Monday, 5 January 2015

"The Slum of Baroque: the Rome of Vices and Misery" Exhibition

Yesterday I profitted of a fateful day off from work to entertain myself in Rome, captured by the initiative of the free Statal Museums on the first Sunday of the month.
Besides my "free targets" though, I presented myself a visit to Villa Medici, profitting of the free guided tours, to attend this exhibition that piqued my interest since it was first announced, "The Slum of the Baroque", dedicated to those painters who favoured the noisy, dangerous and depraved Rome instead of the "official" Rome of the Pope and the Accademia di San Luca-- As the previous post was dedicated to Caravaggio, this one was simply due as its natural evolution XD
Unfortunately pictures weren't allowed during the exhibition, but you can find some decent stuff in this article from Art Tribune.

Anyway, absolute protagonists of this exhibition are the "Bentvueghels" ("Band of Birds"), a clan of Dutch painters notorious in Rome for their noisy, vulgar, alternative lifestyle, challenging the authority and the "dignity" of those posh artists who associated with the "strong powers" of the city.
As the inspirig patron of artists from the pagan religion, yet filled with classicist inspirations, was usually identified with Apollus, the Bent preferred to hang out with Bacchus: transgression, eroticism, unrestraint, but also some kind of ethilic honesty and truth ("In Vino Veritas") were their winning points, besides, of course, the "rounds" in Roman taverns were they found inspiration led by Bacchus and his breath.
Above is the "Initiation of a Bentvueghel in Rome" from an anonymous artist, one of my favourite paintings of the series.
The "ceremony" consisted in the new member being stripped naked and dressed up as Bacchus. He would be celebrated together with Venus and the personification of tobacco ("Bacco, Tabacco e Venere", the triad that in Italy is the esemplification of the human vices) and then, adequately drunk, reach the mausoleum of Santa Costanza to celebrate with further drinking in front of the sarcophagus attributed to Constantina (now preserved in the Vatican Museum), that in their opinion actually hosted Bacchus because of its decorations.
The new member would then etch his newly acquired "nickname" on the walls of the Church, as a further "vow" to this trangressive religion of art.

These artists sure paid a huge debt to the style of Caravaggio, as the most of them started as plain caravaggeschi, for the intriguing study of light, the humble subjects of their painting, the general genuine deal with realism, but those traits are also the base of the Dutch painting. It's interesting to see how the new experience molded into the cultural expertise of these artists that sure knew their stuff.

Even some unexpected names, detractors or rivals of Caravaggio and the Bent started to entertain themselves with these pernicious themes.
It's the case of the "Portrait of Young Man with Cat" by Giovanni Lanfranco, who was awarded as a knight of the Supreme Order of Christ in 1628, or Claude Lorrain, with his "View of Rome with Trinità dei Monti", where he showed a scene of prostitution in the Roman fields, even if covered by the shadows.

But as the more classicistic artists started to get intrigued by such themes, the bad boys of the XVII century started to face the fact that they couldn't live of wine alone, and were "forced" to make their works more attractive to the cultured audience, without degenerating their free spirit.
Above you can see the "Concert" of Valentin Boulogne.
What's the difference with the other paintings portraying scenes of daily life in the taverns, for example "The Cardsharp" of Pietro Paolini..?
First of all, the presence in the scenes of various musical instruments. Drawing a musical instrument was considered a talent, and paintings with a musical theme were quite popular. Also, the presence of a musical score, checked by the old man on the left, meant that the guy had some kind of education.
The man on the foreground who's pouring the wine in another bottle is a sign or moderation.
Also, instead of a table they are sitting around an existing ancient frieze, a tasty reference aimed to the refined buyer.
And, on top of it, the thoughful expression of the boy in the middle of the scene, referring to the allegory of Melancholy: a message, then, that after the feast comes the feeling of emptiness.

I found this exhibition quite interesting and inspiring, even if I already knew the most things that I heard here, it's interesting to have a proper, thoughtful walk around these masterpieces (and Northern jokes) to get a proper introduction to the Rome of the "crazy fellows", which is after all quite blatant, but still mostly unknown.

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