesson that even great men such as David are not free from evil, and he poignantly illustrates it from the perspective of the woman his actions affected.
VMFAEU_100530_0854.JPG: Anthonie de Lorme
Interior of the Church of St. Laurens in Rotterdam, ca 1657
Paintings of church interiors were popular in the Northern Netherlands as they made an important statement about a major difference in religious practices between the northern and southern regions. While Catholics in the Southern Netherlands commissioned paintings to decorate their churches, Calvinists in the north did not because the use of paintings for devotion was considered idolatrous. Shields and banners representing the devoted parishioners punctuated the whitewashed walls of their churches instead.
Church interior paintings often include dogs. A common sight in churches at the time, it is likely that they convey a moral message that humans, unlike the dog relieving himself against the church wall (left), should respect the church and the promise of salvation for which it is the vehicle. Though church interior paintings do not represent a specific religious subject to be used for devotion, they no doubt inspired religious contemplation and reminded viewers of the importance and beauty of such holy places.
VMFAEU_100530_0885.JPG: Theodore Van Loon
The Birth of the Virgin, ca 1630
Theodore van Loon was born in Catholic Brussels and twice visited Italy. There, religious orthodoxy was balanced by a lively artistic scene and competition for commissions to decorate the many churches being constructed by the papacy and new religious orders dedicated to combating the Protestant Reformation. In style, van Loon's large-scale religious paintings were influenced by the exuberant example of his Flemish compatriot Peter Paul Rubens and also by the dramatic realism and bold figures of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, both of whom had a strong influence in the Northern and Southern Netherlands.
Van Loon painted a number of series detailing the life of the Virgin for churches in present-day Belgium, but our painting and its pendant, the Adoration of the Shepherds (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), may well have been painted in Italy. The down-to-earth style depicts Christian subjects in humble settings that reflect a contemporary effort to speak directly to the largest possible audience. Previously, Mannerist artists outdid themselves in representing such subjects in palatial settings that reflected lavish contemporary architecture. These painters also often chose obscure subjects that they vied to represent as subtly as possible, though the results often flabbergasted and annoyed critics who yearned for a more unaffected style of painting. Van Loon's altarpiece can be seen as a successful and moving answer to this cry for sincerity and honesty.
VMFAEU_100530_0901.JPG: Pieter Van Hoven
Torah Finial, 1705
The Old Testament's injunction against graven images meant that images were not used for worship by Jewish people. Nevertheless, in 17th-century Amsterdam where Judaism was tolerated, the decorative arts flourished, as seen in these Baroque-style Torah finials. These would have made a joyous sound as the Torah scroll was carried through the synagogue.
VMFAEU_100530_0924.JPG: Francois-Xavier Fabre
The Judgment of Paris, 1807-08
In this painting, the artist depicts an ancient story that, while seemingly benign, eventually resulted in one of the greatest conflicts of the ancient world: the Trojan War. Zeus sent Hermes to ask the Trojan prince Paris to decide which of three goddesses -- Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite -- was the most beautiful. As bribes, Athena offered Paris wisdom; Hera offered him wealth and power. The prince gave the prize to Aphrodite, however, who had promised him the love of any woman he desired. He chose Helen, wife of King Menclaus of Sparta, a decision that led to war between Greece and Ilium (Troy). Fabre shows Paris making his unwise choice, while the three goddesses, each representing a different type of female beauty, pose before him as if in a beauty pageant.
Following the Neoclassical precepts for history painting established by his teacher, Jacques-Louis David, Fabre based his composition on a design by Raphael, who was considered to be the ideal artist of the High Renaissance. Fabre also faithfully used ancient Roman copies of Greek sculptures as models for Venus (Aphrodite) and Minerva (Athena) -- the Medici Venus from Florence and the Minerva Giustiniani from a 17th century Roman collection. In his fidelity to both antique and Renaissance sculptural and painted prototypes, Fabre followed contemporary dictates for history painting.
VMFAEU_100530_0941.JPG: Carle Van Loo
A Pasha Having His Mistress's Portrait Painted, 1737
Fanciful paintings of exotic Turkish scenes became popular in the 1700s as turquerie, the taste for imaginative renditions of Eastern decoration and dress, spread across Europe. In this painting, an artist is shown at work portraying the favorite member of a pasha's harem. The artist in the painting is probably meant to suggest Carle van Loo himself, and the subject of his portrait is traditionally understood as a compliment by the artist to his beautiful young wife. To suggest his own status as a painter, van Loo has improbably decorated his "Turkish" artist's studio with several large European-style paintings, and has included several students, at left, observing the master at work. The painting was first exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1737 with a companion painting, A Pasha Giving His Mistress a Concert (now in the Wallace Collection in London).
VMFAEU_100530_0951.JPG: Jean-Antoine Watteau
The Gazer (Le Lorgneur), ca 1716
Jean-Antoine Watteau created a revolution in art at the beginning of the 18th century with the kind of inventive depiction of modern life seen in this small painting. In both his choice of subjects and his very sophisticated and artificial style, Watteau seemed to challenge centuries-old beliefs that for art to be effective it needed to represent "important" subjects (religion, history, or literature) in a suitably lofty style. Instead, Watteau explored the nuances and complexities of the lives of ordinary (albeit aristocratic and charming) people of his day. He focused on small sentimental moments in the existence of his subjects, rendering them in a manner that was intimate and gentle. For many, Watteau was the inventor of a way of both observing contemporary life and painting it with soft brushstrokes and light colors that presaged the achievement of the Impressionists over a century later.
VMFAEU_100530_0961.JPG: Francisco Goya
General Nicolas Philippe Guye, 1810
Nicolas Philippe Guye, a French general during the Napoleonic Wars, received a hand wound at the Battle of Austerlitz and subsequently became aide-de-camp to Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother. (Joseph was king of Naples and, later, King Joseph I of Spain.)
As a member of the French army occupying Spain, Guye was governor of Seville when Francisco Goya painted his portrait in 1810; King Joseph had just made him marquis of Rio-Milanos as well. Guye wears the orders of his successful career; Member of the Legion of Honor, Commander of the Two Sicilies, and Commander of Joseph's Royal Order of Spain. Guye was one of Goya's loyal patrons. ...
Here Guye appears a figure of state in all his dignity as well as a sympathetic human being, despite his being an enemy general. Some scholars think Goya was sympathetic to the French invaders, and may have considered them heroes for liberating Spain from the Inquisition, which they abolished. Goya later went into exile in France and he died in the city of Bordeaux.
VMFAEU_100530_0972.JPG: Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo
The Ascension of Christ, ca 1745-50
For many years the work of Giovanni Domenico (or Giandomenico) Tiepolo was considered by most of pale substitute for his more famous father, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (or Gianbattista). A master of large-scale frescoes as well as illusionistic effects, Gianbarrista was praised throughout Europe for the pomp and glory with which he decorated great courts. After helping Gianbattista on many projects, Giandomenico was able to continue some of his father's work after his death. In his own right, Giandomenico was a distinctive master of color, brushwork, and nuance, elements that are apparent in this vivid painting of a truly glorious subject.
VMFAEU_100530_0986.JPG: Louis-Leopold Boilly
The Electric Spark, ca 1791
Louis-Leopold Boilly's fame rests on a series of small-scale scenes of Parisian life. Painted with meticulous detail and an enamel-finish, they are sometimes, as here, imbued with a slightly erotic flavor.
In this allegory to courtship, Boilly combines with great originality both the alchemists' search for the elixir of life and the newly invented electric generator. The latter has been connected to a statue of Cupid, whose arrow the girl touches with some trepidation. The shock she is about to receive will complete Cupid's mission. In this slyly humorous caprice, Boilly reveals the Romantic era's fascination with scientific phenomena.
VMFAEU_100530_0997.JPG: Noel-Nicolas Coypel
The Rape of Europa, 1722
Noel-Nicolas came from a family of artists that included his father, Noel Coypel and his older half-brother, Antoine Coypel. The younger Coypel was made a full member of the French Academy of Painting in 1720 and had an active career creating mythological and historical pictures, often as part of interior decorative schemes. Thought they are now painted over, small traces of spandrels at the corners of this canvas suggest that it was original used for this purpose.
In this witty and ironic painting, Coypel illustrates a famous story from antiquity told by Ovid in the Metamorphoses. Having fallen in love with Europa, daughter of the King of Type, Jupiter disguised himself as a white bull to entice her onto his back so he could carry her off and seduce her. However, as irreverently painted by Coypel, the story lacks any of redeeming moralizing that artists traditionally employed to gloss over such ultimately erotic tales. Instead, he humorously contrasts the maiden's lack of sophistication with the ridiculous lengths used by the most powerful (as well as lustful and petty) of the ancient gods to carry out his plan.
The Young Artist (Le Jeune Artiste), ca 1760s
VMFAEU_100530_1027.JPG: European Art -- An Age of Contrasts: The Eighteenth Century:
The 18th century, known as the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment, also saw the acknowledgement if not the discovery of the irrational, the latter clearly evident in the works of William Blake and Francisco Goya. This was a century of dramatic and sometimes violent change in which institutions of every kind were questions, including religion. In government, the century began under absolute rule and ended with revolutions in the American colonies and in France. In science, Sir Isaac Newton and his followers discovered natural laws that would make the technologies of industrialism possible. At the same time as these scientific discoveries determined the court of human history, philosophers like Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau extolled of the individual, and David Hume and Immanuel Kant explored the inner workings of the mind. Consequent to these new understandings of human nature, women and children took a new place in society and new attitudes toward love emerged. An explosion of travel and exploration brought tourists and scientists in contact with amazing natural phenomena as well as foreign (including colonized) peoples -- thought these were often exploited through slavery. In sum, this was an age in which people related to themselves, to each other, to institutions such as state and church, and to nature itself in new and exciting ways, raising issues that are still a matter of great debate even today.
VMFAEU_100530_1030.JPG: Thomas Gainsborough
The Charleton Children (also know as Showing the Way), ca 1770
VMFAEU_100530_1055.JPG: Francesco Guardi
Piazza San Mareo, between 1775-85
Two artists dominated the Venetian specialty of cityscapes in the 18th century. The first, Antonio Canaletto, was known for his adherence to the principles of scientific perspective. His exact views of the spectacular signs of this unusual city constructed on water won his European fame and patronage. His rival Francesco Guardi was very different. He painted for a mainly local clientele depicting not only great public buildings as shown here, but also gloomy and mysterious backwaters. Though Guardi may have studied with Canaletto, his disdained precision in favor of fantasy.
The fanciful aspect of Guardi's work is perfectly exemplified by this glistening and seductive vision of the Piazza San Marco, the public square dominated by the Doge's Palace and government officers as well as the Basilica di San Marco, so called because it housed bones reputed to be those of St. Mark. Because of both its size and symbolic importance, Guardi should logically have depicted this church as if much closer to the viewer. However, he has exaggerated the depth of the piazza, and perversely covered most of its elongated pavement with a huge shadow falling from the building at left.
The attractive and finely dressed citizens strolling in the square are all shown as different scales, and the whole glorious ensemble seems but a footnote to the silvery Venetian sky, which takes up most of the painting's upper half. What a delicious riposte to what Guardi must have considered an earthbound tradition of depicting reality -- why paint just what see when the imagination offers so much more food for creative fancy?
VMFAEU_100530_1064.JPG: Hubert Robert
The Finding of the Laocoon, 1773
The ancient sculpture known as the Laocoon is one of the most famous antiquities in existence. It was unearthed in 1506 in a vineyard that had been planted over the ruins of Nero's Golden House in Rome; the excavation was attended by the young Michelangelo, who immediately recognized it as the famous lost work.
Hubert Robert, however, has placed the event in an immense imaginary vaulted ruin. Robert created this elaborate allegory on art and collecting for the Comte de Vaudreuil, a great collector whose portrait by Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun is also in the museum's collection and can be seen nearby.
VMFAEU_100530_1097.JPG: Alessandro Magnasco
The Quaker Meeting, ca 1712
Flickering lights on a dark background and a virtuoso freedom of brushwork mark Alessandro Magnasco's style. Many of his paintings reflect an interest in bizarre or fantastic subjects, which are also difficult to identify precisely.
Magnasco was very interested in the seemingly stranger rituals of many ancient and modern sects. In this painting, he sought to render his imprecise notion of Quakerism, a Christian denomination that developed in England in the 17th century and was sometimes regarded as a curiosity because of its untraditional rituals. Here, Magnasco shows a preacher on a platform before a broken obelisk delivering a passionate sermon inside a mysterious round building. He has obviously moved the congregation greatly -- one penitent has torn off his clothing and weeps into his hands. However unsuccessful this painting is as a true representation of Quaker practices, it does reflect an interest in the history and variety of religious beliefs and practices on the part of contemporary Enlightenment theologians, historians, and philosophers.
VMFAEU_100530_1112.JPG: Pierre-Jacques Volaire
Eruption of Vesuvius, ca 1780
The volcano Vesuvius, which destroyed the ancient cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii in AD 79, was active throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and excited intense interest among travelers because of its unique combination of scientific and historic associations. Artists from all over Europe, representing different aesthetic approaches, also traveled to southern Italy to observe and paint Vesuvius. Some of them recorded the eruptions to illustrate the new science of geology, some emphasized the awesome and terrifying powers of nature they represented, and some simply painted the volcano's picturesque aspects.
Pierre-Jacques Volaire settled in Naples, not far from Vesuvius, where he became famous for his "sublime" depictions of the volcano. In this painting, the power of Vesuvius with its fiery lava and exploding gases dwarfs the figures watching in the foreground. Volaire not only painted a volcano, but also humanity's encounter with this majestic and mysterious spectacle of nature.
VMFAEU_100530_1128.JPG: Elisabeth-Louise Bigee-Lebrun
Portrait of the Comte de Vaudreuil, 1784
The Comte de Vaudreuil was a wealthy French aristocrat who owned plantations in the Caribbean. He was influential at the court of King Louis XVI, securing positions for his family and friends, among whom was the artist Elizabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun. Although the Comte de Vaudreuil was a worldly and ambitious man, Vigee-Lebrun described him in her memoirs as natural, unaffected, and immune to the pretentious artificiality of the court. A noted art collector, he once also owned VMFA's The Finding of the Laocoon by Hubert Robert.
Vigee-Lebrun, daughter of a Parisian pastelist, was a successful portrait painter from the age of 15. In 1779, she was commissioned to paint Marie Antoinette's portrait; she quickly became the Queen's favorite artist. Like the Comte de Vaudreuil, Vigee-Lebrun fled France at the beginning of the Revolution, but was later invited to return, which she did briefly in 1802 and permanently in 1810.
VMFAEU_100530_1138.JPG: Joseph Wright of Derby, ARA
An Idealized View of Vesuvius from Posillipo, with Ruins and a Tower, Seen by Moonlight, ca 1788
Joseph Wright of Derby made his reputation with a series of dramatically lit night scenes. He encountered Vesuvius for the first time in 1774/75 and painted a number of views of the volcano thereafter. Wright's night effects and contrasts of warm and cool colors are comparable to those seen in works by his French contemporaries Claude-Joseph Verner and Pierre-Jacques Volaire in the museum's collection. Wright would have seen their work while he was in Italy, and it is possible that they influenced one another. However, Wright of Derby's modest and quiet painting represents quite a different approach from the emphasis on spectacular effects sought by his colleagues.
VMFAEU_100530_1148.JPG: Jean-Honore Fragonard
Landscape with Washerwoman, ca 1765
Dutch art was held in low esteem by academic painters because of its reputation for representing nature as seen rather than as ideally imagined by the artist. Jean-Honore Fragonard, however, greatly admired the 17th-century Dutch artists, especially Jan Wijnants and Jacob van Ruisdael. This charming landscape shows Ruisdael's influence in the billowing clouds, which are accented by Fragonard's spirited brushwork. In departing from the pretty but artificial conventions of contemporary landscapes, Fragonard provided an example of his desire to master many different styles of painting.
VMFAEU_100530_1170.JPG: Giovanni Battista Pittoni
The Banquet of Antony and Cleopatra, ca 1720s
The Roman historian Pliny the Elder told the story of the competition between Antony and Cleopatra to see who could give the most expensive feast. Cleopatra won when she dissolved one of her fabulous pearl earrings in wine and drank it down. The man in the background, Lucius Plancus, called Enobarbus (red-bearded), was the umpire of the wager; he stopped Cleopatra from dissolving the second pearl earring. Pliny considered this story an example of wasteful decadence, but 18th-century artists and their patrons ignored the moral implications and instead enjoyed such subjects as examples of fabulous opulence and ex...
VMFAEU_100530_1187.JPG: Claude Joseph Vernet
Moonlight Scene, 1760
Claude Joseph Vernet's dramatic scenes of shipwrecks and picturesque harbor scenes are forerunners of the Romantic landscape painters in their emphasis on extremes of lighting and the awesome effects of nature. Vernet's paintings later influenced Romantic artists who built upon Vernet's slightly theatrical approach to convey great emotional power and to represent nature in all its majesty and variety.
VMFAEU_100530_1197.JPG: Giovanni Paolo Panini
The Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, 1736
Giovanni Paolo Panini, a professor at the French Academy in Rome, was a distinguished painter of views of ancient and modern Italian monuments not only as situated but also rearranged according to his imagination. Both types of scenes were popular souvenirs among aristocratic tourists, and the latter, known as capricci, or fantasies, were especially prized for their combination of realism and invention. This picturesque view of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine is one of a group of about 20 such fantastic views.
In this capriccio, Panini has also included the first-century BC pyramid tomb of Gaius Cestius in the distance (it is actually located in another section of Rome). He has also placed several well-known ancient works of art in the foreground. These included the Borghese Warrior, a statue of a gladiator named for the collection to which it belonged at the time; the Dying Gaul, from the capitoline Museum in Rome: and a fragment of an ancient mosaic discovered in Rome in the 17th century and now in Madrid.
VMFAEU_100530_1205.JPG: Noel Halle
Antiochus Falling from His Chariot, ca 1738
According to the book of Maccabees, the Syrian king Antiochus set out to storm Jerusalem, ordering his charioteer to "drive without ceasing." During the journey, the king suddenly became ill and fell from his chariot -- a turn of events interpreted as an act of divine vengeance.
In this painting, soldiers support the fallen king. The diagonal gestures, sketchy faces, robust highlights, and smooth passages of color give an impression of swift action.
Noel Halle came from a family of history painters. This picture is his earliest known work, painted during his first years at the French Academy in Rome. It was originally one of a pair; the other, now in a private collection in France, is entitled Antiochus after the Fall, Dictating His Will. The painting's virile subject matter and its solid, relieflife style represent an important alternative to the dominant Rococo style of the time and anticipate the reforms of the Neoclassical Movement later in the century.
VMFAEU_100530_1216.JPG: Angelica Kauffmann
Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, Pointing to Her Children as Her Treasures, 1785
According to an anecdote by Valerius Maximus, the Roman heroine Cornelia, widow of Titus Sempronius Grocchus, was asked to display her most beautiful treasures. Pointing to her sons and daughter she said simply, "These are my most precious jewels." The subject became popular during the Neoclassical period because Cornelia seemed to embody 18th-century virtues of feminine modesty, matronly honor, and tasteful simplicity.
Angelica Kauffmann painted this picture in Naples during the summer and autumn of 1785 for her English patron George Bowles. She has arranged the figures in a friezelike composition within austere classical architecture, which was the Neoclassical style of history painters of her time. To these elements, however, she has added her own ingredient such as rich color, warm light, and a touch of grace, delicacy, and feeling. An example of the latter is the touching differentiation of the three children. While the sons indicate their differentiation of the three children. While the sons indicate their preparation for public life -- one carries books, the other a scroll -- the young girl delights in pulling jewels from a casket. Kauffmann leaves us to ponder whether she will grow up to follow her mother's dignified example and rhetorical finesse. Such virtues seem to be similarly exemplified by Kauffmann's austere and subtle style.
Kauffmann's successful portraits and use of classical subjects made her one of the first women artists to enter the ranks of academic history painters. The daughter of an Austrian painter, she was born in Switzerland and studied art in Italy. At the Royal Academy in London, she associated with Sir Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West, the foremost painters of her day, whose works are also represented in the museum's collection.
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