Friday, 31 December 2010

The Divine Comedy on the web

Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510), Dante Alighieri
Private collection
"Italian literature begins and ends with Dante. But that is a great deal. In Dante the whole spirit of the Renaissance is to be found." - James Joyce.

In case anyone is grasping for a new year's resolution, there are surely not many better than this: to read Dante's Divine Comedy from beginning to end. Thanks to the web, this can be a much more rewarding experience than simply reading a translation.

There are of course many English translations out there, some good, some mediocre, but in our opinion any translation has to be read in conjunction with the Italian original, even if you don't speak any Italian. The best presented site I have been able to find is the University of Virginia's World of Dante. As well as presenting the English and Italian texts side by side, this site features notes on people and places mentioned and several sets of illustrations, including the most famous series by Sandro Botticelli, Alessandro Vellutello, and Gustave Doré.

We recommend studying Botticelli's underrated drawings while reading the text, so much richer and more accurate than Doré's sentimentalised 19th century vision.

More expansive notes and background to the text can be found at the University of Texas's Danteworlds site.

Finally, we recommend reading the text in conjunction with an audio recording, better to appreciate Dante's poetry. The best freely available complete recording we have been able to find is by Iacopo Vettori, licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. It can be downloaded and listened to canto by canto in MP3 format and is available here.

Domenico di Michelino (1417-1491), Dante and the Three Kingdoms
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence
Luca Signorelli (ca.1450-1523), Dante Alighieri
Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto
Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572), Allegorical portrait of Dante
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Stéphanie d'Oustrac at the Ambronay Festival

A concert from the Ambronay Festival 2010:

Stéphanie d'Oustrac - mezzo-soprano
Amarillis Ensemble
directed by Héloise Gaillard
concert filmed on 19th September 2010
film by Olivier Simonnet
courtesy of Arte Live Web
Running time: 01:24:57

Dido, Queen of Carthage, desperate and abandoned by love; the Virgin Mary, figure of maternal love and suffering. Two vulnerable, distracted beings who, from ravishment to ecstasy, express the heart of human passion and baroque sensibility. Sharing an interest in rediscovery, Stéphanie d'Oustrac and the Amarillis Ensemble embody the infectious talent of the Baroque revival. The programme, which is woven around Stéphanie d'Oustrac's prodigious talent for translating the power of emotions, mixes the rediscovery of Cavalli's La Didone with some of the most renowned works of the baroque by Barbara Strozzi and the "divine" Monteverdi.

About the fervour and virtue of the Virgin Mary: pieces by Cavalli, Strozzi, Biagio Marini and Monteverdi; about Dido's adoration and desolation: pieces by Alessandro Scarlatti, Michelangelo Faggioli, Andrea Falconieri, Cavalli and Rossi, some of them unpublished.



Stéphanie d'Oustrac official website
Barbara Strozzi – Virtuosissima Cantatrice article on Barbara Strozzi by Magnificat

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Dreaming Antiquity at the Louvre

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), Psyche Abandoned
Private collection
Antiquity Rediscovered: Innovation and Resistance in the 18th Century
Louvre Museum, Paris
2nd December 2010 - 14th February 2011

Antiquity Rediscovered: Innovation and Resistance in the 18th Century features a selection of over one hundred and fifty major works that illustrate the emergence of the so-called 'neoclassical' movement, which spurred eighteenth-century Europe to look back to Antiquity once again. Running counter to the formal inventiveness of Parisian rococo and Italian 'decorative baroque' trends, which had spread across the continent, this stylistic revival concerned not only the visual arts and architecture but also a way of life, stimulated by archaeological discoveries and academic debate.

However, by the 1760s various alternative trends, based on other historical sources, emerged. They are included in this show under the themes of 'baroque revival', 'mannerist revival', and the quest for the 'sublime'—from Rome to Edinburgh and from Stockholm to Paris, artists flaunted their uniqueness by expressing their vision of an imagined Antiquity, one based less on archaeology and more on inspiration from the Renaissance, the seventeenth century, indeed the Middle Ages (associated with France’s own 'ancient' history).

Report on the exhibition by France2 TV (in French):


The final quarter of the eighteenth century nevertheless saw the lasting affirmation of a more universal idiom whose radical expression focused on heroic values, conveyed here through the themes of the Triumph of Mars, Great Men, the Defence of Virtue, and the Body Magnified. These sections feature masterpieces by David, Fuseli, Sergel, and Canova along with architectural plans, monumental canvases, and large marbles that convey the new aspirations of European society on the eve of Revolutionary upheaval.

This blog has nothing to add to the large exhibition mini-site, in English and French, which features high-quality digital images of all the major works in the exhibition; suffice it to highlight below a few items of interest to us. I should point out, however, that the official title of the exhibition, L'Antiquité Revée (dreamed antiquity) seems to me a much more apt title than their translation Antiquity rediscovered.
Hubert Robert (1733-1808), The Finding of the Laocoön (1773)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Painted eight years after Hubert Robert returned to France, this work appears to sum up the lessons learned by the artist during his long initiatory tour of Italy. For Robert, the important thing was not a scrupulous depiction of the real circumstances of the chance discovery of the large sculpted group known as The Laocoön in 1506; instead, he set the scene in a vast gallery that looks more like the plans he would later propose for the Grande Galerie at the Louvre than the authentic surviving cellars of Nero’s palace in Rome. The impression of vastness is enhanced by the back-lighting, and the perspective is cleverly shifted to the left in order to forestall any impression of monotony; meanwhile, the drama of the discovery of the sculpture is reinforced by the raking light coming from the right, as though from the wings of a theatre. Instead of clothing the women and workers in Renaissance garb, Robert shows them in working-class garments of his own day, strangely mingled with a few less-obvious figures wearing togas. The opening of a sarcophagus in the left foreground creates an atmosphere of profanation. Robert’s imagined archaeological scene evokes not so much a Renaissance discovery as the resurgence of a heroic past.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
The High Priest Coresus sacrificing himself to save Callirhoe (1765)
Musée du Louvre, Paris
In 1765 Fragonard presented this very large painting in support of his candidacy for membership in the Academy. When exhibited at the Salon, the work was hailed by the public, as echoed in the press and by Diderot. The story of this ancient legend, told by Pausanias, is rather obscure though it had been the subject of a tragic play and an opera early in the eighteenth century: Coresus, a high priest of Dionysus, was in love with Callirhoe. In despair at his unrequited love, the priest announced that his god had ordered the young woman to be sacrificed. However, just when the innocent Callirhoe is about to be sacrificed, Coresus recoils at the horror of his deed and kills himself instead. Fragonard composed this painting like a theatrical play. The tragedy unfolds before spectators, in the intense glow of supernatural light. This painting thus functioned as an admirable standard-bearer for a spirited aesthetic quite different from the works advocated by Antiquity-loving purists, and it was supported by critics and the establishment. Fragonard’s admirably successful painting actually incorporated and corrected discoveries made by the promoters of Antiquity, yet it was free of excessive purism and above all endowed with an intense enthusiasm and passion totally alien to their marble-cold aesthetics.
Francesco Solimena (1657-1747), The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple
Musée du Louvre, Paris
This painting was a sketch by baroque artist Francesco Solimena for his fresco adorning the inner façade of the church of Gesù Nuovo in Naples, completed in 1725. Fragonard made a copy of Solimena’s fresco during his tour of Italy. Fragonard’s staging of his Coresus was notably indebted to this composition. The Biblical subject comes from the Second Book of Maccabees (3:24–7). When Heliodorus tried to seize the treasure housed in the Temple of Jerusalem on the orders of the Syrian King Seleucos IV, he was driven out by angels on horseback. The scene takes place in a vast, open palace whose columns provide a magnificent setting and whose staircase was conducive to placing the groups at different levels, the better to link the various elements. Figures skilfully placed in the front corners function as repoussoirs, while large opposing masses and key contrasts of light and shadow were techniques that characterised paintings with the typical baroque spirit so alien to the restraint of Antique-style works inspired by Winckelmann.

Anton Rafael Mengs (1728-1779), St Peter Enthroned
Galleria Sabauda, Turin
It was during his second stay in Madrid (1774-76), when he became First Painter to King Charles III, that Mengs—whom Winckelmann called the greatest painter of his day in 1764 and who was at the peak of his brilliant international career—conceived this painting. It reemploys the composition he had already used for a Saint Peter painted in tempera on the ceiling of the Sala dei Papiri (Papyrus Room) in the Vatican, here on a larger scale yet tighter composition that accentuates the monumentality of the image. Compared to the Vatican St Peter, the picture here is devoid of setting and the apostle henceforth stands out against a bare, luminous background that further stresses his powerful massiveness. Mengs combined this arrangement with a chiaroscuro technique that confers a sculptural quality to his painting, which would become typical of his late works. In this pivotal painting, Mengs was therefore revitalizing his approach, always marked by 'primitive' simplicity and grandeur yet henceforth concerned with lively, powerful expressiveness that harked back to great 'baroque' statuary.
Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787)
Thetis Confiding the Education of Achilles to the Centaur Chiron (1760)
Galleria Nazionale, Parma
In 1760 Pompeo Batoni was commissioned to do this painting by the duke of Parma, Philip of Bourbon. The chosen subject was a fairly direct way to praise the education that the duke’s wife, Louise Élisabeth of France, intended to give their young son Ferdinand by confiding him to a prestigious, enlightened tutor, the abbé de Condillac. In the painting Batoni focuses on the moment when Thetis, Achilles’ mother, hands her son over to Chiron; Batoni did not invent the subject, which was already present in Italian Renaissance art and resurfaced in painting done in Emilia in the eighteenth century. In Batoni’s canvas there are obvious echoes of the art of Correggio and Raphael (the latter’s Farnesina Galatea can be recognized in the figure of Thetis) along with clear reminiscences of Parmigianino (the sinuous lines of the lithe figure of young Achilles) and of ancient sculpture (Chiron’s resemblance to a youthful centaur unearthed by Monsignor Furietti in Hadrian’s Villa in 1736).
Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), The Nightmare
Institute of Arts, Detroit
Born in Zurich as Johann Heinrich Füssli, the artist known as Henry Fuseli moved permanently to London in 1779 after a ten-year sojourn in Rome. He aroused striking public interest on presenting this soberly titled painting, The Nightmare, at the Royal Academy show of 1782. He depicted a young woman lying on a bed in a room with contemporary furniture reflecting a stylized Antique taste. Although dressed in virginal white, the sleeping—or swooning—woman is tormented in her sleep by a little demon who crouches heavily on her belly. That is the mara—spirit or hag—who gives its name to the painting, because 'nightmare' originally meant not a bad dream but an incubus. According to a marginal Christian belief in the late Middle Ages, an incubus was a spirit that came to trouble women’s dreams with its sexual ardour. The horse whose head emerges from the left is clearly the fantastic spirit’s steed yet also an allusion to a passage in Romeo and Juliet that refers to a being who “gallops night by night through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love.” Fuseli’s painting was immediately engraved by Thomas Burke and swiftly became famous, indeed so popular that it spurred a great number of forgeries and caricatures. Fuseli himself produced painted and drawn replicas. Today this painting is certainly one of the most studied 'Romantic' or 'pre-Romantic' works of European art, henceforth presented as emblematic of the movement.

Antonio Canova (1757-1822), Psyche
Private collection
Commissioned from Canova in 1789 by the English art lover Henry Blundell, this Psyche was completed in 1792 and sent to London where it was briefly exhibited in the summer of 1793 before being shipped to Ince Blundell Hall near Liverpool. Canova decided to depict the young heroine gazing at a butterfly as though meditating upon her own soul. It is emblematic of a work inspired by Antiquity yet resolutely different. Psyche’s body curves subtly as it occupies space; her slightly withdrawn right leg, like the clutch of drapery at her side, invite the beholder to circle around her. The choice of the theme—the concentration of the young woman gazing at a butterfly—creates a theatrical 'special moment' that runs throughout Canova’s art, riveting the beholder’s attention. The handling of the surface of the marble, whose finish was always the work of the sculptor himself, is dazzling, from the transparence of the fabric to the lovingly polished skin, creating a stimulating effect of reality in the context of idealised beauty.

(texts from the Louvre's official exhibition guide)

Antonio Canova, Psyche revived by Cupid's kiss
Musée du Louvre, Paris
The Louvre is unquestionably, along with the Prado in Madrid, at the forefront of the development of online presentation of art. Witness this superb multimedia presentation (in English) of Canova's Psyche revived by Cupid's kiss, a work in the Louvre's permanent collections and not part of the exhibition, although it certainly fits with the theme.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Carissimi - Oratorio della SS Vergine

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare, Rome
Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674)
Oratorio della Santissima Vergine
Les Paladins
directed by Jérome Corréas

"Our dear Jacomo":

It is not easy to reconstruct the life of Giacomo Carissimi: we do not even possess a portrait. What was believed to be his portrait has proved to be that of a contemporary, Alexander Morus or Alexandre More (1615-1670), a French Protestant pastor and theologian (Gloria Rose, 1970). Of Carissimi we know only that he was "tall, slender and inclined to melancholy," as he is described by Ottavio Pitoni in his De’contrapuntisti e compositori di musica. The few things we know for certain about him - arrived at by deduction, reading between the lines and hypothesis - do not enable us to draw up a specific profile, while his works endow him with a 'mythical' aura which do not permit of the extrapolation of a historical context.

All of his autograph scores, which were preserved at the Collegio Germanico-Ungarico, were lost as a consequence of the suppression of the Jesuits during the two occupations of Rome by French troops in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There are therefore considerable uncertainties regarding the extent of his oeuvre, and contemporary criticism is still divided.

Piazza di S Apollinare with (right) the Palazzo di S Apollinare
home of the Collegio Germanico-Ungarico
founded by St Ignatius of Loyola
Considered the "father of oratorio and cantata da camera", due to his extraordinary body of compositions, and through his famous music school which received illustrious students from all over Europe, Giacomo Carissimi invented a method of teaching which initiated the development of the European music schools we know today.

He was "an excellent composer of universal harmony, much acclaimed and pleasing to the ears of his time." Of him Athanasius Kircher, the great Jesuit scholar of that time, wrote: "Giacomo Carissimi, excellent musician of great renown. Master worthy of the church of Sant'Apollinare of the Collegio Germanico for the space of many years, surpasses the others for his invention and the happiness of his compositions, which carry the souls of the listeners towards every emotion. Without doubt his juicy compositions are full of vivacity of spirit."



Monday, 27 December 2010

Diderot still stirs

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Denis Diderot (1769)
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Philippe Sollers, in Le Nouvel Observateur, 23rd December 2010:

On the 7th July 1746, the Parliament of Paris condemned a book to be "slashed and burned as scandalous, contrary to religion and morality." The volume was published deceptively in the Hague, "at the Company's expense," and circulated under the counter, with no named author. This last was 33 years old, and would be much talked about thereafter. His name was Denis Diderot, his book was called Philosophical Thoughts, and on its title page was this inscription in Latin: "This fish is not for everyone." Indeed not, as censorship soon understood, just as she understood it of that most dangerous of books: the Encyclopedia.

For all who, at the time, conspired for a change of era, Diderot was the Philosopher. Funny philosopher, as far removed from the ancient saints of the profession as from today's social windbags. The author of Indiscreet Jewels, The NunRameau's Nephew and Jacques the Fatalist, is first of all a whirlwind in action. He is everywhere and nowhere, an incessant effervescence. As Michel Delon rightly says, "his style is that of a troublemaker or guerrilla who is constantly changing places, who rejects any final position." Or again, speaking of this turbulent writer's numerous borrowings and citations à la Montaigne: "Diderot reveals not only the ideas that constitute him, he deploys his own ideas through recourse to otherness."

He stirs, Diderot; he has multiple related identities; he drifts; he skids; he dialogues. Thinking is a continual conversation, a great swarming novel. "A single physical quality," he said, "can lead the mind to consider an infinite variety of things." To think is to make music, to dance, to hit out, to destroy the ignorant assuredness of every power. Listen to Catherine of Russia after her meetings with the Philosopher: "Your Diderot is an extraordinary man, I do not tear myself away from my conversations with him without my thighs all black and blue." It would have been better for the French monarchy to let itself be smacked on the thighs by this insolent man, rather than persecute the Lumières and send them to Russia or Prussia. Heroic times, when writers were banished and their writings "slashed", something the drab French of today seem to have no idea of.

Pablo Picasso, Denis Diderot (1954)
Lithograph
Read this: "I write of God: I count on few readers, and seek only a few who approve. If these thoughts please no-one, they can only be bad, but I will hold them for despicable, if they appeal to everyone. " Apart from the Letter on the Blind (prison for the author) and the little-known Essay on the Reigns of Claudius and Nero (where Diderot celebrates Seneca), the most fantastic book in this collection [Oeuvres philosophiques, see below] is D'Alembert's Dream, a surrealist masterpiece. D'Alembert rants in his sleep; Mlle de Lespinasse, his mistress, takes notes of what he says in his dreams; Dr Bordeu, like a good psychoanalyst, interprets everything. It's mad, it's wonderful, thoughts that think their subterranean continuity, the "vibrating strings", of which we and all the world are made. It's a frenzied harpsichord, but "the philosophical instrument is sensitive; it is musician and instrument at the same time." Meanwhile, Mlle de Lespinasse receives a harsh cold lesson on sexuality and the baneful effects of continence. She readily accepts the demonstrations of the prophetic Dr Bordeu and says: "there is no difference between a physician awake and a dreaming philosopher." The revolutionary conclusion: "There is but one virtue: justice; one duty: to be happy; one corollary: do not overrate life, nor fear death."

(translation: A Curran)

Oeuvres philosophiques (Pléiade edition, published 18th November 2010) at Amazon France

Denis Diderot: Oeuvres Philosophiques Tome 1: Pensées, Réflexions, Lettre sur les Aveugles, Lettre sur les Sourds

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Thomas Lawrence - Regency Power and Brilliance

Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), Elizabeth Farren
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance
National Portrait Gallery, London
until 23rd January 2011

Thomas Lawrence was the greatest British portrait painter of his generation and one of the most celebrated artists in Europe in the early decades of the nineteenth century. This exhibition, the first in the UK for over thirty years, presents fifty-four works drawn from international public and private collections, some never before seen in public. A key figure in the history of British art,the exhibition provides a fresh understanding of Lawrence's career, exploring his astounding technical innovations, dazzling brushwork and bold use of colour through his greatest paintings and drawings. Stunning early works such as the beautiful full-length painting of actress Elizabeth Farren and the striking Arthur Atherley, are shown alongside majestic and powerful portraits of international statesmen, society figures, military leaders and royalty, created at the height of his fame, such as Pope Pius VII, Princess Sophia and the Earl of Aberdeen.
Lady Elizabeth Conyngham
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon
Thomas Lawrence took the London art world by storm at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1790. Although virtually unknown, this precocious 21-year-old artist dazzled audiences with his daring full-length portraits of Queen Charlotte and the actress, Elizabeth Farren. Their frankness, vivacity and delight in textures and detail departed from the overblown allegories of Grand Manner portraiture. The critics proclaimed Lawrence the rival and successor to Sir Joshua Reynolds, the founding President of the Academy.
Mary Hamilton
British Museum, London
Britain’s victory in the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 enabled Lawrence to achieve the greatest international reputation of any British artist. Commissioned by the Prince Regent, Lawrence travelled across Europe painting a series of monumental portraits of the sovereigns and military leaders who were allied in the defeat of Napoleon. These epoch capturing portraits, which hang together in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle, ensured Lawrence’s status and influence abroad.
Lady Selina Meade
Private collection
Knighted for his role as the prince’s artistic envoy, Lawrence began the series in London in 1814 and left for the Continent in 1818. In Vienna, he painted Charles, Archduke of Austria, enjoyed the glittering social life of the aristocracy and undertook private commissions such as Selina Meade. Just as he was preparing to return, the prince ordered him to paint the Pope. Lawrence’s year in Rome was the apex of his artistic aspirations and his portrait of Pius VII was the crowning glory of his artistic mission.
Pope Pius VII
Royal Collection, Windsor
In the 1820s Lawrence achieved a growing reputation in France. He stayed in Paris in 1825 and exhibited works such as the famous Charles William Lambton at the Paris Salon. He earned the respect of none other than Delacroix, who, according to Richard Holmes in his essay on Lawrence, said that the artist knew how to paint women's eyes; he also was praised by Baudelaire, who set him at odds with the neo-classical school of Ingres and David.
Master Charles William Lambton
Private collection
Margaret, Countess of Blessington
Wallace Collection, London

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance official exhibition site
Genius infected by Romance: Sir Thomas Lawrence at the NPG - article in Art History Today


Saturday, 25 December 2010

Praeter rerum seriem

Wishing everyone a joyful Christmas!
Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Adoration of the Shepherds
Basilica dei SS Giovanni e Paolo, Venice
Praeter rerum seriem                                             Beyond the order of things
parit deum hominem                                              the virgin mother gives birth
virgo mater.                                                           to the man who is God.
Nec vir tangit virginem                                           Neither has man touched the virgin
nec prolis originem                                                nor is the father responsible
novit pater                                                             for the origin of the child.

Virtus sancti spiritus                                             The power of the Holy Spirit
opus illud cœlitus                                                  has carried out
operatur.                                                               this heavenly work.
Initus et exitus                                                       The beginning and the end
partus tui penitus                                                  of your pregnancy
quis scrutatur?                                                      - who can begin to fathom it?

Dei providentia                                                     God's providence
quæ disponit omnia                                              which disposes everything
tam suave                                                            so sweetly
tua puerperia                                                       elevates your childbirth
transfer in mysteria.                                             to a mystery.
Mater ave.                                                           Our Mother hail!

Josquin Desprez (c.1450-1521), Praeter rerum seriem performed in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome by The Gabrieli Consort conducted by Paul McCreesh (from the DVD Christmas in Rome):


"Beyond the order of things" begins the text of a thirteenth-century Sequence about the mystery of the Incarnation; richly deep in the sonic depths begins Josquin Desprez's setting of the same text, Praeter rerum seriem. First printed in 1519, but probably composed earlier, this six-voiced Christmas motet presents an extremely tight series of imitative motifs around the central chant melody; the chant itself passes back and forth between Superius and Tenor voices in often near-canonic relationship. For much of the motet, Josquin counterpoises textural groups: the three lowest voices heard at the opening are placed in an antiphonal relationship with the upper three voices (when the melody is in the Superius), and both are juxtaposed with the full six-voiced sonority. Though all the voices are in fact freely composed, pairs throughout imitate one another so intimately that an illusion of canon obtains.

Following the common form of the late mediaeval Sequence, successive strophes of text, in pairs, take the same melody. Josquin's setting observes this underlying structure, but also imposes its own trajectory. The first two strophes comprise the first part of the motet, with the cantus firmus of the second strophe (from nec vir tangit) at double the speed, a vestige of the traditions of Isorhythm. Over the course of the second part of the motet, the rhythmic pace accelerates (to duple time, and then to a fast triple time symbolically referencing the Trinity), and the textural boundaries between voices blur themselves. Just before the final strophe of text, at the phrase omnia tam suave, hemiola syncopations blunt the edge of the jaunty triple-time, and the entire piece seems to revert to its opening sense of awe for the prayerful close.
(from All Music Guide)

Paolo Veronese: Paintings in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary, SS Giovanni e Paolo, Venice
Christmas in Rome DVD d/l link

Friday, 24 December 2010

The Doge's Palace and its Treasures

Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1526), The Lion of St Mark
Palazzo Ducale, Venice
No place in Venice can boast such a marvelous heritage as the Doge’s Palace, the political heart of the Venetian Republic for centuries. A masterpiece of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, it was built on the foundations of fortified buildings dating back to the origins of the city (V-VI century AD). The present area of San Marco was actually chosen as one of the three main strategic points of the Byzantine empire. It underwent many transformations in the course of the centuries and performed at least four fundamental functions: it was the seat of the Venetian government, the Palace of Justice, the Doge’s Residence and the Prison. Thus it was a centralised political and administrative complex intended to be not simply a functional building but also and especially the expression of the richness and supremacy of the city.

The Doge's Palace: official video by Venice Civic Museums (apologies for the wholly inappropriate music):


The first part of the Palace to be completed in its present form was the south wing, which faces the Lagoon. This wing, initially separate from the other two buildings, was conceived in the 1340s. On the first floor it contains one enormous room, one of the largest ever built in Europe: the Great Council Hall. With its impressive size (the room is 53m long, 25m wide and 14m high) the Great Council Hall is probably one of best examples of the engineering skills of the Venetians.

The Great Council was the main city assembly and was composed of all Venetian noblemen from 25 years upwards, so its membership could be up to two thousand! During these meetings the patrician class proposed and discussed new laws and appointed the members of all the other offices of State. The present decoration of the Great Council Hall is an astonishing collection of paintings which celebrate the greatness of Venetian history, the virtues of its government and its divine protection. Among the many Veroneses, Bassanos and Tintorettos, one is struck by what is possibly one of the largest oil paintings on canvas ever realised: the Paradise by Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto. In the centre at the top can be seen Christ crowning the Virgin, while more than 500 angels, saints, evangelists, prophets and common people are present all around for the occasion. The picture is full of Tintoretto’s distinctive mystical light.
Jacopo Tintoretto and Workshop, Paradise
Palazzo Ducale, Venice
The second part of the Doge’s Palace to be built, almost a century after the first, is the wing facing the Piazzetta, opposite the Biblioteca Marciana. Erected as a Palace of Justice under Doge Francesco Foscari, it is not always opened to the public. Although it was constructed in the first half of the XV century, in order to guarantee uniformity it was built in the Gothic style. Its façade, like the one overlooking the lagoon, is decorated with multi-coloured-brick lozenges in the upper part and with loggias down below. The wonderful Gothic loggias are decorated in an elegant quatrefoil pattern. The Paper Doorway, between the Palace of Justice and the Basilica, was one of the two main entrances of the building. A masterpiece by Bartolomeo Bon, it is embellished with several statues: note the one of Doge Francesco Foscari kneeling before the Lion of St Mark. This is a copy dating from the XIX century, since the original sculptures were destroyed at the end of the XVIII century, when the city was invaded by Napoleon.

Last but not least, the Renaissance wing houses the Doge’s Apartments and some important political rooms. As regards the former, one should bear in mind that the Doge’s Palace was not a monarchical residence, but rather a civic structure intended for the government of the city. The Doge, from at least the year 1000, had no great power and was obliged to live in the same building as the government.

Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), The Rape of Europa
Palazzo Ducale, Venice

The Doge, once elected (remember Venice was a Republic), had to move to these apartments with the rest of his family and had to remain there until he died. With the unique role of representing the State, the Doge had practically no private life. The rooms of his apartments, some in Baroque style and others in Rococo, are a magnificent testament of the richness of the Republic. On the third floor, visitors can admire some of the halls where the Collegio, the Senate and the Council of Ten met. None of the paintings here has a merely decorative function, each single element was conceived as part of an intricate political allegory aiming at the glorification of the city. The ceiling of the Room of the Collegio, for instance, is a priceless work by Paolo Veronese describing the features of the good government of Venice.

In the Renaissance wing the two ceremonial staircases cannot be missed. The first one is the so called Giants’ Stairway in the courtyard, at the top of which two enormous statues stand for the security of the Palace: Mars and Neptune, wonderful works by Jacopo Sansovino. These two symbols stand for the Stato da Terra and Stato da Mar, the power that Venice had on land and on sea. The second staircase has a spectacular gilded, stuccoed and frescoed vault and was therefore named the Golden Staircase. Here also one finds a large number of allegories and symbols praising the richness, the magnificence and the uniqueness of Venice.
Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), Neptune offering gifts to Venice
Palazzo Ducale, Venice
At the end of the tour, visitors pass across the famous Bridge of Sighs and into the New Prisons. The old prisons, called the Leads, which are still visible in the Doge’s Palace, were hellish, and the insufferable conditions led to the death of many prisoners. This is why in the 1580s new prisons were opened, in another building adjacent to the Doge’s Palace but seperated from it by a canal. Very modern at that time, the New Prisons still conserve some original carvings and graffiti left by the prisoners.

In conclusion the Doge’s Palace, not by chance the most visited museum in the city, is probably one of the most representative monuments in Venice. Full of charm, it contains not only great masterpieces but also evidence of the greatness of Venetian history.

Doge's Palace official website
Web Gallery of Art: Tintoretto paintings in the Doge's Palace
Web Gallery of Art: Veronese paintings in the Doge's Palace
Doge's Palace: 15 high quality fullscreen interactive panoramas (marvellous! highly recommended!)

'I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord' - (from Psalm 118) - note left by Giacomo Casanova for his captors on his escape from the Leads.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christen ätzet diesen Tag BWV63

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Christen, ätzet diesen tag BWV 63, in rehearsal
Arthaus DVD Release date: June 2002
Running time: 101'

Ann Monoyios, soprano
Sara Mingardo, alto
Rufus Müller, tenor
Stephan Loges, bass
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
conducted by John Eliot Gardiner

Amazon.co.uk review:
The In Rehearsal series continues to offer fascinating insights into the technique of conducting with this film about John Eliot Gardiner rehearsing Bach's Cantata Christen, ätzet diesen Tag BWV63. The venue is EMI's Abbey Road Studios, so there are the obligatory hackneyed shots of that zebra crossing at the beginning, but there's nothing else hackneyed about the rest of this engrossing film. The devil is in the detail: what Gardiner says about Bach and period performance (enlightening though it is) is less interesting than the way he says it. After one rousing chorus, for example, he leaves everyone breathless in silence while he digs some dirt from his fingernails before giving them a cool "Well done". A mild contretemps with the first trumpet leads to an interview in which the brass player nervously and darkly hints at even greater conflict under the surface of the rehearsal. It's remarkable to hear the sublime music-making that results despite, or perhaps because of, the tension: Gardiner continually urges the musicians to swing the beat and feel the pulse as if it were a dance, and they do.

Watch this DVD on YouTube

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Caldara - Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo

Antonio Caldara
Antonio Caldara (1670 - 1736)
Maddalena ai Piedi di Cristo

Maddalena: Hana Blažíková, soprano
Marta: Heidi Maria Taubert, soprano
Amor Terreno: Markéta Cukrová, alto
Amor Celeste: David Erler, countertenor
Cristo: Tomáš Korínek, tenor
Fariseo: Roman Janál, baritone
Collegium Marianum
Conducted by François Fernandez

The oratorio as a musical form emerged toward the end of the seventeenth century as a kind of "spiritual exercise" encouraged by the Congregazione dell'Oratorio in Rome. The performances took place in oratories (prayer halls) constructed above church naves and were intended to be attractive but edifying entertainments. Then as later, oratorios generally reflected the popular forms and styles of secular music – and in late Renaissance and Baroque Italy, this meant opera, though based on religious rather than mythological and heroic themes. The most prolific composer in this genre was Antonio Caldara (c1670-1736); New Grove lists 43 oratorios (in addition to many operas) and there are probably more that have been lost, written for patrons in his native Venice, Rome, Florence, Mantua, and Vienna.

Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo (Magdalene at the Feet of Christ) was probably written around 1700 in Rome. The tight and cohesive libretto by Lodovici Forni (also used by Bononcini in 1690) is based on Luke 7:36-50, with the addition of Martha from John 11:1-2 and 12:1-4. For dramatic purposes, Forni introduced the figures of Celestial and Earthly Love (representing good and evil) in combat for the soul of Maddalena, whose irresolution and anguish – not reflected in the spare Biblical narrative – are movingly depicted.

The music is conventional for its time. All arias are in da capo form, some small-scale and intimate and scored for continuo only, others expanded and using larger orchestral forces, more flamboyant and operatic in nature. There are only three concerted arias, all duets for Earthly and Celestial Love, and relationships among the characters are explored only in the recitatives, with the arias reflecting a variety of moods and emotions. The instrumental writing is consistently imaginative and expressive, and many of the arias, especially those of Maddalena in the course of her renunciation of worldly pleasures in favour of Jesus, are full of feeling and exceptionally beautiful. Handel probably met Caldara in Rome, and may well have learned something from him; at any rate, the comparison is not at all in Caldara's disfavour.
[from Classical.net]


Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo libretto courtesy of the Andreas Scholl Society.

Caldara was born in Venice (exact date unknown), the son of a violinist. He became a chorister at St Mark's in Venice, where he learned several instruments, probably under the instruction of Giovanni Legrenzi. In 1699 he relocated to Mantua, where he became maestro di cappella to the inept Charles IV, Duke of Mantua, a pensionary of France with a French wife, who took the French side in the War of the Spanish Succession. Caldara left Mantua in 1707, after the French were expelled from Italy, and moved to Barcelona as chamber composer to Charles VI of Austria, the pretender to the Spanish throne, who kept a royal court at Barcelona. There, he wrote some operas that were the first Italian operas to be performed in Spain. He moved on to Rome, becoming maestro di cappella to Francesco Maria Marescotti Ruspoli, 1st Prince of Cerveteri. In 1716 he obtained a similar post at the Imperial Court in Vienna, and there he remained until his death.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tivoli - Variations on an 18th Century Landscape

Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), The Falls at Tivoli
Petit Palais, Paris
Tivoli: Variations on a landscape in the 18th century
Musée Cognac-Jay, Paris
18th November 2010 - 20th February 2011
Curator: José de Los Llanos, Director of the Cognac-Jay Museum

The exhibition Tivoli: Variations on a landscape in the eighteenth century offers an original reflection on the evolution of landscape painting from 1720 to 1830 through a particular subject: the site of Tivoli and its famous Temple of the Sibyl.

A location famous since antiquity, Tibur (the Latin name for Tivoli) was made fashionable by the Emperor Augustus and Maecenas, the lavish patron of the arts, and celebrated by the poets Catullus and Horace (first century BC). The Albunean Sibyl practised her divination here.
attributed to Willem van Nieulandt (1584-1635)
The Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli
Musée Benoît-de-Puydt, Bailleul
The site was exceptional: built in the foothills of the Apennines, about thirty miles east of Rome, Tivoli was a settlement on a mountainside overlooking the plain which stretches away to the sea . A river, the Aniene, cascaded through it in multiple waterfalls. A small acropolis stood on its precipice, containing the ruins of two temples, one square and one round. The latter especially became famous as the temple of the Sibyl or Vesta.

Introduction to the exhibition by José de Los Llanos, Director of the Cognac-Jay Museum (in French):


In the eighteenth century, Tivoli and its temple gradually became one of the most represented subjects in the history of painting, particularly in French painting. The architectural perfection of its monuments, its location in the heart of a sublime and terrifying landscape, the incomparable richness of its history and legends, made it a subject revered by artists and collectors. It was also at this time that the temple of Tivoli was surrounded by workshops built in the gardens.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)
View of the Temple of the Sybil at Tivoli
In fifty works: paintings, drawings and engravings, the exhibition aims to compare the views of the greatest artists of the time of this motif: a brief introduction explains the origin of its success in the early seventeenth century, around the works of Paul Bril and Gaspard Dughet. In the eighteenth century, Vanvitelli, Boucher, Vernet, Hubert Robert, Piranesi ... all take up the same subject. Then Valenciennes, Simon Denis and Granet, who were the French forerunners of modern landscape painting.

Capriccios, poetic variations, outdoor studies, composed or more spontaneous, the works presented pose in contradictory ways the question of the subject in landscape painting. Most intriguing is without doubt the question of why the same subject interested artists from traditional to modern over such a long period,.

The exhibition is accompanied by a colour catalogue published by Paris Musées. In addition to detailed entries on each work, there are essays by various authors on the site of Tivoli, its significance for art history, the stories of tourists, and the importance of artists particularly associated with Tivoli (Joseph Vernet, Hubert Robert).

Such as it can be seen today, the Villa Gregoriana, the name given (after Pope Gregory XVI) to the entire site from the 19th century onwards, is vastly different to what can be seen in these works. In 1826, when rockfalls from the escarpment were thought to be endangering the temple, the popes Leo XII then Gregory XVI diverted the river, the waterfalls no longer falling at the foot of the buildings but much further away. At the end of the century, the temple of Tiburnus, which had been converted into a church in the Middle Ages, was demolished.
Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), View of Tivoli
Private collection

Monday, 20 December 2010

Lully's Bellérophon from Versailles

Jean-Baptiste Lully
A performance from the Opéra Royal,Versailles
17th December 2010
filmed by Olivier Simmonet
for ARTE Live Web
Running time: 02:57:17

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687)
Bellérophon

Robert Getchell - Bacchus, La Pythie
Evgeny Alexiev - Pan, Jobate
Jean Teitgen - Apollon, Amisodar
Cyril Auvity - Bellérophon
Céline Scheen - Philonoé
Ingrid Perruche - Stenobée
Jennifer Borghi - Argie, Pallas
Namur Chamber Choir
director: Thibaut Lenaerts
Les Talens Lyriques
conducted by Christophe Rousset

"One could say that all Paris was there, and never was there a more numerous nor more illustrious assembly. I hear from all sides the cry of 'miracle'. Each one agrees, M de Lully has outdone himself and this latest work is his masterpiece." This was the reception for the creation of Bellérophon, heroic tragedy in honour of the Sun King, on the 31st January, 1679. Regularly staged up until 1773, the work has since sunk into oblivion.

The libretto of Bellérophon is a landmark in the history of French opera. The mix of comic and tragic genres, hitherto assiduously practiced by Quinault, is totally rejected. French lyric tragedy is liberated, and the increased importance given to the music itself is another feature of this work: for the first time ever, arias and recitatives accompanied by the full orchestra predominate. This method was taken up by the immediate successors of Lully (Colasse, Desmarest, Marais, Campra). In Bellérophon, Lully in places surpasses anything he had written up to then, especially in the second and third acts: the appearance of Pythia and the magic rites are treated in vast frescoes of sound, where the orchestra and the choir combine to create a particularly impressive monumental whole.

Bellerophon was until now the only tragic opera by Lully not to have been performed since the revival of the French Baroque in the early 1980's: this happens now in 2010 under the baton of Christophe Rousset.



Sunday, 19 December 2010

Hieronymus Bosch in Venice

The Ascent to the Empyrean
from the Vision of the Afterlife
Hieronymus Bosch
Palazzo Grimani (at Santa Maria Formosa), Venice
18th December 2010 - 20th March 2011

Continuing the exhibition of paintings from the Italian state collections in the Palazzo Grimani: three paintings by the most visionary painter in art history: Hieronymus Bosch.

After the great success of the exhibition dedicated to three famous works by Giorgione, The Old Woman, The Tempest and the Nude, which inaugurated the opening of the Palazzo Grimani as a permanent exhibition space in Venice, now this magnificent palazzo exhibits three more masterpieces which have not been seen in public for years.

The protagonist this time is the best known and most intriguing Flemish painter in art history: Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), whose Vision of the Afterlife (1500 - 1503), St Liberata Tryptych (1505) and Triptych of the Hermit Saints (1510), from the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, can now be admired.

The curator, Vittorio Sgarbi, has chosen to make available to the public these three extraordinary works by Bosch, two of them in storage for years at the Palazzo Ducale, as a tribute to the works of the sublime artist held in Venice, where he most likely stayed between 1499 and 1502.

A figure much discussed because of the strong emotional content, strangeness and inquietude of his paintings, Anthoniszoon Jeroen van Aken, who signed himself and became known as Bosch, comes from a family of Dutch painters and is distinguished by his fantastical works, created to illustrate the moral and religious concepts of his time. His fanciful imagination, not always easy to interpret, uses the medieval bestiary, and always at the heart of his paintings is humanity doomed to hell because of sin. Meditation on the lives of the saints and the Passion of Christ seem to be the only way to redeem mankind from universal sin.

Hell, from the Vision of the Afterlife
The three works on display at the Palazzo Grimani were part of the collection of Cardinal Domenico Grimani and became part of the collection of the Palazzo Ducale after the death of the prelate, through his bequest to the Serenissima. The Triptych of St. Liberata and the Triptych of the Hermit Saints were transferred for a period to Vienna, first in the imperial collections between 1838 and 1893, then to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, until 1919, when they returned to the Palazzo Ducale, where they are currently stored.

The Vision of the Afterlife consists of four panels painted in oil, possibly originally the wings of a triptych, depicting the Garden of Eden, the Ascent to the Empyrean, the Fall of the Damned and Hell. The work is dated to the early maturity (1500-3) of Bosch due to the great freedom of its spatial organisation, and its sophisticated and mysterious web of learned references which surpasses the simply anecdotal allegorical structure of its predecessors. Perhaps the artist was influenced by the mystical ideas current in Brabant during the  fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and in particular the climate of rigorist tension in the works of Jan van Ruysbroeck and the devotio moderna movement. A text by Ruysbroeck, the Ornament of the spiritual marriage, seems to lie behind the iconography of the paintings, as there is an abyss of light leading to God, identified here in the luminous magnetic pull of the tunnel toward which the blessed rise accompanied by the angels in the Ascent to the Empyrean. An image which has given rise to ample Gnostic interpretations of the picture, but is also frequently encountered in the memories of those who emerge from comas, or conversely in the regressive dreams which relive the act of being born. The conflict between light and dark, between ecstatic happiness and refined cruelty is described in these paintings, in rapid and scratchy brushwork, but also the rich tonal orchestration forming unexpected contrasts of light and shade, sudden flashes of heavenly light in the dense and dark atmosphere of hell, which presage the disturbing developments of the future Garden of Earthly Delights (Museo del Prado, Madrid) and Temptation of St. Anthony (Museu de Arte Antiga, Lisbon).
Triptych of the Martyrdom of St Liberata
The Triptych of St Liberata is composed of three paintings on panel, St Anthony, the Martyrdom of St Liberata and the Pilgrims and the Port (1505). The work does not present problems of attribution or reconstruction, but has raised many difficulties in the interpretation of its iconography. The most widely accepted view is that it represents St Liberata, the Virgo Fortis, who, according to legend, was condemned to the torture of the cross by her own father, the king of Portugal. This work is stylistically close to the Temptation of St. Anthony in Lisbon, and is also dated to the middle period of the Master's career. In the panel of St Anthony, the beautiful view of the northern city in the background is illuminated, but not devastated, by fire, and the temptation of the flesh is represented by a small cricket, which could be an allusion to monastic homosexuality. In the right-hand panel a pilgrim monk is accompanied by a disreputable-looking soldier. Behind them are miniature scenes of violence and in the background a monstrous ship, a symbol of the Church, armed with the tail of a scorpion and the claws of a crab, which seems to have massacred all the other boats docked in the waters of a peaceful harbour. The monk, indicating the central scene of the martyrdom of the saint, seems to urge the viewer to abandon a life of violence and embrace the path of virtue.
Triptych of the Hermit Saints
Finally, the Triptych of the Hermit Saints consists of three paintings on panel, depicting St Anthony, St Jerome and St Egidius. The triptych has undergone major repainting which for a long time obscured its merits. Its date is set in the mature third period, towards 1510, given the great importance of the landscape, such an extraordinarily lyrical contrast to the troubles of the holy hermits, personified in small scenes of violence and monstrosity, as in the contemporary Epiphany or the St. John the Baptist, both in Madrid (Museo del Prado and Lazaro Galdiano respectively). The small proportions and the subject suggest a small altar for private devotion. The crucifix, toward which the saint is turned, stands next to a pillar on which the Virgin has defeated the Unicorn, while in the next architectural feature Judith displays the head of Holofernes. St Egidius, in the right-hand panel, perhaps comforted in his solitude by the timid appearance of a deer, is pierced by an arrow, probably shot by the Devil, the mysterious figure who can be seen in a crack in the rocks. In the scene of the hermitage of St Anthony, his desire has taken the form of a female nude, sweet and reassuring in appearance, but standing next to a withered tree, according to the Kabbalah a symbol of Lilith, the anti-Eve. Indeed, below him is a haute couture parade from hell, with crickets brandishing tapers, their clothing decorated with ostrich feathers and masses of fine jewellery. The ephemeral thoughts which the hermits, seeking salvation, are trying to drive out of their souls, take exterior forms, in a world of beautiful preciosity and wickedness, among ruined buildings and mysterious idols, among skeletons and thorns.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Venetian Christmas

First Mass of Christmas as it may have been celebrated at St Mark’s, Venice around 1600
Music by Giovanni Gabrieli and Cipriano de Rore
Gabrieli Consort & Players
conducted by Paul McCreesh
DG Archiv, released October 2001

Kyrie from the Missa Praeter rerum seriem by Cipriano de Rore:


For the Doge and the Venetian nobility, Christmas Eve heralded a sequence of attendances in the Basilica which were celebrated with the greatest solemnity and ceremonial. The 16th century Venetian historian Francesco Sansovino refers to these andate (processions of state) for which the chapels surrounding the High Altar of San Marco were filled with benches and chairs to accommodate the throng of dignitaries.

At about 14.30 (two hours before sunset), the Doge and the Signoria – a privileged group of his closest political advisers – came down from the Ducal Palace into San Marco itself, where they heard Vespers, celebrated by the musicians of the regular choir, augmented for the occasion by other singers and instrumentalists. Sansovino records that “the musical settings – in eight, ten, twelve and sixteen parts – stupefied and amazed the members of the congregation, and in particular those from beyond the city, who confessed to having heard no finer music in many parts of the world”.

After Vespers, Compline was said , and this in turn was followed immediately by sung Matins set to a format peculiar to the San Marco liturgy. As soon as Matins had concluded – at about 18.30 (two hours after sunset) – the first Mass of Christmas began, the normal obligation to wait until midnight having been removed by a special concession granted to the Venetian Republic by the Pope.

The Office of Matins began in total darkness, but towards the end of the service San Marco was illuminated by the progressive lighting, with a linen wad, of 1500 candles each weighing 400 g. and 60 candles each weighing 5 kg. which were placed around the basilica as high as one could see, almost eclipsing the light of the silver oil-lamps and other candles, both large and small, which were positioned above and beside the High Altar. Sansovino describes the effect as “an illumination brighter than one might see at midday, which astonishes everyone standing to admire the number and density of the candles... one could not see grander, richer, more splendid, more noble or more illustrious illuminations not only in the whole of Italy, but also in the whole of Christendom”.

In this breathtaking setting, the Doge, himself resplendent in the insignia of his office, left his throne, and accompanied by the papal Legate and his Orators, knelt on the first step in front of the High Altar to reply to the Confession made by the Legate. This distinctively Venitian symbiosis of religion, political control and acute sense of tradition and history is epitomized in the motet Audite principes which appears to speak directly to the assembled members of the oligarchy of the Serenissima – the most Serene Republic (many in the congregation would have identified with the phrases ‘O most serene princes... O most reverend elders... O most excellent forefathers’). The musical style complements the ambience, with the three groups, each comprising a declamatory solo voice with varied supporting instruments, soon combining in a grandiloquent 16-part tutti. Giovanni Gabrieli’s characteristic compositional metaphors exploit the basilica’s resonant acoustic, with juxtapositions of harmonies a third apart, extended progressions by cycles of fifths, and a sudden swerve at the word mirabilia on to an E flat triad to illustrate the unexpected marvel of the birth of Jesus.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Palazzo Farnese Exhibition

Palazzo Farnese - From the Renaissance to the French Embassy
Palazzo Farnese, Rome
17th December 2010 to 27th April 2011

A collection of 150 works (drawings, sculptures, paintings, art objects) which brings to life the history of the Palace through five centuries.

The Farnese Palace, splendour of the Farnese family in the sixteenth century, and for the last 135 years the home of the French Embassy in Rome and of the Ecole Française de Rome. An important selection of works from the Farnese collection returns to the place where it was assembled thanks to the passion for art of the Farnese family.

Palazzo Farnese, Rome
The exhibition Palazzo Farnese - From the Renaissance to the French Embassy was conceived by Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, French Ambassador to Italy. It is produced in collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Culture. The curators are Francesco Buranelli, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Cultural Heritage of the Church, and Roberto Cecchi, Secretary-General of the Italian Ministry of Culture.

For this exhibition, the Palace will be open by reservation only, and will welcome the return of the Museum Farnesianum; the Hall of the Emperors and the Hall of the Philosophers will be recreated and, for the occasion, the famous Dacian prisoners will resume their place alongside the porphyry statue of Apollo, known at the time as Roma Triumphans.

The French Ambassador to Italy, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, shows some of the treasures of the Palazzo Farnese (in French):


Farnese Hercules
Roman copy of a lost original by Lysippus
Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples
 Thanks to new technology, the courtyard will be virtually occupied by the imposing silhouettes of the Farnese Atlas, the Farnese Hercules and the Farnese Bull. Generous loans from the magnificent collection of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples have enabled the return of these works.

Among the most notable furniture, the worktable from the Museum of Ecouen, designed to hold the Farnese's collection of coins and cameos. Tapestries from the Quirinal, lent by the President of the Italian Republic, and from Chambord Castle, as well as Renaissance ceramics, retake their place in the salons of the main floor.

The portrait of Pope Paul III by Titian, Christ and the Canaanite woman painted by Annibale Carracci for the private chapel of Cardinal Odoardo, works by Sebastiano del Piombo, Carracci and El Greco testify to the rich collection of paintings newly exhibited in the northeast gallery. The collection of preparatory drawings by Annibale Carracci (from, inter alia, the Louvre) and frescoes from the Palazzo Fava in Bologna illustrate the design of the famous fresco cycle The loves of the Gods by Carracci. Most of the paintings mentioned are from the Capodimonte Museum of Naples, and from museums in Parma and Bologna.

Annibale Carracci, The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne (1595)
Palazzo Farnese, Rome
The exhibition aims to revive the intertwined stories of Popes, cardinals, kings, ambassadors and artists who, for five centuries, met and lived in the Farnese Palace, contributing to making it an exceptional and vibrant place.

The Palazzo Farnese was commissioned by Alessandro Farnese (1468-1549), who in 1534 became Pope Paul III. Begun in 1514 by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, the construction of the Palace continued under the direction of Michelangelo (1546-1549), then Vignola and Giacomo della Porta, who completed it in 1589.

Domenichino, Virgin and a Unicorn (1602)
Palazzo Farnese, Rome
The Cardinals Ranuccio, Eduardo and Alessandro Farnese, Paul III's descendants, entrusted to the greatest artists of the time the painted decoration of the ceremonial rooms: Towards 1560, the grand salon of the Fasti; around 1600, the Camerino, then the Carracci gallery. The remarkable Farnese collection of sculptures, paintings, art objects and books continued to expand.

Towards the middle of the seventeenth century, the interests of the Farnese family moved from Rome to Parma, then the family died out and its possessions passed in the first half of the eighteenth century to the Bourbons of Naples, to where the complete Farnese collection was transferred.

Report on the exhibition by Inside Art Italia (in Italian):
 

Tiziano Vecellio (Titian), Pope Paul III (1545)
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples
Ambassadors of France resided in the Farnese Palace from the sixteenth century through the seventeenth and eighteenth, but only in 1874 was the Embassy established there permanently, followed in 1875 by the Ecole Française de Rome. Purchased by the French state then sold back to Italy, the Palace has been governed since 1936 by a 99-year lease covering the two embassies, Italian and French, in Paris and in Rome.


Official exhibition page (in Italian and French only)
Palazzo Farnese Wikipedia page

Farnese Atlas
Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples
Bacchus
Palazzo Farnese, Rome
Sebastiano del Piombo, Portrait of Pope Clement VII
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples
Jean Ranc, Portrait of Elisabeta Farnese
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Pierre Adrien Paris, A view of the entrance to the Great Hall, Palazzo Farnese
Bibliothèque Municipale, Besançon
Seated Apollo (Roma Triumphans)
Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples
Squatting Venus with Cupid
Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples
Venus Callipygia
Museo Archeolgico Nazionale, Naples