Wednesday, 10 June 2015

"Baroque in Rome - The Marvel of Arts" Exhibition

Here I am, facing the scorching heat of a Roman early summer in front of my PC to update you on my recent touristical pursuits!

I was really looking forward to this huge exhibition dedicated to one of the most characterizing artistic styles of the city of Rome, the euphoric Baroque.
The seat of the exhibition is the charming Palazzo Cipolla, located in the crowdy and fancy Via del Corso.
To be honest, I found the exhibition itself a bit confused in its presentation: they tried to organize the various aspects of such a confused period chronologically, then by focusing on the personalities and then on the various aspects of artistic contamination-- It's indeed a daring attempt to present a period which is confused and complex by definition, but it may prove difficult to get a synthetic image of Baroque from it.

Besides the exhibition itself, another amazing feature of the event is that of the "themed tours", where one can be granted a themed walk around the city, focused on a building exceptionally open just for it! I found the idea delightful, rather than just staying inside the museum you can face the city itself, and read its history on the streets!
I managed to get a reservation for a few of them, you'll read the reports on these pages soon.
By the way, if you're interested in a themed tour and the regular exhibition, my suggestion is to book a themed tour+exhibition combo: you'll get a guided tour of the exhibition at a discounted price, to proceed for the themed tour right after it.

But let's explore some details of the exhibition (this time I made sure to buy the catalogue, so I can share all the needed pictures)!
The exhibitions starts with the contextualization of the period, and how it developed from the frozen classicity of Reinassance via the Mannerist experiments. At the same time, Rome was filled with foreign artists (expecially Dutch, as we saw in the exhibition "The Slum of Baroque", and French), that, besides devouring the "classic lesson", brought their culture and styles, promoting an extravagant melting pot.
The basics of the Counter-Reformation were quickly degenerated, and the awe-inspiration and pathos experimented by the Mannerists became the standard: emotion, razzmatazz and theatrality became the norm, the partecipation of the viewer to the artistic product became the focal point of the message, if not "the message" itself.
To illustrate this point, I'd like to introduce you two artworks from two foreign painters; the first is "The Angels heal Saint Sebastian" by Rubens:
The beautiful body of the Saint reminds of the classic Heritage of Rome, he looks almost like a snoring Apollo. The curious iconography of the Angels taking care of the Saint rather than the "Pious Women" of the canon (compare to the painting on the same theme by Vouet), derives from the Dutch tradition. And interesting mix of different cultures and styles.

The second painting worth a mention, symbol of the whole exhibition, is the fun (and rather cruel, to be honest!) allegory of the "Time vanquished by Hope and Beauty", by the above mentioned French painter Vouet:
Here Vouet is declaring his love to his newly wed wife, the Italian painter Virginia da Vezzo, with the hope that her beauty would defeat time. A strictly private painting, masked by the tones of a moral message.
Virginia would die 20 years later, and Vouet would "update" this same theme on "Time Vanquished by Love, Hope and Fame": Beauty can't be eternal, but Love surely can.

But the "apex" of the art of painting in the Baroque can be seen in that "show with special effects" that are the ceiling frescoes.
Here are my favourites, the freaking awesome "Triumph of the Name of Jesus " by Gaulli, decorating the Chiesa del Gesù and the alarming "Allegory of the Divine Providence" by Pietro da Cortona, in Palazzo Barberini:
The exhibition shows sketches and bozzettos of both works, including other pieces, like a drawing of the decoration of the ceiling of Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj by Ferri:
Another interesting contribution is that focusing on the decorations of the city to celebrate certain events, where you can see the best application to that concept of "theatrality" that characterized this artistic period.
Most of these "scenographies" are known because they were frozen in beautiful prints-- So here we can see how the slope of Trinità dei Monti (now occupied by the Spanish Steps) was decorated to celebrate the Birth of the Dauphin:
The "invention" of Bernini featured living flames and fireworks!

Besides the "ephemeral inventions" though, came deep restructuring of the city itself... Here's the "plan" devised by Alexander VII Chigi captured in a print, conveniently explaining the stops of the Pilgrimage of the Seven Churches:
Another interesting section tells us about the landscape painting in Rome.
My attention was caught by these "capriccio" by two French artists, Lemair and Lorrain:
I found it quite fun how they conceived these "patchworks" of various monuments and buildings placed in unprobable locations-- It's a common feeling, that of Rome being too big and clustered, to need a way to gather all its wonderful visions in one mere picture-- Like an ancient photomontage... Looking at these paintings gave me the impression of facing the ancestor of Photoshop!

I found peculiarly moving the section with various studies of statues and fountains, the "stars" of the exhibition being those of Bernini, and that dedicated to the furnitures! Here the VIP of the hall was the dazzlingly beautiful Barberini Harp, delightful instrument featured in lots of famous paintings, the most awe-inspiring being the Allegory of Music, featuring a "vocal" Venus:
Long story short, a wonderful exhibition that I suggest to those who are fans of this historical period (like me!) and to those who considered it a "vain" period of corruption and confusion-- One of the most vivid portraits of Rome, anyway!

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