Sometimes One Painting Leads to Another and Another and …
Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (1610-1662) is represented in the Louvre book by just one painting, The Israelites Gathering Manna in the Desert, from 1657. The reproduction is one of nine on a page; its 5 cm. x 5.5 cm. format made me wish for a larger reproduction to examine, particularly because the original’s dimensions are 199 cm. by 213 cm., and the composition contains many figures arranged in a landscape. A search of the English-language version of the Louvre website produced two surprises: first, the Atlas Database contained ten items for Romanelli, not one, and, second, none of them was The Israelites Gathering Manna in the Desert, although the list did include a work tantalizingly entitled The Israelites Feeding on the Quail. I was headed down the Louvre rabbit hole again (see blog post 7). Still, as with many other passages I have made through the Louvre’s online resources, it was a rewarding journey, in part because it led me back to a Louvre gallery I had visited myself last summer.
Romanelli’s Atlas Database entry on the French-language version of the Louvre website contains 12, not ten items, and one of them was The Israelites Gathering Manna in the Desert; this meant that I was able to look at the larger reproduction I was hoping for, in which eight foregrounded figures, including Moses gesturing skyward, are shown responding to the miraculous bread that the book of Exodus says was provided to the Israelites every morning. The figures form a second frame, through which other gatherers are depicted and a distant mountainous landscape can be seen. According to the website, the painting comes from a group of seven scenes from the life of Moses that Romanelli painted in 1657 for the Louvre’s summer apartment of Anne of Austria (1601-1666), wife of Louis XIII (1601-1643) and mother of Louis XIV (1638-1715). These names from French history are known to me primarily from reading Alexander Dumas and seeing films based on his novels. In The Three Musketeers Dumas has Anne give to the Duke of Buckingham two diamond studs, a present from her husband, that the musketeers must somehow retrieve to thwart a plot by the chief minister of France, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642). Twenty Years After, the sequel to The Three Musketeers, is set in the adolescence of Louis XIV, with France under the control of Richelieu’s successor, Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661); The Vicomte of Bragelonne, the third book in the series, takes place in the 1660s, when Louis XIV rules independently after the death of Mazarin. The Moses series is dated 1657, that is, while Anne was queen mother and Mazarin still the master of France and Louis XIV, who was in his twentieth year. One further connection worth mentioning between this cast of characters and Romanelli: according to Grove Art Online, Romanelli was in Paris at the invitation of Mazarin.
I don’t know why the Louvre book only included one of the 12 paintings by Romanelli; it may have to do with the book’s rubric that specified only paintings on display would be included. This rule is particularly hard on Romanelli, most of whose paintings in the Louvre are on display but as part of the building itself. Although The Israelites Gathering Manna in the Desert is oil on canvas, other Romanelli works are frescoes, including Allegory of the Treaty of the Pyrenees (Peace, Fruit of War), Religion and the Theological Virtues, and Apollo and Diana, The Seasons, all from the period 1655–58. The Atlas Database provides images of the panels of these wall and ceiling frescoes; I’ve included Diana and Acteon as an example.
I decided to include this work, rather than the painting I started with, because I realized when viewing the Atlas Database photograph of the room containing the Apollo and Diana frescoes that I had been in the room (Denon ground floor room 23) during my visit to the Louvre and taken photographs myself there. I must admit that I paid no attention to the frescoes at the time, but a review of my photos revealed that the Diana and Acteon fresco had come home with me, over the shoulder of the statue of the Roman athlete I had been focused on. I also include that photo here.