a painting in the louvre

Selected works from The Louvre: All the Paintings

Month: April, 2013

The Wonders of Context

20717_PIE015_00327820_p0003559_001Entry 10, April 27, 2013

I had a chance to look at the works of four painters this week because I finished the blog post on Marco Marziale’s two-sided painting on Monday, April 22nd, but I spent most of my time experimenting with the resource I discovered while writing about Marziale, the photographs of the Louvre galleries available on the Louvre’s website. Although the Louvre book’s chronological arrangement put the four painters—Domenico Fiasella (1589-1669), Domenico Fetti (1588-1623), Francesco Gessi (1588-1649), and Bartolomeo Cavarozzi (ca. 1590-1625)—next to each other, their works don’t appear side by side in the Louvre. According to the book, all of the paintings are in the museum’s Denon wing (the other two wings are Sully and Richelieu), but three of Fetti’s are identified as on floor 1 and in room 13, with the other in room 16. Fiasella’s painting is supposed to be in 13 also, Gessi’s in room 12, and Cavarozzi’s in room 15. These rooms are all devoted to 17th-century Italian works, but they are differentiated by place, with one devoted to painting from Genoa and Naples, another from Bologna and Roma, and so on. Until now, I haven’t commented on any artist’s associations with place, although the commentaries in the Louvre book often mention them. So much to learn, so much to write about.

My examination of the photographs this week began when I went looking for a better reproduction of The Young Violinist, also known as The Sorrow of Aminta (ca. 1600 and attributed to Cavarozzi) than was available in the Louvre book. My recent experience with Titian’s Madonna of the Rabbit, which is the subject of my seventh post, Down the Louvre Rabbit Hole, led me to skip the Louvre book’s DVD and go directly to the Louvre website. There I found a reproduction, the one that appears at the top of this entry, which I consider superior to the one in the Louvre book, in which a yellowish/brownish hue covers the whole of the painting. The reproduction from the website shows the vivid colors of the young woman’s clothing and the sensitive features of both the young woman and the young man sitting with her.

After looking at the reproduction, which was part of the Atlas Database entry on the painting, I decided to look at the accompanying photographic view, which I have also reproduced here. The Young Violinist is by far the largest of the eight paintings shown and is the second in the top tier of three paintings. This view is one of three provided by the Atlas Database. One of these other views also shows The Young Violinist, this time in the context of the room as a whole, showing both an opposite wall with eight paintings and a narrow wall linking them with one very large painting and four small ones arranged around it.

I was delighted when looking at the photograph to discover that I recognized the three paintings that hang to the right of The Young Violinist. Of the three, I was able to put a name to one at once: the portrait of Christ at the far right is Christ with Reed, also known as Ecce Homo (ca. 1639) by Guido Reni (1575-1642). I looked at Reni’s 12 paintings in the Louvre book on March 12th. I couldn’t put a name to the other two that looked familiar, but a little checking confirmed that I had seen them before and fairly recently. I was helped by another feature of the Louvre website: the photographs of galleries are accompanied by a list of the paintings shown. With this list and my own notes, I was able to confirm that I had looked at the two paintings that hang between The Young Violinist and Ecce Homo. The higher of the two is Landscape with Washerwomen and a Child Spilling Wine (ca.1604) by Domenichino (1581-1641), whose 12 paintings I looked at on March 29th , and the lower is Diana and Actaeon (ca. 1603) by Cavaliere D’Arpino (1568-1640). That left four paintings on the wall that I couldn’t identify. I thought that I recognized one of the two immediately under The Young Violinist, but I soon determined that I had not seen them before. They are both by Simone Cantarini (1612-1648), and both are entitled The Rest on the Flight to Egypt and dated to ca. 1635. It may be that my feeling of recognition comes from my examination of several other paintings on the same theme in the Louvre book. The other two are hard to see because of the angle, but I believe I can identify them as well; the higher of the two appears on the Atlas list for the room, and even at an angle I recognize the line of land against sky that appears in Landscape with St. Eustace (ca. 1620), a lovely picture by Giovanni Battista Viola (1572-1622). Although the other doesn’t appear on the list, I think I can put a name to it on the basis of the very distinctive slope of a tree at the right side of the painting. I think it’s Latona Turning the Lycian Peasants into Frogs (ca. 1595) by Pietro Paolo Bonzi (1576-1636).

Looking at the photographs has made me feel closer to being in the Louvre than anything I’ve done since I was actually there, right down to the occasional difficulties I encountered. At the same time, attempting to identify all the paintings surrounding The Young Violinist makes me think that, if it didn’t weigh so much, the Louvre book would be an ideal companion for a museum visit. It has served me well for testing those moments of déjà vu when looking at one painting reminds me of another I think I’ve seen, but where?

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On the Reverse, an Allegorical Landscape

28149_p0003814_005Entry 9, April 20, 2013: Last week I mentioned Daniele da Volterra and his painting, The Battle of David and Goliath, in connection with the two versions of The Triumph of David by Rosselli and Manfredi. Actually, da Volterra has two paintings of David and Goliath in the Louvre; both of them are of David and Goliath, and both of them are on the same piece of canvas. Da Volterra gives front and back views of David at the moment of decapitating the fallen Goliath, and he placed them on the two sides of the same canvas. Thinking about the painting/paintings made me consider writing about da Volterra this week, but ultimately it led me to another two-sided work that I found a mention of in the Louvre book. The curious thing about this two-sided painting, by Marco Marziale (active ca. 1492-1507), is that the two sides don’t appear in the Louvre book; there is only a reference in its title, Portrait of a Man, with an Allegorical Landscape on the Reverse (ca. 1500), to the fact that the canvas contains a second image. The image is not shown.

Although the reverse image does not appear on the Louvre book’s DVD, it was easy to find online; a reproduction is available on Wikipedia, for example. In addition, I eventually found it on the Louvre website; although the English language version of the website does not acknowledge the existence of Marco Marziale, the French language version does, and I found it there, along with some information about the painting on the reverse. This is what the Atlas Database comment says: “On ignore l’identité du modèle dont les armoiries figurent dans le paysage allégorique au revers du panneau. Il reste aujourd’hui très peu d’exemples de cette iconographie qui associe une allégorie complexe avec la représentation d’un blason.” Here’s my translation, along with my apologies: “The identity of the subject, whose coat of arts appears in an allegorical landscape on the reverse of the board, is unknown. The reverse image is one of very few examples of symbolism that associates a complex allegory with the representation of a coat of arms.”

The painting is an extraordinary combination of formal organization and rich diversity of pictorial elements. The coat of arms hangs on a small tree, in leaf, that is growing in an elaborate pot. The tree occupies the center of the painting, or very close to it, and the bilateral symmetry of the painting is emphasized by the positioning on either side of the tree and the coat of arts of a cherub, an angel pictured as a naked infant. This figure of an angel, which becomes a commonplace in Louvre paintings, has appeared very little in paintings previous to Marziale. The angelic companions of Virgin and Child in previous periods are depicted as sober-faced, fully dressed adult figures.

There are other elements that are presented symmetrically: a hoofed animal appears on both sides of the tree, in the middle ground of the painting, and in the foreground there are birds on both sides. But this formality is balanced with diversity, even in repeat elments. The birds and the hoofed animals on either side are of different sizes, and on the right side a large, graceful peacock appears, whereas on the left side there is a number of smaller birds. The landscape also contains a blend of repetition and variation. There are curving paths on either side of the tree, but their twists are not in parallel. The objects in the background are of roughly the same height, and a building on the left repeats very much the strong vertical of the mountain’s image that frames it from behind. But the background on the left is much more filled with details and objects than the righthand side, which is essentially an expanse of water beneath an expanse of sky.

I was curious about whether, if I were in the Louvre, I would be able to see the reverse. Was Marziale’s reverse, missing from the Louvre book, on display, or, perhaps, represented at least by a reproduction? I’m still not sure, although looking for the answer revealed a feature of the Louvre’s website I had not noticed before. Because of problems I had with the Louvre book’s DVD early in the project, I had given up finding online any information about how a particular painting is display in the Louvre. But after finding the Marziale Atlas Database entry, I tried clicking on the name of the room in which the painting is displayed, a piece of information always supplied with the painting, whether in Atlas or in the Louvre book, and what came up was a photo of the gallery, along with two other views. None of these views, unfortunately, answered my question, but I was delighted at seeing other paintings I recognized. I felt closer than I have before to having an experience away from the Louvre that nevertheless gives me a visual impression of a painting’s actual size. I look forward to adding this experience to my examinations in future.

The Triumph of David

31069_p0007255_00230863_p0008422_002Entry 8 April 14, 2013: Over the past two weeks I’ve looked at two paintings with the same title, The Triumph of David. The first one was by Matteo Rosselli (1578-1650), dated 1630; the second was by Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582-1622), dated a little earlier, ca. 1615. Although it means once again breaking my rule about how many paintings each post will examine, I’ve decided to devote this week’s entry to some of the things I learned by comparing the two paintings. This post is also not the first one in which I have emphasized comparisons: the last two posts considered the many images of the two St. Catherines in the Louvre collection, and the fifth post, “What Did He Look Like Really?”, pointed out differences and similarities between two images of St. Louis of Toulouse. The Louvre’s vast collection promises many such learning opportunities, which are especially welcome when looking at the works of artists who are not well known or well represented in the museum; Rosselli has only one painting in the Louvre and Manfredi two.

When I first looked at it, Rosselli’s painting interested me primarily because I began to question an assumption I made about it, that is, that everyone would know who the David of the title is. Was I projecting my own experience on my contemporaries? My background is Christian, and my education has included many subjects in which the Bible has been an important reference point for analysis of Western art and literature, so I come across David’s name often. But perhaps not everyone would come to Rosselli with the same contextual background. Praise of art traditionally suggests it has universal appeal; all potential audience members feel included. I wondered whether that would be true here. The use of David’s name suggested to me a possible event that would be celebrated as a triumph, his defeat in battle of the giant Goliath, a story told in Chapter 17 of the First Book of Samuel, but I didn’t see anything in the painting that specifically linked Goliath with the moment depicted there, in which a youthful, exquisitely dressed David is shown surrounded by young women singing and dancing. I wondered whether the audience for the painting should be thought of as divided between those who knew and those who didn’t know the story.

The second Triumph of David, by Manfredi, makes an explicit reference to the cause for celebration. Here young David is shown carrying a man’s head; it is not quite so explanatory a reference to the story as a Louvre viewer would see in The Battle of David and Goliath by Daniele da Volterra (1509-1566), in which the two are shown fighting, but Manfredi places the severed head in a prominent central position, with its face turned squarely toward the viewer.

Looking at the two paintings together caused me to see something more in both of them. First, after noticing Manfredi’s depiction of the head, I returned to Rosselli to confirm that there was no head shown, only to find it was, indeed, there. David is carrying it in his right hand, although the object is to some extent obscured by shadow. Second, after noting in Rosselli’s painting that Goliath’s forehead is clearly marked by a wound—the account in the First Book of Samuel tells of the stone from David’s slingshot being lodged there, I went back to Manfredi’s Goliath, who had struck me as remarkably free of injury, and discovered that I had missed the forehead wound because it was somewhat concealed beneath a lock of Goliath’s hair.

I also noticed from looking at the two paintings together that the crucial moment depicted in both involved David in the company of women; in Rosselli’s, there is a crowd of women, and in Manfredi’s only one woman, but in both the companions are women. The knowledge I brought with me to the painting didn’t extend to accounting for this detail. I might have attributed it to a coincidence or even a tradition within the visual arts, but the Atlas Database entries for both Rosselli’s and Manfredi’s Triumph of David identify the specific moment depicted as occurring in Chapter 18 of the First Book of Samuel. Verses 6 and 7 state, “As they were coming home, when David returned from playing the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with timbrels, with songs of joy, and with instruments of music. And the women sang to one another as they made merry, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’”

It is a moment of layered, conflicting meaning. David’s triumph is being celebrated, but his friendship with King Saul, for whom he had fought and slain Goliath, is destroyed by the anger sparked in Saul by the comparison the women draw between his successes and David’s. It is a turning point in the troubled history of the kingdom of Israel. My experience with the two paintings suggests to me that we should not expect art to repeat what we already know perfectly well. Rather, we should approach it expecting that it will reveal to us something wholly new.

Down the Louvre Rabbit Hole

40-07-07/50Entry 7 April 6, 2013

As promised in the last post, I’m going to write here about the difficulties I had when trying to locate an electronic reproduction of Titian’s The Madonna of the Rabbit. The story has a happy ending: I eventually found a copy of the painting that I was able to include in this post, as well as a substantial online video analysis. But it isn’t all good news: the problems I had with The Madonna of the Rabbit are similar to ones I have often had when working with the Louvre book’s companion DVD and also when consulting the Louvre’s website (www.louvre.fr).

Let me start with the happy ending: access to an excellent analysis of the Madonna of the Rabbit. Here is the URL: http://musee.louvre.fr/oal/viergeaulapinTitien/indexEN.html.

Now here’s the bad news: I found this analysis by chance after having run into problems with both the DVD and the Louvre website.

First, I’ll describe the pitfalls of using the DVD to locate the painting. I opened the home page and selected the single menu choice, “Enter the Museum,” which appears in the lower righthand corner. The next page has four menu options: “Artists,” “Collections,” “Rooms,” and “Search.” I have worked primarily with “Artists” and “Search”; I am interested in the others, but I will limit myself here to the two I have spent most time with. I started with “Artists” rather than “Search” because I usually get better results from it. The “Artists” page has a display of portraits and a white dialog box labeled “Search Artists”. When I typed in Titian’s name and hit “Enter”, a white box appeared to the right and above the dialog box; it showed two very small reproductions of paintings, both by Titian, but neither of them The Madonna of the Rabbit. According to the Louvre book, Titian has 13 works in the museum. I tried entering Titian’s full name, Tiziano Vecellio, but I got the same two results. Clicking on one of them led to a much larger reproduction of the painting, along with details of artist, painting title, dimensions, etc., such as appear in the book; moreover, this larger reproduction has a zoom function for use in examining the painting. So, if The Madonna of the Rabbit had appeared in the list of results for Titian, I would have been taken to a larger reproduction and been able to examine it, as well as save a copy of it.

At this point, I was actually quite close to The Madonna of the Rabbit, but there was nothing on the “Artists” page that directed me to it. I found it by clicking on the reproduction of one of the two paintings the search had located and then scrolling down below the reproduction. There was a much smaller reproduction displayed, along with two lines, with arrows on either end, and between them a line of type that contained, along with other words, Titian’s name. I touched one of the arrows, and the type moved. Soon another small reproduction of a Titian work appeared. The Madonna of the Rabbit soon followed. Touching the small reproduction produced the larger reproduction.

Thus, the DVD database did contain The Madonna of the Rabbit, but “Artists” did not provide a clear path to the painting through its main search function. I decided to go back to the main “Search”. I found that Titian’s name led me to a painting in the same database that my other search had gone to, but this time the first painting shown was not by Titian but by Alexander Hesse. I believe it was included because the painting’s title, Funeral Rites for Titian after his Death in Venice during the Plague of 1576, included Titian’s name. Still, from this starting point, I was able to locate The Madonna of the Rabbit; I also tried the “Advanced Search” option under “Search”, which I hadn’t tried before; I found that entering Titian’s name and the painting’s name, The Madonna of the Rabbit, led directly to the painting in the same database.

I tried one other search the DVD provides, which is a link to the Louvre website, or, rather, to the Atlas Database, which is described on the site as covering “all the works exhibited in the museum.” I have visited it frequently and found information beyond what accompanies pictures in the DVD’s own database, as well as expanded views of details of some works. When I typed Titian’s name into the Atlas Database, I received 17 results, but none of them The Madonna of the Rabbit. Typing in Madonna of the Rabbit produced no results. Several other paintings presented in the Louvre book also were not included in the 17, whereas Hesse’s painting and works by several other artists were. As with the results I got from using the keyword search on the DVD’s main “Search” menu, I was getting results where Titian’s name was mentioned anywhere, whether in the artist’s name, the work’s title, or in the additional information provided by the Atlas Database. So, one of the resources that I have frequently used was disappointingly ineffective in locating the Louvre’s Titian collection.

Second, I will comment on problems with the Louvre website. I used the “Search the Collection” feature under “Collections and Louvre Palace,” the fourth of five options on the Louvre home page; there is no search function on the home page itself. The default search under “Search the Collection” is called “Simple Search.” Titian’s name produced 26 results, which included all media, not paintings only. The works were alphabetized by title; only four of them were works by Titian; none of them was The Madonna of the Rabbit. The works that are located by the “Simple Search” are of interest, however, because each is linked to a detailed commentary. The “Simple Search” also separately reports results from the Atlas Database; a list of these works—essentially the same list I was taken to when linking to the database through the DVD—appeared below the 26 results I described above. It was frustrating to discover that a search for “Titien” in the French-language version of the website produced 42 results in the Atlas Database, including The Madonna of the Rabbit.

Having found, at last, although in French, the Atlas Database’s additional information on The Madonna of the Rabbit, I still had no idea that the website actually contained a much richer resource on the painting than any I had seen to that point. The discovery of this resource was quite by chance. I was looking at the Louvre home page, wondering what to try next. I was watching a sequence of pictures repeat through a space at the top of the page, when I noticed that one of them appeared to be a detail of The Madonna of the Rabbit. There was a counter at the bottom of the space; I clicked on it and brought up the detail again, confirming it was from The Madonna of the Rabbit, but then the sequence resumed. Then I tried clicking on the image of the painting itself, and I was taken to a page entitled “A Closer Look.” Here is the description from the page: “Our ‘Closer Look’ interactive multimedia modules allow you to see the details of an artwork through a magnifying glass, while commentaries and animations give you its historical and artistic background.” Scrolling down reveals an image of the Mona Lisa and a brief description of what is contained in the “Closer Look” at the painting. The Madonna of the Rabbit is the sixth work for which a “Closer Look” is provided; the video presents more than 20 minutes of narration accompanying a detailed visual analysis of the component elements of the work, along with a biography of Titian and a history of the painting’s creation, based on x-ray analysis of the canvas.

I’m very happy to have found it, but I am puzzled as to why such a wonderful resource was not more clearly marked. Even the existence of the “Closer Look” collection, where this resource is housed, is not obvious from home page; rather, it is only a menu option under “Learning About Art,” one of the home page’s five menu options.

A Tale of Two Catherines

x200_15954_p0003503_001 Entry 6, April 2, 2013:

There is nothing essentially miraculous about a painting of a woman with a baby sitting on her lap. But elements of scenery and dress, along with a painting’s title, can do a great deal to establish that the artist is attempting to describe something outside the everyday. For example, the first painting in the Louvre book’s Italian school section is of a woman with a child in her lap, Cimabue’s Virgin and Child in Majesty Surrounded by Six Angels, the painting I wrote about in my third post. The early centuries of the Italian section are full of paintings with names very much like the one given to Cimabue’s work. The name is used so often that we may lose sight of the fact that we are being invited to look at something miraculous: in Cimabue’s work, and in many others, the woman is mother but also Virgin. Moreover, the Child in facial expression and general physical demeanor is a blend of human infant and mature man. Finally, we often see the baby and mother in the heavens, that is, in the time beyond the baby’s years on earth; why, then, is he depicted as an infant, rather than as an adult male, the way he appears in paintings of Christ rising from the dead or ascending into heaven or enthroned in heaven?

I do not raise these questions as a prelude to questioning Christian teachings but rather to consider some of the ingenious ways that painters present those teachings. Cimabue surrounds the Virgin and Child with angels; the formally arranged angels suggest heavenly choirs. The scene is in the present for the audience, that is, a glimpse of unchanging eternity, but in some ways it gives the future for the Virgin and Child, since the Child has yet to live his earthly life. Another artist, Pietro Lorenzetti, surrounds Virgin and Child with the worshipping Magi; it is a painting of the past, an historical event; and yet also a painting from the present, since it echoes the birthday celebration of the Child at Christmas. There are also many paintings in which the Virgin and Child are surrounded by a cast of characters that do not belong by any chronological measure either together with the Virgin and Child or with one another. Perhaps it is meant to be a visual image of the ideal of meditation, which would remove barriers of time and place to show true union with the beloved object of devotion. But the artist may also be striving to capture the mystery of Christian time: Christ past, present, and future. Observe how often largely realistic depictions of Mary and Jesus include small objects, such as fruits or flowers or animals, that commentators interpret as symbols of Christ’s future suffering.

One of the most striking variations on this important theme of early Italian art appears in one of the first paintings in the Louvre book, Correggio’s Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine in Front of St. Sebastian (ca. 1526), and several times after, including in the latest painting I spent time with, Alessandro Turchi’s Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine (ca. 1600). In both these paintings, there is much realism in the depiction of the figures and the surroundings of the event, although in Correggio’s the presence of St. Sebastian, depicted in the dress and with the weapons of his martyrdom, evokes another type of Virgin and Child painting, the kind that gathers several saints around either a scene or a figure to be meditated on. Despite these realistic circumstances, the key action being presented is distinctly unrealistic: a male baby, sitting in the lap of one woman, places a ring on the hand of another adult woman, in an action familiar from the marriage ceremony. The names of the paintings establish what might otherwise seem unbelievable: the child is preparing to marry a woman old enough to be his mother? Even if we allow for arranged marriages, especially for royal children, here the child is not portrayed as a passive but rather an active participant.

The Louvre book is sometimes disappointingly silent on the paintings; only 400 of the more than 3,000 are accompanied by a commentary. But the theme of the mystical marriage of St. Catherine is discussed in at least two commentaries, one on Fra Bartolomeo’s The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine of Siena (1511) and the other on Titian’s The Virgin and Child with St. Catherine and a Shepherd also Known as the Madonna of the Rabbit (ca. 1525). The mystical marriage theme is mentioned in the Titian commentary as a way of emphasizing that the painting is unusual in that it does not link St. Catherine to the theme of the mystical marriage. Fra Bartolomeo’s is notable for the much less realistic treatment of the setting of the marriage and because St. Catherine is referred to as “of Siena”, whereas in other painting titles, including both Correggio’s and Turchi’s, the name given is only St. Catherine. The Fra Bartolomeo commentary points out that both Catherine of Siena (a 14th-century mystic and theologian) and Catherine of Alexandria (a fourth-century author and martyr) are said to have experienced the special union with Christ that is referred to as mystical marriage.

I have included a reproduction of only one of the paintings I have referred to here, Fra Bartolomeo’s Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine of Siena; the others may be viewed online on the Louvre website, although locating the Titian Madonna of the Rabbit there is frustrating. More on that in a future post.