a painting in the louvre

Selected works from The Louvre: All the Paintings

Category: Louvre Museum paintings

The Attraction of Two

65787_98-011653Entry 26 December 21, 2013

It has been almost two months since I last posted something on the blog. Although I started an entry late in November on Alessandro Magnasco (1667-1743), I kept getting interrupted by my university work. When I finally was able to open The Louvre: All the Paintings again, on December 8th, after a three-week interruption, I decided not to go back to Magnasco. Instead, I went farther back, to the start of my Louvre project: I began spending half an hour each day looking at the work or works of one painter and then noting down a few thoughts, without worrying about the blog. Over the past two weeks, I’ve looked at 48 works, bringing my painting total to 599, which means I’m about 20% of the way through the book’s 3,022 works. At this rate, I should finish by December 2019. I wonder whether anyone will still be writing, let alone reading, blogs by then. But raising this question in a blog about the Louvre offers a very different perspective on questions of time: here I am worrying about something that might be obsolete in six years while looking at paintings that have been treasured for hundreds of years. In Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, Lord Peter Wimsey is humbled when he learns that Harriet Vane, the novelist he loves, has taken his advice about Wilfrid, the male protagonist of her latest mystery. He says, “I shall be honored to go down to posterity in the turn-up of Wilfrid’s trouser.” That’s how I feel: if only I could go down to posterity in the turn-up of the Louvre’s trouser.

This thought has taken me back to the blog; I will stick with it, although I will not attempt a regular schedule until the end of the academic year.

But what to write? During the first week of November, after finishing blog post 25, I managed to look at the work of five painters. Two of the five—Gianantonio Pellegrini (1675-1741), with five paintings, and Alessandro Magnasco, with seven paintings—both suggested promising topics. My first idea was to write about Pellegrini’s Modesty Introducing Painting to the Academy (1733). The title especially attracted me, which has happened before, viz. October’s The Continence of Scipio, and the 1685 painting, Thomyris Immersing the Head of Cyrus in a Vase of Blood, by Mattia Preti (1613-1699), which I wrote about in blog post 19. Unlike these two titles, Modesty Introducing Painting to the Academy doesn’t use familiarly a name unfamiliar to me. On the contrary, every word was familiar: modesty, patience, academy; still, doesn’t it seem surprising that Painting needed to be introduced to the Academy, where one might have supposed Painting would be known? And if an introduction was needed, why would Modesty be the one to conduct the ceremony? Was there some doubt as to Painting’s appropriateness for the Academy?

A little looking around convinced me not to write about Pellegrini. I was assured by the Louvre’s Atlas Database that what I had imagined might be a charming mystery was simply Pellegrini’s profession of modesty on introducing his work to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris, which he joined on December 31, 1733. So, the title of this blog post doesn’t reflect a struggle to choose between two painters who attracted my interest. Rather, it comes from Magnasco, whose work attracted me in many ways that included some element of “twoness”. First, two of his seven paintings in the Louvre mention “two” in their title: Landscape with Two Figures (ca. 1700) and Two Hermits in a Forest (ca. 1730). In both instances, two is used with reference to the number of human subjects in the painting. The first of these paintings, and others by Magnasco in the Louvre, also contain a wonderful balance between two very different elements, one a grouping of human figures performing a task and the other an extensive landscape rich in dramatic natural features. I sometimes find that monumental landscape paintings fail to make a strong connection between natural surroundings and human figures. I wonder if it’s because I find it easy to relate to the natural surroundings—mountains, trees, bodies of water, clouds, expanses of field and sky—and not so easy to relate to the minuscule human figures, who, despite the prominence they usually are given in painting titles, are often unfamiliar to me without further research. I had no such difficulty with Magnasco.

31368_p0003766_002But I do owe to research my favorite “twoness” about Magnasco. Beginning in his apprentice days, he specialized in adding figures to landscapes created by other specialists. Although Landscape with Two Figures is identified in my Louvre book as the work of Magnasco, a commentary on the French language Louvre website (a commentary not available on the English language website) identifies it as an early example of a longstanding collaboration between Magnasco and landscape painter Antonio Francesco Peruzzini (1643/6-1724), which is also represented in the Louvre by The Mule Driver, also known as The Landscape with Castle (ca. 1710). Magnasco went on after Peruzzini’s death to collaborate with other “paysagistes”.

A Change of Plan

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Entry 24 September 16, 2013

Starting in February 2013, a little more than six months after I started my project of looking at all the paintings in the Louvre, I added a second project, a blog about the experience. Although I didn’t admit it, I nurtured a dream that the blog would bring me the kind of public recognition achieved by the Julie of Julie and Julia fame or by the two bloggers I saw interviewed on CityTV’s Breakfast Television this morning, the morning of September 16th, the date I’m starting to write this entry for my blog about The Louvre: All the Paintings. They write at reasonsmommydrinks.com (Why doesn’t that website name trigger a spellcheck challenge from Word?) and were on the show to discuss their new book, which they got a deal for only shortly after starting the blog, apparently.

Despite my superior subject matter—Also from this morning’s early morning television comes the assurance from TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey that no one wants any fewer films at TIFF any more than anyone wants the Louvre to have fewer paintings than it does, book and movie deals didn’t arrive before the return of my students, so I’m going to have to cut back. I haven’t given up working my way through my Louvre book, and I don’t want to give up the blog, but I’ve decided to adjust my expectations. My plan is to spend two weeks each month looking at paintings, followed by a week of selecting a topic and drafting a blog entry, and then a week of putting together the final edited text and the images into a post.

Although this month I have had only a week, rather than two, for looking at paintings—my last blog entry under the old schedule was posted on September 6th, I identified several possible subjects: my 500th painting, which was Philosopher with Eyeglasses (ca. 1660) by Luca Giordano (1634-1705), along with a new calculation of how long it will take to finish looking at all of the Louvre’s 3,022 paintings; all of Giordano’s 10 paintings, since he’s one of only five of the 230 artists I’ve looked at so far with 10 or more pieces in the museum; and the many still lifes (7 of 18 paintings) that appeared on the two pages of the four I looked at this week that weren’t devoted wholly to Giordano.

I bypassed all of these in favor of two paintings on classical subjects, Diana with Orion’s Corpse (ca. 1685) by Daniel Seiter (1647-1705), and Juno and Argus (ca. 1685) by Gregorio de Ferrari (1647-1726). They had a striking amount in common: artist birthdate, composition date, subject matter, even the arrangement of elements in the frame. In both, a goddess resting on a cloud looks down at the body of a slain man, in whose death the goddess has had an important role, and for whose sake a memorial in nature will be created. In both, there are other figures in addition to the slain man and the goddess. There are differences between the works as well as similarities. The hunter Orion was killed by Diana, the goddess who is looking at his corpse, whereas Argus was killed by Mercury in order to set thwart a plan of jealous Juno to keep Io away from her husband Jupiter by putting Io under the guard of Argus with his 100 eyes. In Seiter’s painting, the other figure is an adult male holding a jar and looking up into the face of the goddess, while Ferrari places two winged cherubs and a peacock between Juno and the body of Argus. Orion is memorialized in the stars, while Juno is said to have placed Argus’s eyes on the tail of the peacock, her favorite bird.

I was drawn first to the paintings because I was uncertain about how to read the image of Diana and Orion; there seemed to be something of sorrow in Diana’s concerned expression, and yet she was distanced from the body before her, not only by the space between them but also by the great difference between their bodily attitudes, he sprawled and exposed, she lying above him in a dignified pose. The figures are sensuously rendered, as if there was powerful feeling uniting the couple, and yet this feeling could easily be hate rather than love, as signalled by the clear reversal of gender roles: she is powerful and strong, whereas he is defeated and without protection.

I realized that I didn’t know the story of Orion, that my assumption that he would be a hero mourned in death reflected my familiarity with the constellation named for him, a winter favorite of mine, rather than a thorough knowledge of his place in mythology. When I looked up Orion in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, a book I have loved since first reading it in high school, I discovered another possible explanation for my uncertainty: there are many versions of the death of Orion, not just one, and in some of them Diana kills him deliberately because he has offended her, whereas in others she is tricked into destroying her favorite. Did Seiter find it difficult to choose among them, so that he focused instead on linking an act of violence with the painful realization of loss?

By comparison, the painting of Juno and Argus seems devoid of feeling, even the pain of loss that one might reasonably expect when an employer has lost a faithful servant. Absent is the sexual tension that Seiter evokes between Diana and Orion; absent also is the complex mixture of love and violence that the many versions of the story attribute to Diana. In Ferrari’s painting, everything is busy, filled with frivolous details in keeping with the self-involved dowager, Juno. The one touch of feeling I detect is in the decision to drape Argus’s corpse, a choice that forms a powerful contrast to Orion’s nakedness.

A Companion of Diana

parislondon201208 2114690_s0001542_002Entry 23 August 31, 2013

Over the past month, I have often thought about how wonderful it was last year at this time to spend a week in Paris, which has led me to look again at the things I brought home with me, including photos, 102 of which are of art objects in the Louvre, taken during the one day I spent in the museum.

I have only included two of the photos in the blog so far, one in blog post 12 and the other in blog post 16. In blog post 12, I used one of them to illustrate what the crowds were like around the Mona Lisa. In blog post 16, I used another because, in the background of a statue I had been photographing, a portion of a wall painting by Giovanni Romanelli (1610-1662) could be seen. Only two photos, but they record the only Italian paintings I photographed while I was in the museum, and the second one really doesn’t count as a photo of a painting, because I was aiming at the statue and got the painting by chance. It won’t be much better when I move on to other national collections in The Louvre: All the Paintings; I took far more photos of statues—79—than I did of paintings—23 (seven of these were of the Mona Lisa and the crowd in front of it). The only other paintings I photographed were from 19th-century France, and they all were housed in room 77 of the first floor of Denon.

The rest of the photos are of statues. I like to look at paintings more than I like to look at statues, but in museum visits I tend to take more photos of statues than of paintings. My preferences put me on both sides of a rivalry that some Renaissance Italian painters felt between their art and the art of sculpture. I have mentioned this rivalry before in the blog, in blog post 20, when I was writing about Daniele da Volterra’s two-sided painting of David and Goliath. I said there that “according to the Atlas Database, he was attempting to demonstrate that painting had the potential of creating effects similar to sculpture’s rendering of three dimensions”. I gave a link to a photo of the two-sided painting in its present Louvre location, which shows that the term “two-sided” doesn’t do justice to the physical impressiveness of da Volterra’s effort.

I have also come across a number of references to this rivalry between painting and sculpture elsewhere in the Louvre book. For example, in the commentary on a Self-Portrait by Giovanni Gerolamo Savoldo (ca. 1480-1548), Savoldo’s motive is described as “to demonstrate the superiority of painting over sculpture”. The same phrase is used a few pages later in a commentary on Woman in a Mirror by Titian (ca. 1488-1576).

I’ve been wondering whether my preference for photographing statues is somehow connected to this painting/sculpture competition. It occurs to me that, on a much, much humbler scale, I am like the Renaissance painter whose goal is to demonstrate that the visual impression of three dimensions can be captured in a two-dimensional image. But standing in the museum in front of the work of art doesn’t give me an opportunity to create the environment around the object that I’m hoping to recreate in all its glory, including its three-dimensionality; rather, I’m working with the environment that the museum designers have provided. The environment around the statue—the open space it occupies, the depth and textures of the surfaces that bound the space, the play of light within the space—is as much what I’m photographing as the statue itself. The environment around a painting—the painting’s placement on a flat surface, almost as if it is a window into another world—is very different from what typically surrounds a statue in a gallery setting. It occurs to me that the three dimensions the statue occupies are not only in the figure but also in the space that it commands around itself, something like the personal space psychologists talk about so much nowadays.

I have included here one of my favorite images from my Louvre photographs. It is of a sculpture by René Frémin entitled A Companion of Diana (1717), created for Louis XIV’s gardens at Marly, outside of Paris, and housed now in the Marly Courtyard on the lower ground floor of the Richelieu wing. I like that the statue and the wall behind it are both gray and with a smooth stone surface; there is a strong contrast between the activity in gesture and movement of clothing shown in the statue and the monumental stillness of the background. The young woman’s right forearm and hand repeat the strong line of the stone molding behind them, but her extended fingers expressively stand out against the uniformity of the molding’s parallel lines. Light adds a great deal here; there is the brilliant definition of features and details, but the light also provides a strong contrast to the pools of shadow that form wherever the light does not reach.

For comparison, I include a reproduction of the statue from the Atlas Database. I wish I had done better with the dog, but I was lucky in the light and the surroundings that came with the statue on the day I was at the Louvre.

Agnese Dolci, in the Workshop of her Father

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Entry 22 August 11, 2013

One of the paintings I was looking at this week in The Louvre: All the Paintings, Christ Blessing, also known as The Institution of the Eucharist (ca. 1656), was attributed to the workshop of Carlo Dolci (1616-1686). I have come across references to artists’ workshops before when learning about Louvre painters, usually with respect to artists in training who are employed in another painter’s workshop, but very occasionally in the attribution of a painting: two of the Louvre’s works by Veronese (1528-1588), for example, are characterized this way and another as by Veronese and workshop, an interesting, subtle distinction; likewise, two of the Louvre’s works by Bassano (1549-1592) are “workshop of”, with a third labeled “follower of Bassano”. But Dolci’s workshop holds a special interest because it brought me very close for the first time to an attribution of a painting to a woman artist.

But only very close. I was excited for a while. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Carlo Dolci by Leigh Harrison Hunt states, “Agnese Dolci, who died the same year as her father, not only made marvellous copies of the master’s pictures, but was herself an excellent painter. Her ‘Consecration of the Bread and Wine’ is in the Louvre.” In the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, a painting called The Consecration housed at the Louvre is listed as a work by Agnese Dolci. But the Grove Dictionary of Art, the reference I have been relying on, does not treat any painting in the Louvre as the work of Agnese, saying instead of her that “no securely autographed painting is yet known, although a supposedly signed Self-portrait is known from photographs (Florence, Fond. Longhi). A Christ and the Samaritan Woman with St Teresa was auctioned in Florence in 1984; Dolci’s autograph study for the figure of Christ is in the Louvre, Paris, but the finished painting clearly includes the work of other hands.” Thus, the Grove Dictionary account agrees with the Louvre’s attribution of the painting of Christ to the workshop of Carlo Dolci, and not to Agnese in particular.

Although it is rather a non-story, I’ve gone ahead with writing about Agnese; there is clearly almost a story here about all the daughters and wives and other aspiring female painters to whom we are indebted for art that has reached us only under the signatures of their male masters and for whom we should mourn because of the paintings they might have done.

Did Agnese consider herself fortunate, I wonder, to have a father who would teach her and then allow her a place in his workshop, or was she frustrated that her talent was not acknowledged as uniquely her own? In blog post 5, I wrote that the early life of St. Louis of Toulouse, when he was sent to Spain as a hostage to gain the release of his noble father, would be a great subject for a novel. I feel the same way about Agnese.

For the present, at least, I appear to be alone in finding such potential in Agnese, but a quick check confirmed that I was definitely not the first to find the theme of early women painters a likely fiction subject. Another painter’s daughter, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653), whose career overlaps Agnese’s to some extent, was the subject of a novel by Susan Vreeland, The Passion of Artemisia, in 2002. On her website, Vreeland characterizes Artemisia as “the first woman to paint large scale historical and religious paintings, the first woman to be admitted into the Accademia dell’ Arte del Disegno in Florence, the first woman to make her living by her brush, the only female artist to adopt Caravaggism, and most significantly, one of the greatest artists of the Italian Baroque (17th century).” Artemisia’s father, Orazio (1562-1639), has two paintings in the Louvre’s collection, Rest on the Flight into Egypt and Public Happiness Triumphs Over Danger. Vreeland’s website includes the interesting story of her first encounter with Artemisia’s work: http://www.svreeland.com/gen-art.html.

The little I’ve read to date about Carlo Dolci suggests that Agnese probably had a difficult life, especially if she loved her father. He planned laboriously and painted very slowly, which meant that he was rarely chosen for large-scale church fresco projects. The speed with which his contemporary Luca Giordano (1634-1705) worked is said to have caused Dolci to fall into a depression from which he never recovered. At the same time, the Dolci workshop was a busy place, particularly in making copies of his works, a project that Dolci shared with his pupils, including Agnese. Perhaps she was content with the task, since it was one that her father also engaged in as part of the painter’s craft.

The gender imbalance among artists is not repeated in the images the artists painted. Men did the painting, but many of their subjects were women, and, of course, the models they worked with to create paintings of women were women. Carlo Dolci is identified as the creator of two Louvre paintings; one depicts the Virgin Mary and the other a very feminine-looking angel of the Annunciation. The painting produced by his workshop, and therefore probably, at least in part, by Agnese, is an image of Christ. I’ve included it in this post.

The Marble Knee of the Missing Left Leg of the Christ from Michelangelo’s Deposition

4340_s0002189_001Entry 21 August 1, 2013

I ended my last blog post with a preview of this one: I would report on some research that was inspired by Wikipedia’s entry on Daniele da Volterra, in particular, a brief comment that says the artist’s will names him as the owner of “the marble knee of the missing left leg of the Christ from Michelangelo’s Deposition.”

Da Volterra’s Wikipedia entry is not the first one I’ve looked at in connection with paintings in the Louvre. Although at first I planned to concentrate on what I could learn from the information in my Louvre book and its DVD, I soon found that the book rarely gives more than a bare identification—artist’s name, life dates, name of painting, date of composition, dimensions, medium, location in the museum, inventory number—of any painting that is the sole Louvre example of its creator’s work. I began Googling any unfamiliar artist’s name, which, not too surprisingly, took me to Wikipedia.

Indeed, that’s where my Google search for da Volterra took me. I encountered not only da Volterra’s role in altering Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (see blog post 20) but also the “marble knee of the missing left leg of the Christ from Michelangelo’s Deposition.” I immediately wanted to learn more. I felt that Wikipedia was implying something about da Volterra, but I couldn’t tell what: was the possession of the knee from the “missing left leg” a sign that da Volterra had committed a crime against his old friend, Michelangelo, a crime that would perhaps be consistent with his willingness to paint over his friend’s work? The word “missing” also suggested to me that there was some kind of mystery associated with the sculpture. I thought the will, mentioned as containing the reference to the knee, might help me, but Wikipedia did not say where I could find the will itself or anything written about the will. This was also true of the Wikipedia entry on the Deposition, to which there is a link in the da Volterra entry; moreover, neither the marble knee nor the missing left leg was even mentioned in the Deposition entry. In short, what Wikipedia said was not sufficient to satisfy my curiosity, nor did it give me much reason to think that I should expect to find more information elsewhere.

I was, however, helped very much by the bibliography included in the Wikipedia entry on the sculpture. Two sources were especially useful: Jack Wasserman’s Michelangelo’s Florence Pietà (Princeton University Press, 2003) and Leo Steinberg’s “Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà: The Missing Leg Twenty Years After.” Art Bulletin 71, 3 (1989): 480-505. Both of these sources refer to the Deposition by another name commonly applied to the piece, the Florence (or Florentine) Pietà. I recommend Wasserman’s book not only for its valuable commentary but also for the many beautiful photographs and informative analytical drawings of the sculpture. For a quick look at the Deposition, here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Deposition_(Michelangelo).

I will not attempt to summarize all the additional information I collected; I will limit myself to what I now feel I can be sure of about the knee. First, the possession of the knee is much more likely a reflection of friendship than a sign of betrayal; all the sources I consulted, including Wasserman and Steinberg, emphasize the close ties between the two men in the crucial years from when Michelangelo worked on the Deposition (ca. 1547-1553) through his death in 1564 (witnessed by da Volterra). Second, there is indeed a mystery associated with the “missing left leg”, but it has to do with the process by which the sculpture was created, not with a criminal act. The leg is missing in the sense that the figure of Christ in the Deposition has only a right leg, no left leg; in addition, scholars, among them Wasserman and Steinberg, have spent considerable energy in arguing over whether Michelangelo crafted a left leg and, if he did, what happened to it; this leg would presumably be the one from which da Volterra obtained the marble knee.

The attention paid to the absent leg stems in part from aesthetic considerations but also because the Deposition is one of the very last sculptures worked on by Michelangelo, and one prominent theory has him becoming so frustrated with the piece that he smashed it, something he is not known to have done with any other project. Wasserman and Steinberg disagree as to what happened; neither doubts, apparently, that da Volterra had a marble knee sculpted by Michelangelo, but Steinberg believes the knee came from the Deposition and was part of the refuse created when Michelangelo,particularly disturbed by the left leg he had created for the figure of Christ, made it a special target in his effort to destroy the piece. Wasserman believes that the knee in da Volterra’s possession may have come from another work, the Rondanini Pietà, in part because he believes problems in the marble prompted Michelangelo to remove the partially completed left leg from the Deposition as part of a plan for refashioning the sculpture.

Wasserman was helpful on the subject of da Volterra’s will. He points out that the will does not name the Deposition in particular, but rather refers only to a pietà; this name, then, could refer to the Rondanini Pietà instead of the Deposition. He also makes clear why a visit to the will is impossible: the 1866 article by Benvenuto Gasparoni, in which the text of the will was published, did not give the document’s location.

Not only was Wikipedia’s information incomplete as to da Volterra’s possession of the knee, but also Wikipedia should have acknowledged that there is significant disagreement as to the accuracy of the information it does provide.

I’ve included a photo of a sculpture by da Volterra in the Louvre’s collection. It falls outside my usual material, but it is of special interest for this post, because it’s a bust of Michelangelo.

I’m done at last with the knee, but I do wish that someone would have said something as to its current location. Alas, for some reason, no one seems as interested in that as I am.

“Physical sensation through vision is the key”

38617_9741_00238616_9741_001Entry 20 July 10, 2013

I’ve had Daniele da Volterra (1509-1566) on my mind ever since I came across the information back in January, when first looking at his two-sided painting, The Battle of David and Goliath (16th century), that da Volterra was the artist who accepted a papal commission to put pants on the nude figures in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. He’s a recurring presence in my blog, actually, having already shown up in blog posts 8 and 9, but each time I considered writing just about him I turned back. It was in part because I felt it was more his notoriety than his artwork that attracted me and in part because my only source for his notoriety was Wikipedia, which is rather notorious itself.

I decided to add him to the blog this week because something in the June 29th issue of the Globe and Mail made me think of his Battle of David and Goliath. In an interview, Toronto theater mogul and art collector David Mirvish was speaking about being in the presence of some of his best loved paintings, large-scale color-field works. He emphasized the physical impact of the experience. “Physical sensation through vision is the key,” the journalist Sarah Milroy reports him as saying. Mirvish went on, according to Milroy, to criticize “encyclopedic museums, where a smattering-of-each is the curatorial rule”; he wanted the private museum he plans for his collection to give paintings “their own space”. It is not surprising that Mirvish also sees deficiencies in other ways of experiencing his favorite works; Milroy writes, “He talks, too, about the difficulty of writing about colour-field painting, or doing justice to it in print reproduction, given the often gargantuan scale of the works and their vaporous visual effects.”

The concerns expressed here have relevance both to the Louvre’s display of da Volterra’s Battle of David and Goliath and to my experience of approaching it through the Louvre book, the Louvre website, Wikipedia, and other online and print sources. Although not gargantuan, Da Volterra’s work is quite large: 133 cm. by 172 cm., that is, 4.3 ft. by 5.6 ft. Moreover, it is two-sided: different perspectives on the same scene, with David about to strike off Goliath’s head, give views of the figures from front and back. Da Volterra painted in oil on two sides of a piece of slate; according to the Atlas Database, he was attempting to demonstrate that painting had the potential of creating effects similar to sculpture’s rendering of three dimensions. In addition, the Louvre displays the two-sided painting on a gold-embossed wooden base designed in 1715 to accompany the work when it was given in 1715 to Louis XIV. Housed for several years at Fontainebleau, The Battle of David and Goliath was restored and installed in the Grand Gallery of the Louvre in 2007.

I did not see the painting when I was there, so I’m dependent on print reproductions and online images for my “physical sensation through vision.” In this particular instance, I have to humbly agree with Mr. Mirvish that a print reproduction presents difficulties. My first sighting was of a reproduction only 2 in. x 2.5 in. Moreover, the two-sided painting is not visible in the Louvre website’s photographs of the Grand Gallery. Perhaps my expectations have sunk so low that I’m not a reliable judge, but I have found some online images helpful in getting a sense of scale. Here’s one from a photography blog, which includes a number of museum visitors in the frame: http://www.google.ca/imgres?imgurl=http://no-onions-extra-pickles.com/wp-content/uploads/louvre-gallery.jpg&imgrefurl=http://no-onions-extra-pickles.com/how-art-history-affects-my-travels/the-louvre-grand-gallery/&h=768&w=1024&sz=350&tbnid=lq2_2pGhKbCQZM:&tbnh=95&tbnw=127&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dgrand%2Bgallery%2Bof%2Blouvre%26tbm%3Disch%26tbo%3Du&zoom=1&q=grand+gallery+of+louvre&usg=__Feat7qBX-A-WXTVSDIPeK0od1Kk=&docid=f-T6y5ZBwB7ScM&sa=X&ei=oQjkUbXJFceCrgG3jYC4Dw&ved=0CDYQ9QEwAQ&dur=362.
Here’s another link, this one to a 2007 newspaper article about the work’s mounting in the Louvre: http://www.thearttribune.com/A-Daniele-da-Volterra-redisplayed.html. As good as they are, these online images nevertheless seem to me to demonstrate that the physical sensation of a painting is usually, if not always, better when the viewer and the painting are in the same room.

But the brief information on artist, title, dimensions, etc., that accompanies the painting in the Louvre book, the sort of labeling provided by the Louvre itself for most works, would never have been enough to lead me to the discovery of da Volterra’s place in art history. For that, I needed a work on art history, even one as notoriously unreliable as a Wikipedia entry. In fact, I have often thought that I should acknowledge in the blog how often I have found a Wikipedia entry on one of my one-painting-only artists. It’s not Wikipedia’s fault that so few of them carry with them the sort of notoriety that da Volterra does.

There were three topics in da Volterra’s biography that I decided to read more about. The first was da Volterra’s role in clothing the nudes in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, which was easy to verify. The second topic was closely associated with the first: da Volterra was said to have scraped away and repainted the images of saints Blaise and Catherine of Alexandria (For more on images of Catherine of Alexandria in the Louvre collection, see blog post 6) that appear to Christ’s left in the Last Judgment in response to criticisms that the arrangement of the two figures suggested some type of sexual intimacy. This second topic, too, was easy to verify from other sources, including the official Vatican website. In addition, I learned that a copy of the Last Judgment by Marcello Venusti (1512/5-1579) is in the collection of the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples; there are reproductions available online.

The third topic that interested me was the statement in Wikipedia that “According to Daniele’s will, the marble knee of the missing left leg of the Christ from Michelangelo’s Deposition was in his possession at the time of his death.” My adventures in pursuit of this marble knee will be the subject of my next post.

When Something You See Prompts You to Read Dante and to Even Consider Reading Herodotus

D3S_2019 - PretiEntry 19 July 7, 2013

The Louvre’s collection of Italian paintings, at least the 14th-17th centuries part of it that I’ve been looking at for almost a year now, contains far more works on religious subjects than on secular ones, which explains in part why I have written so many more blog posts about religious paintings than on artworks devoted to classical mythology, history or contemporary society. But I have also been influenced by my academic interests: I’m a medievalist by training; my doctorate examined the background in monastic spiritual writing of late medieval secular love poetry, especially of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Last week I was definitely tempted out of my comfort zone by the intriguing title of a 1685 painting by Mattia Preti (1613-1699), Thomyris Immersing the Head of Cyrus in a Vase of Blood (1685). The incident was unfamiliar to me, as was the name of Thomyris; I thought I knew a little about Cyrus, a name I have associated for years with the Bible’s Book of Esther, which tells the story of a lovely Jewish girl whose marriage to the Persian king Cyrus helped to save her people from persecution. How could such a good man, I wondered, have suffered such a horrible end?

Simple, really. It isn’t the same Persian king at all. The Book of Esther’s Ahasuerus, or Assuerus, is Xerxes I, who was in power 485-465 B.C., while the Cyrus of the Preti painting is Cyrus the Great, who ruled Persia from 550 B.C. to 529 B.C.; two kings, Cambyses and Darius, ruled in the intervening years. What I thought I had known was gone, but it was readily replaced. A search for Thomyris, under a number of variant spellings, in the online Grove Dictionary of Art revealed that the story of Cyrus the Great and Thomyris had been presented in many paintings through the late Middle Ages into the Baroque era (Rubens, the Master of Flemalle, etc.) and mentioned by a number of writers, especially in works about notable female figures of history (Boccaccio, Eustache Deschamps), although Dante chose to mention her as a parable against pride in Purgatory 12:56. Medievalists, take note.

Clearly the incident was known because of its exemplary power: it represented womanhood, and it represented vices such as pride and vengeance (one painting the Grove characterizes as “imitated into the 17th century” was entitled The Vengeance of Tomyris). But it also had a great sound-bite that echoes down to us from the Greek historian Herodotus (490-480 B.C.-425 B.C.), who concludes the first book of The Histories with the death of Cyrus the Great at the hands of the Massagetae, ruled by Queen Thomyris. After her son and general, Spargapises, was captured in a battle against the Persians, a battle in which Cyrus had successfully used the stratagem of enticing the Massagetae into drunkenness to weaken them, Thomyris sent a message that demanded the return of her son. Herodotus reports her threat: “Glutton as you are for blood, you have no cause to be proud of this day’s work, which has no smack of soldierly courage….give me back my son and get out of my country with your forces intact…. If you refuse, I swear by the sun our master to give you more blood than you can drink, for all your gluttony.” She made good on her words; after Spargapises committed suicide while still a prisoner, she sent her army against Cyrus’s forces. In the battle that followed Cyrus was killed; his body was brought to the queen, who had the head removed and placed in a container of blood. “See now,” Herodotus has her say, “I fulfill my threat. You have your fill of blood.”

One final curiosity: the Grove Dictionary of Art has no mention of Preti’s painting of Thomyris; rather, it is his religious painting that dominates the dictionary’s account of his legacy. For a quick and impressive glimpse of that legacy, go to http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Mattia_Preti. Don’t forget to check out Preti’s hat.

The Louvre’s “Artwork of the Day”

x200_64541_97-018727Entry 18 June 26, 2013

I didn’t get my idea about looking at one Louvre painting each day from anyone else, except, perhaps, from the person who coined the phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but I certainly can’t claim to be its inventor either. After starting the blog, I did something I should have done before: I looked for other blogs devoted to the Louvre. A Google search revealed that the phrase “a painting a day” is used by a number of bloggers who post one classic painting a day, along with a commentary, with some of them devoted, as mine is, to the Louvre collection. The same search produced links to webpages created by artists who have begun a project of creating a “painting a day” and posting the works online.

I hope to say more about other Louvre blogs in the future. Lately, though, quite by chance, I discovered that the Louvre itself provides a daily feature that presents in rotation single works with commentaries from its many curatorial departments, including my particular interest, paintings. The feature is called “Artwork of the Day”, and there is a link to it on the home page of the Louvre official website (http://www.louvre.fr/en). As I say, it was a chance discovery, but it would have been a much earlier one in my project if I had only searched the home page carefully during my first visits to the Louvre website. The link to “Artwork of the Day” doesn’t appear in the default view of the home page that opens on my laptop screen. When I open the website, what I see, and what I first investigated, were the very top elements of the home page—the list of word links to key areas of coverage and a slideshow of special features, including “A Closer Look” that I wrote about in blog post 7 when describing the troubles I had locating information about Titian’s Madonna of the Rabbit. “Artwork of the Day” appears in the next row of elements on the home page; I just had to scroll down a little on the default view. It is the leftmost element in that row, and the day’s image is presented there over the heading “Artwork of the Day.”

The commentaries that accompany each “Artwork of the Day” are much more extensive than those that appear in The Louvre: All the Paintings, but they are available for only 215 paintings, whereas the Louvre book gives a commentary for more than 400 works. In the cases where the same work gets a commentary in both places, it is not the same text, so it is well worth checking whether a work of particular interest has one of the “Artwork of the Day” commentaries. Checking can be done at least three different ways. The first way is to click on the current “Artwork of the Day”. The page that opens contains the day’s image and commentary, but there is also a tab over the image with the words “All works”. That tab opens the webpage of the Curatorial Department from which the day’s image comes; that page contains a search box. The second way is to directly open the webpage that is home to all eight Curatorial Departments, which also has a search box. This webpage can be opened from the Louvre home page through the heading, “Collections & Louvre Palace,” which is also the way to reach the main Louvre website search, a feature I have often mentioned when reporting valuable information—and sometimes frustrating problems—I have had when working with the website.

The third way to reach the commentaries is through the main website search itself. Results for a search are arranged in the following order: first, links to artworks for which there is a commentary, that is, the pool of works written about in the “Artwork of the Day” feature; and, second, a list of relevant works contained in the Atlas Database. (A search done on the French language version of the website gives a third type of result: a list of items from the Prints and Drawings Department.) Since only 215 paintings are included in the “Artwork of the Day” feature, it is not surprising that I have rarely found a commentary available on one of the 461 paintings I’ve looked at so far, especially because the paintings I’m most interested in learning more about are by lesser known artists. The material I’ve included in blog posts has usually come from the Atlas Database, not from the “Artwork of the Day” commentaries. I’ll be checking more carefully in future to see whether a commentary on a painting is available on the Louvre website, but a quick check of some recent artists with one painting confirmed that none of them had a commentary, whereas a check of five artists with multiple works (Francesco Albani, Titian, Domenichino, Guido Reni and Leonardo da Vinci) showed that works by all of these artists except Albani did have commentaries; multiple works by Titian and by da Vinci have commentaries.

The commentary on Guido Reni’s Deianeira and the Centaur Nessus (ca. 1617 and referred to as Nessus Abducting Deianeira in the Atlas Database and the Louvre book) includes, as does the Atlas Database, a brief history of the painting from its commissioning by Ferdinando Gonzaga, duke of Mantua, to its acquisition by Louis XIV in 1662, but it includes a great deal more: the story of the Centaur Nessus’s attempt to carry off Hercules’s wife Deianeira as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses; the development of Reni’s style, which the commentary traces from Renaissance classicism to Baroque and, finally, to what the commentary calls “a synthesis between classicism and the hues of the Baroque”; and a mention of the location, the Villa Favorita near Mantau, for which the painting, along with three others on events from the life of Hercules, was created. I have included a reproduction of Reni’s painting in this post, and here is a link to the commentary: http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/deianeira-and-centaur-nessus.

How to Recognize a Saint

x200_30982_p0007289_001x200_64474_10-517323Entry 17 June 15, 2013

I returned this week to Revealing the Early Renaissance: Stories and Secrets in Florentine Art, the exhibit at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario that I wrote about in blog post 14. I sat for a long time with my husband in front of Giotto’s Christ Blessing with Saint John the Evangelist, the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Francis (Peruzzi Altarpiece), ca. 1309-1315. (I am including the URL for a website where the altarpiece is reproduced: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/florence/introduction.html.)We started talking about whether or not Giotto had given enough information in the portraits to enable a viewer to identify who was being depicted.

It was easy enough to say that the central figure was Christ: the arms of a golden cross framed his face; his right hand, marked with the stigmata, was raised in blessing, and tucked in his left arm was a book, as often appears in images of Christ enthroned in heaven. The figures on Christ’s immediate left, we thought, were John the Baptist and Francis of Assisi. My companion identified John the Baptist on the basis of his unkempt hair and beard, notably longer, thicker and darker than Christ’s; the scroll he held, which contained, “Ecce agnus Dei…”, that is, “Behold the lamb of God”; and by his clothes, “a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather belt around his waist” (Matthew 3:4). We both spotted traditional signs of Francis: his robes and also the marks of the stigmata, clearly displayed on his crossed hands. The woman on Christ’s right was, we agreed, almost certainly the Virgin Mary, although the portrait differed from the many I’ve looked at in the Louvre book. She was standing alone, whereas in every Louvre painting I have looked at so far she is presented in some type of interaction with Christ; moreover, her head was not surrounded by a halo. I learned later in the exhibit catalogue that at one point the woman was identified as Mary Magdalene, rather than the Virgin Mary.

But the man next to her, I said, was difficult to identify. He held a book, which marked him as either an author or a scholar, but there were no other special objects in the image, none of the four symbols that are traditional marks of the four Evangelists, for example, and no weapons of torture that would identify him by the manner of his death. My husband thought it was likely John the Beloved Disciple, Mary’s companion at the foot of the cross and, therefore, John the Evangelist as well. His evidence: the man was very young and without a beard; his coloring was reminiscent of Christ’s and Mary’s, and he and Mary both wore clothing of rose and blue.

The information provided in the gallery confirmed the identification; the catalogue added that scholars identify the church for which the altarpiece was created as dedicated to the two St. Johns, Evangelist and Baptist. I suppose we might have spared ourselves the exercise of attempting to interpret the symbolism of the portraits; after all, the original churchgoers would have had the church’s name to guide them in identifying the saints. Still, I was happy to have had the experience, to test my powers of observation and my ability to call up information from memory.

Not unlike that original churchgoer, I this week approached another saint’s likeness with the saint’s name already in hand. It was a painting of St. Cecilia as depicted ca. 1640 by Giovanni Andrea Sirani (1610-1670). I had heard of St. Cecilia before; in fact, about two months ago I was looking at St. Cecilia with an Angel Holding a Musical Score (ca. 1617) by Domenichino (1581-1641). The two paintings are very different; I could see no object or symbol in Sirani’s portrait that distinguished his Cecilia from any other lovely, well-dressed young woman, whereas Domenichino showed Cecilia singing and playing a bass viol. Her companion is an angel, who is holding music open before her, music that she is not consulting as she plays. The Louvre book also contains a painting of Cecilia, contemporaneous with Sirani’s, St. Cecilia Playing the Organ (ca. 1640), by Jacques Stella (1596-1657), and a 1655 painting entitled Allegorical Portrait of a Couple with an Organ Player by Nicholas Knupfer (1603-1655) that the French language version of the Louvre website says may include, in the “Organ Player”, a portrait of St. Cecilia.

It is notable, I think, that it wasn’t the painting of St. Cecilia as heavenly musician that prompted me to write about her but rather the painting of her that puzzled me because of its lack of distinguishing marks. I had become accustomed to expect a saint’s portrait would contain such marks. Are the instances of John the Evangelist in the Peruzzi Altarpiece and Cecilia in Sirani’s St. Cecilia similar in that they indicate a shift away from the longstanding medieval and early Renaissance practice of providing a visual sign of a saint’s identity, or did Giotto regard John’s clothing, youth and close proximity to the Virgin Mary as such a sign? Is there, perhaps, a sign that I’ve missed in Sirani’s portrait?

For more on St. Cecilia, the early Christian martyr and patroness of music, visit the Louvre’s commentary on Domenichino’s painting at http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/saint-cecilia-angel-holding-musical-score. The commentary states, “The body of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, was discovered in a miraculous state of conservation in Rome in 1599.” Might this event explain the early 17th-century vogue for portraits of Cecilia?

Sometimes One Painting Leads to Another and Another and …

61062_15861_003parislondon201208 152Entry 16 June 8, 2013

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.