Showing posts with label Caravaggio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Caravaggio. Show all posts

12 February 2018

Michelangelo Cerquozzi – painter

Battle scenes brought fame and riches to Baroque artist

Cerquozzi's painting Scena di battaglia is typical of the works  that earned him the nickname Michelangelo delle Battaglie
Cerquozzi's painting Scena di battaglia is typical of the works
 that earned him the nickname Michelangelo delle Battaglie
Michelangelo Cerquozzi, the Baroque painter, was born on this day in 1602 in Rome.

He was to become famous for his paintings of battles, earning himself the nickname of Michelangelo delle Battaglie - Michelangelo of the Battles. 

Cerquozzi was born into a well-off family as his father was a successful leather merchant. He started his artistic training at the age of 12 in the studio of Giuseppe Cesari, a history painter, with whom the young Caravaggio trained when he first arrived in Rome.

Not much is known about Cerquozzi’s early work, although he is thought to have been influenced by the Flemish and Dutch artists active in Rome at the time.

As well as battles, Cerquozzi painted small, religious and mythological works and some still life scenes.

Cerquozzi's Soldiers Playing Dice is now in a private collection
Cerquozzi's Soldiers Playing Dice is now in
a private collection
Cerquozzi joined the Accademia di San Luca in 1634 and, although he did not follow their strict rules, he started gradually gaining recognition for his work.

He secured commissions from prominent Roman patrons, including representatives of the Barberini and Colonna families.

His only public commission in Rome was for a lunette depicting the Miracle of Saint Francis of Paolo in the cloister of the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, which has sadly been lost.

He is also believed to have painted altarpieces for some churches in Sardinia.

The nickname Michelangelo delle Battaglie came from his paintings of battle scenes. He was considered to be one of the best of the Bamboccianti, the name given to the painters active in Rome in the 17th century.  

Many of them painted contemporary scenes featuring workers and soldiers, in action, in play and at rest.

A good example of this is Cerquozzi’s painting of Soldiers Playing Dice, painted in the 1630s and now in a private collection.  Despite featuring lower class subjects, many of his paintings went on to sell for high prices to collectors.

Cerquozzi's Rivolta di Masaniello can be seen at the Galleria Spada, near Campo dei Fiori in Rome
Cerquozzi's Rivolta di Masaniello can be seen at the
Galleria Spada, near Campo dei Fiori in Rome
His battle paintings were on small canvases and often provided a close up viewpoint of cavalry scenes showing the horses and men on the move.

One example is a work, simply titled Scena di battaglia – Battle Scene – which is housed at the Galleria Megna, in Via del Babuino in Rome.

Cerquozzi collaborated with the painter Viviano Codazzi in 1648 on a canvas depicting the Revolt of Masaniello, which is currently at the Galleria Spada in Rome. The painting shows the anti-Spanish rebellion of 1647 in the Piazza del Mercato in Naples with the leader, Masaniello, on a horse in the middle of the picture.

Cerquozzi never married and remained childless. He died, a wealthy man, in 1660 in his house near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

The Spanish Steps, and, on the corner,  Keats's house
The Spanish Steps, and, on the corner,  Keats's house
Travel tip:

Cerquozzi lived near Piazza di Spagna in Rome for most of his adult life. Piazza di Spagna gets its name from the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See which has been there since the 17th century. More than a century after Cerquozzi’s death the area at the foot of the Spanish Steps became popular with English aristocrats on the Grand Tour who stayed there while in Rome. In 1820, the English poet John Keats spent the last few months of his life in a small room overlooking the Spanish Steps and died there of consumption in February 1821, aged just 25. The house is now a museum and library dedicated to the Romantic poets.

The Church of Santa Maria del Carmine watches over Piazza del Mercato
The Church of Santa Maria del Carmine
watches over Piazza del Mercato
Travel tip:

Piazza del Mercato in Naples, where Cerquozzi depicted Masaniello leading the anti-Spanish rebellion, has long been the focal point of commercial life in the city due to its location not far from the port. Overlooked by the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, it was the setting for the execution of Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel and her fellow revolutionaries in 1799. It was also the location for the beheading in 1268 of Corradino, a 16-year-old King of Naples.

More reading:

Also on this day:

(Paintings: Cerquozzi's Battle Scene and Soldiers Playing Dice both in private collections; Rivolta di Masaniello, Galleria Spada, Rome)

(Picture credits: Piazza di Spagna by Michael Paraskevas; Church of Santa Maria del Carmine by Luca Aless)

18 October 2017

Luca Giordano – artist

Talented Neapolitan was renowned for being a fast worker

Luca Giordano was influenced by Caravaggio
Luca Giordano was influenced by Caravaggio
Luca Giordano, the most celebrated and prolific Neapolitan painter of the late 17th century, was born on this day in 1634 in Naples.

His nicknames were Luca Fa Presto - "Luca work faster" - said to derive from the way his father, the copyist Antonio Giordano, used to admonish him, Fulmine (the Thunderbolt) because of his speed, and Proteus, because he was reputed to be able to imitate the style of almost any other artist.

Giordano’s output both in oils and in frescoes was enormous and he is said to have once painted a large altarpiece in just one day.

He was influenced at the start of his career by Jose de Ribera, who he was apprenticed to, and he also assimilated Caravaggio’s style of dramatic intensity.

But after Giordano had travelled to Rome, Florence and Venice, his style underwent a profound change. The influence of Pietro da Cortona’s frescoes in the Pitti Palace in Florence can be detected in Giordano’s huge ceiling fresco in the ballroom of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, which he completed in 1683, and he became noted for his showy use of colour.

He went to Spain in 1692 as court painter to Charles II and stayed there till 1702. The frescoes in El Escorial are often claimed to be his best works, but there are nearly 50 paintings by him in the Prado in Madrid, which are evidence of his huge output.

Detail from Giordano's ceiling fresco at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardo in Florence
Detail from Giordano's ceiling fresco at
the Palazzo Medici-Riccardo in Florence
After his return to Naples he continued to paint prolifically. His last great work there was the ceiling of the Cappella del Tesoro in San Martino, begun on his return to the city in 1702 and completed in 1704.

Many of Giordano’s other works in Naples were destroyed during the Second World War.

His St Benedict cycle, painted in 1677 in the abbey of Monte Cassino in Lazio, was entirely destroyed.

But his painting of Christ expelling the Traders from the Temple, painted in the monastery church of Girolamini (or Gerolamini) next to the Duomo in Naples, miraculously survived. It is full of expressive lazzaroni, Neapolitan beggars, who Giordano would have seen every day in the surrounding streets while he was working at the church.

Giordano died in Naples in 1705 and was buried in a tomb in the Church of Santa Brigida, where he had previously painted the cupola. He was to have a profound influence on many Italian artists who came after him.

The Palazzo Medici-Riccardi
The Palazzo Medici-Riccardi
Travel tip:

Construction of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence was begun in 1444 to provide a home for the Medici family and the headquarters for their banking business. It was later sold to the wealthy Riccardi family. Part of the palace now open to the public includes the room where Giordano painted his frescoes between 1682 and 1685.

Travel tip:

The 17th century church of Santa Brigida in Naples had to have a dome that was no more than nine metres high, otherwise it would have obstructed artillery fire from Castel Nuovo. The fresco of a vivid sky executed by Giordano on the cupola cleverly creates a feeling of immense space. The artist’s tomb can be found in the left transept of the church.

29 July 2017

Pope Urban VIII

Pontiff whose extravagance led to disgrace

Caravaggio's portrait of the future Urban VIII
Caravaggio's portrait of the future Urban VIII
The controversial Pope Urban VIII died on this day in 1644 in Rome.

Urban VIII – born Maffeo Barberini – was a significant patron of the arts, the sponsor of the brilliant sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose work had a major influence on the look of Rome.

But in his ambitions to strengthen and expand the Papal States, he overreached himself in a disastrous war against Odoardo Farnese, the Duke of Parma, and the expenses incurred in that and other conflicts, combined with extravagant spending on himself and his family, left the papacy seriously weakened.

Indeed, so unpopular was Urban VIII that after news spread of his death there was rioting in Rome and a bust of him on Capitoline Hill was destroyed by an angry mob.

His time in office was also notable for the conviction in 1633 for heresy of the physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei, who had promoted the supposition, put forward by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus, that the earth revolved around the sun, which was directly contrary to the orthodox Roman Catholic belief that the sun revolved around the earth.

A bust of Urban VIII sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1637-8
A bust of Urban VIII sculpted by
Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1637-8
Urban VIII was born to Antonio Barberini, a Florentine nobleman, and Camilla Barbadoro, in Florence in April 1568, moving to Rome after the death of his father in 1571 to be placed in the charge of his uncle, Francesco Barberini, who was part of the papal staff.

He was educated by the Jesuits, received a doctorate of law from the University of Pisa and, through the influence of his uncle, was appointed by Pope Clement VIII to be a papal legate to the court of King Henry IV of France.

He became rich overnight at the death of his uncle, who had some years earlier named him as his heir. He immediately bought a palace in Rome that he turned into a luxurious Renaissance residence.

He maintained his high status in the church under Clement VIII’s successor, Pope Paul V, who raised him to the order of the Cardinal-Priest, with the titular church of San Pietro in Montorio. On the death of Paul V’s successor, Pope Gregory XV, he was chosen as pope in 1623.

Only 56 when he began he reign, he was seen as an elegant, refined figure with an aristocratic bearing and regarded as an excellent debater. He also was skilled in writing Latin verse and was the author of a number of hymns and scriptural works.

Yet he was extraordinarily extravagant and with shameless nepotism appointed several members of his family to prominent positions in the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini took on many commissions for Urban VIII
Gian Lorenzo Bernini took on many
commissions for Urban VIII
He elevated to Cardinal his brother Antonio Marcello Barberini and his nephews Francesco Barberini and Antonio Barberini. He also gave another nephew, Taddeo Barberini, the titles Prince of Palestrina, Gonfalonier of the Church, Prefect of Rome and Commander of Sant'Angelo.  The effect of this was that the wealth of the Barberini family grew massively.

Urban VIII’s sponsorship of Bernini was also extremely expensive, for all that it enriched the landscape of Rome for posterity.

In addition to having him sculpt several portrait busts of himself, Urban commissioned Bernini to work on the family palace in Rome, the Palazzo Barberini, the College of the Propaganda Fide and the Fontana del Tritone in the Piazza Barberini.

Urban appointed Bernini architect of St Peter’s in succession to Carlo Maderno. Many important additions were down to Bernini, including the gilt-bronze baldacchino over the tomb of St Peter and the colonnades enclosing the piazza in front of the basilica, which is considered his greatest architectural achievement.

Numerous members of the Barberini family also had their likenesses sculpted by Bernini, such as his brothers Carlo and Antonio. Urban also had Bernini rebuild the Church of Santa Bibiana and the Church of San Sebastiano al Palatino on the Palatine Hill.

Urban VIII’s spending extended to building the grandiose papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, fortifying the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, erecting the strategically located Fort Urbano at Castelfranco Emilia, near Modena, developing Civitavecchia, north of Rome, into a flourishing port with a military harbour, and enlarging the arsenal at Tivoli.

Bernini's Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini is one of the sculptor's many famous works in Rome
Bernini's Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini
is one of the sculptor's many famous works in Rome
With the acquisition of the Duchy of Urbino in 1626, he had established the Papal States as a compact, well-defended bloc dominating central Italy.

But then came the war against Odoardo Farnese, the Duke of Parma, which some historians blame on his nephews.

The conflict was rooted in a quarrel over questions of etiquette during the Duke’s visit to Rome in 1639. In revenge,  the nephews persuaded Urban to ban the export of grain from Castro, an ancient city controlled by the Farnese family in what is now northern Lazio, to the Papal States.

This deprived Farnese of an income he needed to pay the interest on his borrowings. The Duke's creditors complained to the pope, who took forcible possession of Castro in order to assure the payment. When the Duke still failed to meet his debts, Urban excommunicated him and deprived him of all his fiefs.

What Urban VIII had not foreseen was that the Farnese would enlist the support of Tuscany, Modena, and Venice in raising an army of about 3000 horsemen, who put the papal troops to flight. When Urban refused to accept proposed peace terms, hostilities were renewed and continued until the pope finally conceded defeat in March, 1644.

By then the debts of the Papal States had grown so huge that 80 per cent of their annual income was spent on paying the interest alone.

Urban VIII died disliked and in disgrace, his achievements as pope, such as denouncing the slave trade in the West Indies and Brazil, clearing the way for Jesuit missionaries to travel to South America, China and Japan and banning the use of tobacco in holy places – a decree that was repealed 100 years later – not given the recognition they deserved.

His tomb, sculpted by Bernini, is in St Peter’s Basilica.

The papal palace at Castel Gandolfo opens on to the town's main square, Piazza della Libertà
The papal palace at Castel Gandolfo opens on to the
town's main square, Piazza della Libertà
Travel tip:

Visitors to the town of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills, overlooking Lago Albano in the area known as the Castelli Romani, can now go inside Urban VIII’s 17th century papal palace, which ceased to be a papal residence in 2016 at the behest of the incumbent Pope Francis, ending its centuries’ old role as the summer retreat for the pontiff.  Built on the site of what was once the residence of the Roman emperor Domitian, the palace was designed for Urban VIII by the then architect of St Peter’s, Carlo Maderno.

Tortellini are said to be shaped to represent a female navel
Tortellini are said to be shaped to represent a female navel
Travel tip:

Castelfranco Emilia is a town just to the east of Modena, straddling the ancient Via Emilia, the Roman road that ran from Piacentia (now Piacenza) to Ariminum (now Rimini) on the Adriatic coast. It is said to be the home of tortellini, the stuffed pasta supposedly created by an innkeeper to represent the navel of a female guest with whom he was particularly taken and whom he had spied upon while bathing.

8 February 2017

Guercino - Bolognese master

Self-taught artist amassed fortune from his work

Guercino - a self-portrait from about 1624-26,  which is part of a private collection
Guercino - a self-portrait from about 1624-26,
which is part of a private collection
The artist known as Guercino was born Giovanni Francesco Barbieri on this day in 1591 in Cento, a town between Bologna and Ferrara in what is now the Emilia-Romagna region.

His professional name began as a nickname on account of his squint - guercino means little squinter in Italian.  After the death of Guido Reni in 1642, he became established as the leading painter in Bologna.

Guercino painted in the Baroque and classical styles. His best known works include The Arcadian Shepherds (Et in Arcadia Ego - I too am in Arcadia), showing two shepherds who have discovered a skull, which is now on display at the Galleria Nazionale di Arte Antica in Rome, and The Flaying of Marsyas by Apollo, which can be found in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, both of which were painted in 1618.

The Vatican altarpiece The Burial of Saint Petronilla is considered his masterpiece.

The Burial of St Petornilla by Guercino at The Vatican
Guercino's Burial of St Petornilla,
the Vatican altarpiece
Guercino's frescoes were notable for the technique of creating an illusionist ceiling and would make a big impact on how churches and palaces in the 17th century were decorated.

Mainly self-taught, Guercino became apprenticed at 16 to Benedetto Gennari, a painter of the Bolognese school at his workshop in Cento before moving to Bologna in 1615.

There he made the acquaintance of Ludovico Carracci, whose work was a great influence on him. Carracci encouraged him and Guercino's use of bold colours, and his ability to capture emotion in faces, was an echo of Carracci's style, although some of his early work also bears the stamp of Caravaggio. 

As his style developed, Guercino's altarpieces in particular were noted for their depth, achieved by his use of light and darkness.  His 1620 altarpiece of the Investiture of Saint William - currently housed at the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna - is a great example.

In 1621, Guercino went to Rome, where he was influential in the evolution of Roman High Baroque art. His commissions included the decoration of the Casino Ludovisi, where his outstanding fresco, Aurora, adorns the ceiling of the Grand Hall.  It creates the illusion that there is no ceiling, with Aurora’s chariot painted as if it were moving directly over the building.

A detail from the ceiling at the Casino Ludovisi in Rome
A detail from the ceiling at the Casino Ludovisi in Rome
He also painted the ceiling in the church of San Crisogono in the Trastevere district, a portrait of Pope Gregory XV (now in the Getty Museum) and the St. Petronilla Altarpiece in the Vatican, which is now housed in the Museo Capitolini.

Some critics believe Guercino's move to Rome brought about a subtle change in his style - in the view of some critics, not necessarily for the better - due to the influence of Pope Gregory XV’s private secretary, Monsignor Agucchi, who was a proponent of the classicism of Annibale Carracci, whose work was somewhat more restrained than his cousin, Ludovico.

He is said to have felt under pressure to paint in the popular classical style on his return to Cento two years later, largely because most of his paying clients wanted traditional paintings.

Guercino ran his Cento studio until 1642, when Guido Reni died. Guercino moved to Bologna, taking over Reni's religious picture workshop, and was quickly recognised as the city's leading painter.

Guercino's tomb at the church of Santissimo Salvatore
Guercino's tomb at the church of Santissimo Salvatore
Notable for his prolific output - he completed more than 100 large altarpieces for churches and around 144 other paintings during his career - Guercino continued to paint and teach until his death in 1666, amassing a notable fortune.

As he never married, his estate passed to his nephews and pupils, Benedetto Gennari II and Cesare Gennari. His tomb is in the church of Santissimo Salvatore in Via Cesare Battisti in Bologna.

Travel tip:

The town of Cento, situated in the flatlands of the Po Valley equidistant from Bologna and Ferrara, grew from a fishing village in the marshes to an established farming town in the first few centuries in the second millennium.  Previously controlled by the Bishop of Bologna, it was seized by Pope Alexander VI and made part of the dowry of his daughter Lucrezia Borgia.  Main sights include the 18th century Palazzo del Monte di Pietà, which houses the Civic Gallery and some paintings by Guercino, whose works can be seen also in the Basilica Collegiata San Biagio, Santa Maria dei Servi, the church of the Rosary, and, in the frazione of Corporeno, the 14th-century church of San Giorgio.

Guercino's Madonna del Passero is part of the Pinacoteca Nazionale collection
Guercino's Madonna del Passero is part
of the Pinacoteca Nazionale collection
Travel tip:

Bologna's Pinacoteca Nazionale can be found in Via delle Belle Arti, a little over a kilometre from Piazza Maggiore to the north-east, inside a former meeting place for young Jesuits in the university district. The Pinacoteca's origins go back to 1762, when paintings from two other collections, one belonging to the Carracci family, were brought together. During the time of Napoleonic rule the most important works were hidden in Paris and Milan. The basis for the current collection was formed in 1827 with a catalogue of 274 paintings.  The gallery nowadays consists of 30 exhibition rooms showing works by Bolognese artists from the 14th century onwards, including a number of important canvases by the Carracci brothers, Annibale and Agostino, and their cousin Ludovico. Notable works include Ludovico's Madonna Bargellini, the Comunione di San Girolamo (Communion of St Jerome) by Agostino and the Madonna di San Ludovico by Annibale. There are 15 works by Guercino and 29 by Guido Reni.  Also represented in the gallery are Vitale di Bologna, Perugino, Giotto, Raphael, El Greco and Titian.

More reading:

How mystery still surrounds the death of Caravaggio

Titian - the Venetian giant of Renaissance art

The skill that enabled Giotto to bring figures on canvas to life

Also on this day:

1848: Students join uprising in Padua

(Picture credit: Guercino tomb by Sailko via Wikimedia Commons)

18 July 2016

Mysterious death of Caravaggio

Experts divided over how brilliant artist met his end

Ottavio Leoni's portrait of Caravaggio
Ottavio Leoni's portrait of Caravaggio
The death of the brilliant Renaissance artist Caravaggio is said to have occurred on this day in 1610 but the circumstances and even the location are disputed even today.

Official records at the time concluded that the artist died in the Tuscan coastal town of Porto Ercole, having contracted a fever, thought to have been malaria.

However, there is no record of a funeral having taken place, nor of a burial, and several alternative theories have been put forward as to what happened to him.

One, which came to light in 2010 on the 400th anniversary of the painter's death, is that Caravaggio's death was caused by lead poisoning, the supposition being that lead contained in the paint he used entered his body either through being accidentally ingested or by coming into contact with an open wound.

This was supported by research led by Silvano Vincenti, a prominent art historian and broadcaster, who claimed to have found evidence that Caravaggio had been buried at a cemetery in Porto Ercole that was built over in the 1950s.

Some remains were transferred to the municipal cemetery in Porto Ercole and among nine potential sets one was identified through DNA testing as having a 50-60 per cent chance of being Caravaggio. The bones contained toxic levels of lead, enough at least to have sent him mad.

Another theory, put forward in 2012 by Vincenzo Pacelli, a professor at the University of Naples, is that the artist, notorious for a quick temper and violent behaviour, was assassinated by the ancient order of the Knights of Malta with the connivance of the Vatican.

Professor Pacelli says documents from the Vatican Secret Archives suggest that the artist was murdered as an act of vengeance, following injuries inflicting by Caravaggio on a member of the order during a brawl in Malta.  He already had a death sentence on his head, issued by the Pope, after killing a man in a fight in Rome in 1606.

Caravaggio's The Crucifixion of St Peter
Caravaggio's The Crucifixion of St Peter
The Pacelli theory is that Caravaggio's body was thrown into the sea off Civitavecchia, north of Rome and some 70km south of Porto Ercole.  The professor cites another document, supposedly written by Caravaggio's doctor to record his death, in which the place name Civitavecchia is rubbed out and replaced with Porto Ercole, as well as an account of his death written in 1630 by an archivist who referred to it as an "assassination".

Caravaggio was born Michelangelo Merisi or Amerighi in Milan in 1571. It is thought his family moved to the town of Caravaggio, just south of Bergamo, because of an outbreak of plague in Milan soon after his birth.  He adopted the name of the town as part of his signature when he began painting, eventually becoming known simply as Caravaggio.

He returned to Milan to train under Simone Peterzano who had himself trained under Titian.  He went on to work in Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily, where he was in demand to produce paintings for the many new churches and palaces that were being built.

His work became famous for his realistic observation of the physical and emotional state of human beings and for his dramatic use of light and shade, known as chiaroscuro, which gave his paintings a three-dimensional quality. This was a formative influence for the baroque school of painting.

Some of his major works, such as The Calling of St Matthew, The Crucifixion of St Peter and Deposition, can be found in churches in Rome, but his work is also well represented in the Uffizi gallery in Florence.

Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath features Caravaggio's own face on the head
Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath
features Caravaggio's own face on the head
It is said that at the time of his death he had left Naples by boat for Rome, where he anticipated that his death sentence for the Rome murder would be lifted.  In his painting of David with the Head of Goliath, completed shortly before his death, David is depicted with a strangely sorrowful expression as he gazes on the severed head of the giant, on which Caravaggio painted his own face.  It has been suggested that the painting represented his plea for clemency.

Travel tip:

In addition to its connection with the artist, the town of Caravaggio is well worth visiting to see the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Caravaggio, which was built in the 16th century on the spot where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a local peasant woman.  The Sanctuary was later rebuilt and completed in the 18th century and is now a grand building visited by pilgrims from all over the world.

Travel tip:

Porto Ercole is one of two small, picturesque towns on Monte Argentario, a unusual peninsula connected to the mainland by three narrow strips of land, situated on part of the Tuscan coastline known as the Maremma.  It is known for its chic restaurants and bustling nightlife.

More reading:

Lisa del Giocondo - the Florentine wife and mother Da Vinci turned into a global icon

Raphael - the precocious genius of the Renaissance

Giotto - brilliant painter who was the pioneer of realism in art