Last year I had the pleasure of contributing a paper at the Representation of Philosophers session at the Renaissance Society of America, in Venice. My paper was Socrates Becomes Narcissus: Moral Mediation and Artistic Representation in Achille Bocchi’s Symbolicarum quaestionum, (left). You can read that here, along with three other papers on philosophers in visual art and culture. The session was organised by Helen Langdon who also contributes a paper on representation of philosophers in Salvator Rosa. I like this method of disseminating research via the web, and I hope to do more of it in the future.
Artists despite being under the spell of the muse, were under pressure to sell their art to make a living, unless they were economically self-sufficient. To use Bätschmann’s terminology, the artist was caught between self-expression and the market. However, Bätschmann looks mainly at the situation from the late eighteenth-century onwards, but perhaps the conflict first emerges in the previous century with the Italian artist Salvator Rosa. Rosa came from Naples, and because of the lack of interest in his art, he was obliged to remove to Rome, and after that, Florence. We may also encounter in Rosa the first independent artist determined not to sacrifice his artistic vision to the whims of patrons or the pressures of the market. The traditional view of Rosa is that he was contemptuous of the normal mechanisms of patronage, the court and the church, and sought to promote himself outside the normal spheres of artistic production and reception. This view holds that Rosa is the first really independent artist declaring defiance to patrons and organisations intent on controlling the output of Rosa’s studio. Recently another interpretation has been advanced: Rosa- for whatever reasons- felt himself severely marginalised and sought to present his work in the hope that it might catch the eye of patrons and buyers; he exhibited his art in places like the cloisters of San Giovanni Decollato, Rome, because he wanted to attract attention. Whatever his motivations, Rosa did not make life easy for himself. Cursed with a fiery temper, he loathed working for commissions, hated the commercial side of painting, refused to name prices, and wanted freedom to create subjects congenial to him and not his patrons. On one memorable occasion, he said that he let his pencil do the negotiating, a typical Rosa comment.
Of course all this could have been a pose: Rosa promoting the image of an independently-minded artist, uninterested in money, and painting intellectual subject matter, particularly philosophers who relinquished riches. But could these depictions of philosophers like Crates and Diogenes be seen as figures of classical wisdom, or indications of Rosa’s own attitude towards money and economics? We know that on one occasion Rosa did a drawing of Pittura (Painting) as a beggar out in the streets of Rome. It has been suggested that Painting as a Beggar might not express the subject of painters’ fees, but the ‘low status of painting in Rome’ as written in Rosa’s famous satire La Pittura probably dating from the early 1650s. Yet, the drawing might also be linked with a debate between Rosa and a Florentine servant in which philosophical poverty seems to dislodge economic necessity. In this exchange, the servant conjures up an image of Rosa the mendicant standing at the porch of one of the Holy Churches with his staff and poor box. Here, a link between begging and painting is made, and Rosa seems to be conveying much the same idea in the drawing, save instead of the staff and poor box, Pittura has the maulstick, brushes and palette. Another drawing- in Geneva, shows Rosa’s customary satiric slant on the relationship between painting and riches. Inside the artist’s studio Pittura waves a flag at flies that are infesting Rosa’s canvases, a strange conceit symbolising the neglect of the artist’s work and his genius. Two putti representing aspects of the artist’s genius stand idle in front of brushes, perhaps suggesting the artist’s temporary cessation of painting at the lack of interest in his art. Rosa once said in response to the lack of commissions: “I might as well plant my brushes in the garden.” Later in England, a direct link would be made between the arts and the giving of alms, as in the title illustration to the catalogue of an exhibition of the Society of Great British Artists. Here a winged genius next to an easel hands out coins to a beggar watched by a woman and children signifying charity.
In his The Artist in the Modern World, Bätschmann discusses Joseph Anton Koch’s The Artist as Hercules at the Crossroads (1791). As the title suggests, this recalls the iconographical convention of showing the strongman at a junction where he can choose the direction of either Vice or Virtue, symbolised by two different female figures, one stern in mien, and one lax in disposition. In 1791- the time this drawing was done- Koch had escaped the Court College of Art in Stuttgart, and this singular image might be connected with that flight. The statuesque figure on the left represents Art-Virtue, and bears the legend “Imitatio’ which makes her a distant cousin of Pittura, who we last saw begging in the streets of 17th century Rome. The other figure, decked out in garish clothing, could not be further removed from the family of Pittura: she is ‘Art the Whore’ who disconcertingly binds Koch with a chain around his ankle. In addition to symbolising the affected manner of the court, this figure, with its grotesquery, mocks the kind of training that the artist received there. As Bätschmann observes, though this image can be located in 18th century debates about virtue, notably Lord Shaftesbury whose political ideas were linked with the iconography of Hercules at the Crossroads, it also concerns artistic freedom. An artist is free to give up the rewards and riches at court; but the consequence of that is that he may find himself on the stony path of poverty. This was a brave move for Koch because he came from humble origins; he started life as a goatherd, and progressed to painting portraits of bishops, and eventually landscapes modelled on Poussin and Claude. Many of Koch’s predecessors trod the safe road of court patronage which brought distinction and monetary success such as Titian whose paint brush was retrieved by no less than the Emperor Charles V himself, although there is no proof of this event. Assuming that Charles visited Titian’s studio, this would indicate painting appreciated by the powerful and influential, and of course wealthy. Although it may be unsafe to generalise, Koch’s rejection of all this courtly favour reflects the fiercely independent attitude of post-renaissance painters in Germany who exchanged the high wages- and associated arrogance- for humility, artistic integrity, and inevitably, poverty. According to Bätschmann, Koch started a trend of artists moving from state service and the academy to the stand-alone studio best exemplified by Asmus Jakob Carstens who stated that he “did not belong to the Berlin Academy, but to mankind.”
Our third example is an American painter, from Boston, John Single Copley. As Copley’s parents were tradesmen, and women- his mother owned a tobacco shop- the idea of painting for money wouldn’t have been far from Copley’s mind. Copley’s training in Boston is a matter of speculation, but he seems to have been self-taught. Eventually Copley was to shake off his handicaps and raise himself through thrift, hard work and luck to the status of a full member of the Royal Academy in England, encouraged by its President, and another American history painter, Benjamin West. Copley submitted a number of paintings to the Royal Academy for exhibition, but he attained success with the monumental painting Watson and the Shark, representing a terrible accident in Havana in 1749-see below. This tour de force concerns Copley’s client Brook Watson who was business partner of Copley’s brother-in-law, Jonathan Clark. Watson lost a leg to the shark at the age of fourteen, but kept his life due to being rescued, the scene that Copley paints. Interestingly, we never get a real self-portrait from Copley, let alone a peep into his busy studio. His grand portrait of himself with his Boston family throws little life on his methods and attitude towards art. Positioned at the rear of his relatives, the artist clutches a group of drawings, a reference to his artistic profession; he also is standing before the Medici Vase, maybe an allusion to connoisseurship and the Grand Tour. The artificial backlit landscape is typical of the numerous backdrops he would have used to paint fashionable portraits of the rich in society, and this kind of portrait would have found a place on the portrait market in the late eighteenth-century. This elegant group portrait can be compared with the only other self-portrait of Copley. Here, his personality retreats into himself while presenting the shiny surfaces of his art to the viewer. Had we been allowed to venture into Copley’s studio, we would probably have found ourselves surrounded by elegant furnishings admired by a finely dressed painter surveying precious objects obtained from overseas. Copley’s studio reflects his milieu- the world of money, shining social surfaces and colonial expansion.
Copley’s other main genre was history painting, particularly works commemorating current events like the defeat of French troops on St Helier, Jersey on the 22nd May, 1781. A gallant young British officer, Francis Pierson, less than twenty-four years of age, had resisted the French and eventually drove them out, though he lost his life in the battle. The painting shows portraits of officers of the 95th Regiment of the Jersey Militia in the fray, and a black servant of the fallen Pierson, revenging his death. This composition evolved from 17 preparatory drawings and an oil sketch, all united with the finished painting in 1996. Although Copley’s The Death of Major Pierson of 1782-4 was an artistic success, it needed business acumen to make it financially rewarding. To achieve this Copley formed a partnership with John Boydell, dealer in engravings, who paid the painter £800 for the commission, and continued to show the work in his own Cheapside shop after the official exhibition closed. Subscriptions would also be opened for prints of the painting, although the secretive Copley did not record his dealings with Boydell. This sort of commercial activity would have been frowned down upon the Royal Academy and its founder Joshua Reynolds, who chose to ignore the fact that fame did not pay the rent. Things were not improved by the established view that painters were ‘mechanicals’ because they used their hands, and hence could never be intellectuals. This idea was opposed by a number of theorists who believed that painters were capable of intellectual discourse, and so theory became an integral part of art historical teaching, literally illustrated by Reynold’s allegory ‘Theoria’ on the ceiling of the Royal Academy. Copley was certainly in the thick of this debate and his letters speak occasionally of ‘improvement’ which has to be taken as both commercial as well as academic advancement. This is significant because Copley believed that art should refer to the subject of trade, however indirectly, an attitude completely at variance with the Royal Academy. Not that Copley had to worry on this score: he had married the wealthy Susanna Farnham Clark, and begun acquiring property on Beacon Hill, one of Boston’s wealthiest districts. With his temporary exhibitions bankrolled by wealthy patrons like Boydell, he was assured a wealthy sideline outside the main exhibition system. John Singleton Copley had all the trappings of success; he dressed like a dandy, and was quietly amassing a fortune as a portraitist, while his Death of Major Pierson and Watson and the Shark marked him out as rising star in the artistic firmament of eighteenth-century Britain, despite the R.A.’s raised eyebrows at his method of promotion. In this case Pittura’s begging bowl was not required because the cupboard in the artist’s studio was full, business was booming and Pittura had turned into Profit.
 See Xavier F. Salomon’s “Ho Fatto Spiritar Roma”: Salvator Rosa and Seventeenth-Century Exhibitions in Salvator Rosa, ex cat, Dulwich, 2010, 74-99, 75.
 Xavier F. Salomon’s “Ho Fatto Spiritar Roma”, 75.
 Oskar Bätschmann, The Artist in the Modern World, Cologne, 1997, 24-5.
 Bätschmann, The Artist in the Modern World, 63.
 Paolo di Matteis’s version in the Ashmoleon was commissioned by Lord Shaftesbury in 1712.
John Singleton Copley in England, ex. cat., Emily Ballew Neff and William L. Pressly, Washington and Houston, 1995.
 Bätschmann, The Artist in the Modern World, 34.
On Monday 10th Jan, the baroque scholar Helen Langdon is giving a seminar on philosophers in the art of Salvator Rosa. Author of a book on Caravaggio, and the leading curator of the Rosa show at Dulwich, Helen is an expert on 17th century art. I’ve heard her speak on this subject and it is fascinating. Anybody interested in the baroque should go. I wish I could make it myself.
Representations of Philosophers in the art of Salvator Rosa. January 10th 4.30 pm Warburg Institute.
“This seminar traces the development of Rosa's treatment of philosopher subjects and suggests the strains of contemporary thought and feeling to which they so deeply appealed. It starts with his Cynic and Stoic subjects, which are connected to his role as satirist, and denounce the corruption of his times, and concludes with his later interest in the pre-Socratics, in magicians and natural philosophers, who 'seek out the secrets of nature' and who in may ways anticipate the 18th century sublime. “
Featured painting. Salvator Rosa, Diogenes and Alexander, Althorpe House, Northampton, 1643.
Last week I took time off from the daily grind to refresh myself with another exhibition- and what an event. We're talking 12 rooms of paintings and drawings from all periods, but with the emphasis on baroque; a cornucopia of art treasures presented to an audience that hasn't seen most of them. That includes me. I've never been to Budapest, but if this is a taste of the art in that city, then it's on my visit list.
The show is so large and wide ranging in its genres and styles that it would be pointless to try to overview it in a review. Instead, I've listed a number of paintings that caught my eye, or that I found of surpassing interest. When you go in the first painting you'll see is a strange Woman of the Apocalypse by a Hungarian master whose many headed beast of Revelations is obviously based on Durer's print of the same subject. Most people will have come for Raphael's Esterhazy Madonna though –top of the post- but in all honesty it's a disappointment because the multileveled frame around it kills its charm stone dead. What idiot decided to surround Raphael's paintings with over-elaborate and ornamented frames? It's a deplorable trend. Best to view it in a reproduction sans frame.
You're spoilt for choice in the 17th century rooms. There's a Poussin- which I'll save for another post- or you could have an El Greco or Annibale Carracci, or how about a dynamic Flight into Egypt from Luca Giordano? I've opted for a well painted canvas by Caravaggio's arch rival, Il Cavaliere d' Arpino, whose Diana and Actaeon has an interesting twist: the goddess seems to be pleading with the hunter rather than intimidating him. Stylistically, it's a nice re-working of Titian into a picture of courtly elegance. More in tune with the orotund and majestic feel of the baroque is Ribera's Martyrdom of St Andrew, which has a gravitas to it that makes it seem like a painted lecture. If Ribera is too realistic then you could always turn to the classicism of Artemesia Gentileschi's Jael and Sistera, which has a restraint despite its violent subject of a woman bashing a tent peg into a man's head!
Old master drawings are set out in two large rooms and there are some hits and misses here. Apart from the Leonardo sheets, I was drawn to a Durer drawing of a rider which must connect with the engraving of Death, Knight and the Devil. I'm not so convinced about the Raphael drawing though- it looks well below his usual standard. My favourite drawing in the entire show would have to be Rembrandt's spirited pen and wash sketch of his wife Saskia sitting at a window. I love the bold line of Rembrandt's pen which seems even more emphatic than usual here. There are some impressive portraits here: Goya, Sebastiano dell Piombo, Moroni. But, completely outside my customary frame of reference, I've chosen an 18th century one. Greuze's portrait of the collector Paul Randon de Boisset. We're used to Greuze's swooning, sentimental young beauties in the Wallace Collection- but this has a piercing naturalism and seriousness that really does impress.
Some nice contributions from still-lifers like van der Heyden and others. Tally ho past the hunting scenes which bore me to death…but this is more like it-exotic birds and fruit from the 18th century Hungarian painter Jacob Bogdany. He was quite successful in London and I can see why. His paintings of birds are stunning; this could be re-titled "The Parrot Lecture". The intimidating bird on the left reminds me of a professor I once knew! The landscapes are really of very high quality. My particular favourite was one of Claude- a gentle scene of a rustic driving his livestock across a brook. Then there's two Salvator Rosa's which are very fine. John Wooton's Classical Landscape doesn't do a bad job of bringing Poussin's philosophers' grove into the 18th century.
That leaves the modern art which I didn't really get a chance to appreciate as I was dead on my feet by the time I got there! Mention must be made, however, of a Picasso Mother and Child, done right at the end of his Blue Period and start of the Rose period. This painting marks a period of transition: moon to sun, grey to gold, austerity for prosperity. And don't we all need that!
Finally, the catalogue, which was really a bargain at its special discount price of £9.95. The art is set out chronologically in the catalogue, century by century and the drawings are not separated from the paintings. The catalogue entries aren't very detailed, but then all the art is reproduced.
As some of you have contacted me and asked what I got up to in London recently, I thought I'd oblige. After the V&A exhibition, I attended a study day on the 17th century Italian Painter Salvator Rosa at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. It was absolutely awesome- I feel really privileged to have been asked.
Basically, we were introduced to each section of the exhibition, Salvator Rosa: Bandits, Wilderness and Magic. Our hosts were the curators, the Rosa expert Helen Langdon, and her two superb co-curators, Xavier Salomon and Caterina Volpi. Our hosts introduced the paintings and then invited responses from us- an international group of Rosa enthusiasts and experts. Many topics were covered including whether the famous painting in the London, NG is actually a self-portrait or an idealized image of Philosophy. I'm still mulling that one over. I also recall a spirited discussion about the bandits and soldiers in Rosa's paintings; are they actual robbers, mercenaries or a creation of Rosa's? Could they be aspects of his own iconography of the dispossessed? I think Rosa painted a picture of Painting outside the gates of Rome, and there is a drawing of painting as a beggar at Windsor.
There was also an engrossing discussion of philosophical landscapes, especially how Rosa's figures resembled Poussin's, as in this painting of Pythagoras. Poussin seems to have invented this erudite genre, although Rosa painted every philosopher under the sun like Archytas with his mechanical dove.
If you live in the U.K, you should seriously consider visiting the show; if you live in London, you should definitely go. And if you live in the States, the exhibition transfers to the KImbell Museum at Fort Worth at the end of the UK leg. As the first exhibition on Rosa in the UK since 1973, it's a must.
Self-portrait or Philosophy, 1641, London, NG
Pythagoras emerging from the Underworld, 1662, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.
Apologies for the scarcity of posts of late. No time to blog because of writing lectures, conference papers, proof-reading, administration and teaching. To make up for it, here's a brief survey of baroque painting in Naples taken from my lecture notes and the writings of various seicento scholars.
Pre- Baroque phase.
No native school of painting in existence before the 17th century. However, Vasari visited Naples in 1544 and patrons in Naples looked outside to recruit early renaissance artists like Cavallino, Giotto and Colantonio (pupil of Antonello di Messina). High Renaissance paintings by Titian (Annunciation) and Raphael (Madonna of the Fish) in Naples- below. Interest in Flemish artists by Neapolitan painters in mid 16th century. Paul Bril, a Flemish landscape artist, painted in Naples, in 1602. His views of bosky groves may have inspired Salvator Rosa, a native.
First Caravaggio-esque phase.
Neapolitan Baroque painting starts here, 1606-7, the year Caravaggio swept through the city. Three significant altarpieces: The Flagellation, Seven Acts of Mercy- below- and the Crucifixion of St Andrew. Caravaggio's influence on local paintings probably dates from 1608; also, Louis Finson, a Fleming, stayed in Naples until 1612 painting copies after Caravaggio. Caracciolo painted religious pictures on a small scale and worked for some of Caravaggio's patrons; his Salome owes much to Caravaggio's version (London).
Spanish artist Jusepe Ribera (Spagnoletto) moved from Rome to Naples in 1616. Though familiar with Caravaggio's Roman manner, he did not start signing his pictures until the 1620s when he was confident he had assimilated Caravaggio's style into his Neapolitan painting. Ribera's Drunken Silenus (Naples) – below- is an interesting blend of Caravaggio, Rubens and the prints of the Carracci. Flemish art does slightly influence Ribera in his later period: the flamboyant drapery in Apollo and Marsyas is reminiscent of Van Dyck, whose paintings were in the Antwerp merchant Gaspar Roomer's collection. Ribera lived and worked in Naples for the rest of his life.
Move towards Bolognese Classicism.
From Rome came the French painter Simon Vouet, who is likely to have visited Naples about 1620. Two of his pictures have been connected with Neapolitan clients: the Circumcision- below- and St Bruno being given the Rule. Though these two paintings, especially the Circumcision, show Caravaggio's influence, they also demonstrate knowledge of the lighter palette of Lanfranco and Bolognese classicism. It was this stylistic détente that served Vouet as he moved towards a more international style.
One of the greatest exponents of Bolognese classicism was Guido Reni. While in Naples on his second visit during 1621-2, he painted the delicate and naturalised Meeting of Christ and St John which had an influence on painting in the city. Artemesia Gentileschi was one of the painters who began to outgrow her Caravaggism in favour of a more classical painting. She probably arrived in Naples about 1629-30. A formidable lady, she seems to have actively engaged with other painters rather than producing works in isolation for sale outside Naples, although she did that too. Her Annunciation (Naples) mixes Caravaggio's chiaroscuro and Vouet's colour quite effectively while the figures in her Corisca and the Satyr- below- betrays the influence of Reni. Mention should also be made of Stanzione, ' the so-called Guido Reni of Naples'. His Massacre of the Innocents conflates the grotesque horror of Ribera with Reni's version of the Massacre (Bologna). Poussin's Massacre (Chantilly) seems another point of reference.
Neo-Venetianism and the High Baroque in Naples.
From the 1630s there is marked movement away from solid forms towards a more painterly art, more Venetian in look. The realism of Ribera and the classicism of Stanzione was exchanged for a wave of painting that could be called neo-Venetian, but this new painterliness was not a reaction against previous art- it expressed the wish to paint more broadly. In addition, there was the influence of the pictures of Rubens and Van Dyck, whose Feast of Herod (Edinburgh) – below- and Susannah and the Elders (Munich) were in the collection of Gaspar Roomer. Also, works by Pietro da Cortona and Lanfranco had arrived in Naples while Neapolitan artists went to Rome and studied ceiling paintings there. It is true to say that Naples did not experience a "crisis of painterliness' as Rome, since naturalism and classicism remained with the new style in Naples. It was only after 1656- the year of the plague- with the work of artists like Preti and Giordano that painting in Naples began to catch up with the high baroque in Rome.
1606-7- Caravaggio in Naples.
1610- Death of Caravaggio at Porto Ercole.
1612- Finson leaves Naples for Antwerp.
1615- Salvator Rosa born
1616- Arrival of Ribera from Rome.
1620- Possible visit of Vouet.
1621-2- Reni's second visit.
1629-30- Arrival of Artemesia Gentileschi.
1630- Arrival of Domenichino from Rome; Velasquez in Naples.
1631- Eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
1633- Arrival of Lanfranco in Naples.
1634- Gaspar Roomer's gallery established; birth of Giordano.
1635- Death of Caracciolo.
1640- Rubens's 'Feast of Herod' enters Roomer's collection.
The Poussin conference reminded me that I'd heard last week of another gathering. This time it's on the 17th century Italian painter Salvator Rosa, famous for his landscapes and representation of philosophers and bandits. This is scheduled for October 2010 at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, to accompany an exhibition called Rosa in Britain. I'm told that the conference concentrates on the afterlife of Rosa, the reception of his art in Britain and similar themes. The reason for this post is to alert any scholar/reader of this blog interested in contributing a paper to the conference to contact its organizer, Dr Helen Langdon. The details are below, and Rosa's Self-Portrait (National Gallery, London), is at the top of this post.
Call for Papers; Salvator Rosa in Britain.
The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art will be hosting a conference, Salvator Rosa in Britain, on October 18th, 2010, at Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, to accompany the exhibition Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) : Bandits, Wilderness and Magic, to be held there from 15 September – 28 November 2010. Rosa has always had a double importance for art in Britain, as both painter and phenomenon, and the conference aims to explore his vast impact on both painters and writers. Possible themes might include collectors and collecting; Rosa and concepts of the sublime, both in landscape and in magic, prophecy and enchantment; the afterlife of some outstanding works once or still in Britain, such as the Democritus, Belisarius, Atilius Regulus, Empedocles leap into Etna; Rosa and the concepts of Romantic genius and the freedom of the artist; the myths woven around Rosa's biography; bandits and witches.
Please send a 500-word outline of your proposal for a twenty-five minute presentation, along with a CV and a list of publications. The deadline for submission of proposals is 30 December 2009. The proposal should be sent to Helenlangdon@hotmail.com