Pittura napoletana del Seicento dalle collezioni medicee

Florence, Galleria deglis Uffizi, from 19 June 2007 through 6 January 2008.

1. Batistello Caracciolo (1578-1635)
Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, c. 1615-1620
Oil on canvas - 132 x 156 cm
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi

This is a fascinating exhibition of thirty-eight paintings and a catalogue which is just as remarkable : even the awful arrangement in which the canvases deprived of daylight are overwhelmed by the black walls and an exasperating overdramatization cannot spoil the visitor’s enjoyment.

The initiative of Antonio Natali, the new Director of the Uffizi Gallery — let us point out here his significant introduction with a new analysis of a superb anonymous Caravaggesque painting from the museum in an attempt to ascribe it to Ribera — renews once again the tradition of exhibitions that had been so successfully organized by the Sopraintendenza in Florence during the 70’s some of which have become landmarks (in 1970, the Caravaggesque painters, in 1975 the Bolognese School, in 1977 French painting…). The exhibition of Neapolitan art is enhanced by Elena Fumagalli’s scientific mastery which, let us remember, had produced a beautiful text on Poussin and his Roman friends during the restrospective on the painter (Paris, 1994).

Three main points form this show which is located at the end of the museum tour : the Naturalist period with works by Caracciolo and de Ribera, a group of canvases by Salvator Rosa and finally a collection of pieces by Luca Giordano. The museum goer may of course continue his visit by taking in the décors executed by the latter for the Medici Riccardi Gallery or the chapel dedicated to Andrea Corsini in the Church Santa Maria del Carmine in the same city.

2. Luca Giordano (1634-1705)
The Judgement of Paris, 1685-1686
Oil on canvas - 188 x 215 cm
Rome, Galleria Pallavicini

The paintings on display are of very high quality. The catalogue (the long introduction by Elena Fumagalli and the entries) explores three areas : historical background, iconography and stylistic analysis. For the historical background, E. Fumagalli and the researchers benefited from the excellent studies carried out by Haskell (1966), Meloni Trkulja (1972 and 1975), Chiarini (1975), Borroni Salvadori (1974), Mascalchi (1984). M. Fileti Mazza’s publications [1] were also valuable. The Medici dynasty supported Salvator Rosa : in 1647, Giovanni Carlo, Ferdinand II’s brother, already owned seventeen paintings by him in his Casino degli Orti Oricellari, via della Scala and the collection was added to in 1720 with purchases made by Ferdinand III of Lorraine (The Broken Bridge, The Seascape with Towers, Landscape with Philosophers, respectively cat. 12, 13 and 17). Some valuable historical backgrounds were completed : Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (ill. 1 ; cat. 2) painted by Caracciolo, most likely comes from the collection of Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, who died in 1627 ; two paintings by Luca Giordano, The Judgement of Paris (ill. 2) and The Death of Lucretia (cat. 34 and 35) were given by the Great Duchess Vittoria della Rovere to her son around 1686 and it was not until much later that they entered the Pallavicini Collection in Rome, something Federico Zeri was not aware of (1959).

The new approaches in iconography are fascinating. E. Fumagalli does not say so but it can be read between the lines : Baldinucci’s descriptions, and those of his contemporaries, remain vague (cf. for example The Lie, cat. 16). In this painting, the philosopher is not pointing to the mask but rather to his heart, a gesture “che sottolinerebbe l’obbligo di scelta tra la maschera indispensibile nella vita pubblica e i veri sentimenti, coltivati nella sfera privata”. The painting from the Viennese museum (cat. 19) does not represent the Departure of Astraea, but rather The Return of Astraea

In the stylistic analyses of the works, new dates are suggested. One painting, Fiera Condadina (ill. 3 ; cat. 33) is now ascribed to Nicola Russo.

3. Nicola Russo (c. 1656-1702 or 1703)
Fiera Contadina, 1682-1690
Oil on canvas - 200 x 311 cm
Livorno, Municipio (belongs to Florence, Gallerie)

4. Salvator Rosa (1615-1673)
Catiline’s before August 1663
Oil on canvas
Florence, Museo di Casa Martelli

Two artists dominate the show : Salvator Rosa and Luca Giordano ; of the first, let us say that Catiline’s before August (ill. 4 ; cat. 29) is a painting that leads us all the way to David, Benjamin West and Füssli. The second is the victim of many preconceived ideas : one is struck by the “intelligence” in his style : one work (The Miracle of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, Florence, Corsini Gallery, absent from the exhibition) contains potentially all of Paolo de Matteis, another Sebastiano Ricci (The Transfiguration of Christ, cat. 25). What can we say to our French readers to convince them to abandon, if only for a second, their prejudice of the painter known as “Fa Presto” ? Two things. Italian Seicento artists were still very much appreciated at the time of David : Wicar engraves Luca Giordano and Vivant-Denon Salvator Rosa. And while we are on the subject of Wicar, it seems odd, to say the least, that the major undertaking of the Florence Gallery is not mentioned by this young team of art historians ; thus Masquelier engraves The Abduction of Deianira by Giordano (cat. 36), Audoin engraves a Self-portrait by Rosa and finally F. Dequevauviller engraves the Temptation of Saint Anthony also by Rosa (cat. 15) [2]. How can we not be as curious as Vivant-Denon was ? Luca Giordano is indeed greatly misunderstood ; the artist knows how to vary styles and adapt himself to a patron’s commission. Let us take the case of two altar pieces painted for a Florentine church, The Immaculate Conception and Saint Francis with the Stigmata. The first has entered the Galleria Platina and the second remained in situ at the Church of Montelupo Fiorentino (cat. 26 and 27) : both works were commissioned by Cosimo III de Medici from the artist in December 1687. What is striking is that the artist knew how to change his “tone” : whereas the first constitutes a tribute to Guido Reni, in the second the execution is more personal, painted with great speed, especially in the upper part which is treated like a bozzetto. The patron had stipulated : “il san Francesco si vorrebbe in bella postura e d’aspetto languente per il dolor delle ferite e per la dolcezza della grazia che in esse ricevette, entro un bello squarcio di paese a capriccio del professore…” and Luca Giordano knew exactly how to go about it.

Elena Fumagalli, Filosofo umore e maravigliosa speditezza (Pittura napoletana del Seicento dalle collezioni medicea), Giunti, 2007, 240 p., 32 €. ISBN : 8809054105

Visitor information : Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi. Phone : +390552388651. Open daily from tuesday throught sunday, 8.15 - 18.50. Admission : 10 € and 5€.

Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée, mercredi 26 décembre 2007


[1] Archivio del collezionismo mediceo. Il cardinale Leopoldo. Volume quarto. Rapporti con il mercato di Siena, Pisa, Firenze, Genova, Milano e Napoli, 2000

[2] Cf. the very instructive reading of the article by Chiara Savattieri, « La Galerie de Florence de J.B. Wicar et Antoine Morgez : tradition et originalité à l’époque de la Révolution » in M.T. Caracciolo and G. Toscano (eds.), Jean-Baptiste Wicar et son temps 1762-1834, ed. Septentrion Presses Universitaires, 2007, p. 123-152.

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