Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Guido Who? Part II

Cagnacci - The Other Side of Baroque

Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), The Repentant Magdalene, ca. 1660 - 1663,
oil on canvas, 90 1/4 x 104 3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm),
The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
© Norton Simon Art Foundation    
Photo:  Courtesy of the Frick Collection Media

The following is a continuation of the ArtWithHillary blog post October 31, 2016 concerning the The Frick Collection's exhibition Cagnacci’s "Repentant Magdalene”: An Italian Baroque Masterpiece from the Norton Simon Museum.  

In the late 1650s, while Guido Cagnacci was still working in Venice, he was invited to Vienna.  The invitation probably came from the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, uncle of Emperor Leopold I. In northern Europe, there was a taste for erotic subject matter. This was particularly true for the Austrian Court.  Cagnacci's specialty of semi-nude beauties would have much appeal.  The court also had enthusiasm for Venetian art.  As a consequence, there were many Venetian painters working in Vienna. Cagnacci joined them.  

The artist's big opportunity came in 1660 - 61.  The Emperor asked him for a painting of the Mary Magdalene with four full-length figures.  The result was the Norton Simon's Repentant Magdalene.  


The Magdalene painting was to set right some hostile criticism of Cagnacci.  The painter had been accused of an inability to paint anything but half-length figures.  As if to quell his critics, for the emperor, Cagnacci painted five not four full-length figures:  Mary and her sister Martha seated next to her, two servants at the room's open door as well as an angel chasing away a devil. Actually, there may have been six figures for a detailed analysis of the painting indicated that there may have been a third servant at the doorway who was eliminated in the final composition.

The story of Mary Magdalene is really an amalgamation of many biblical references to a person or persons called Mary.  The illustrious Italian poet, prose writer, satirist and dramatist Pietro Aretino (1492 - 1556) wrote a sixteenth-century best seller that included a description of Mary Magdalene's life which was a synthesis of the bible's Marys. The book was published in several editions. Scholars have noted that Cagnacci's Repenitant Magdalene closely follows the Aretino narrative.  Since the  painting looks like a tableau vivant or a stage set, it has been proposed that Cagnacci based his painting on seventeenth-century religous plays about the Magdalene that were sourced from Aretino's much admired text.  



Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), Detail of The Repentant Magdalene, ca. 1660 - 1663,
oil on canvas, 90 1/4 x 104 3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm),
The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
© Norton Simon Art Foundation
Photo:  Courtesy of the Frick Collection Media 

Cagnacci painted directly from posed models.  He reused his models in different paintings or as different characters in the same work.  In the Repentant Magdalene, Magdalene, Martha, and the angel appear to be the identical person.*  

Cagnacci's Magdalene painting is set in a luxurious room with an oriental rug and three sumptuous damask cushions.  The scene describes the moments after Mary Magdalene's conversion to Christianity.    Mary had led a sinful life as a courtesan.  Her sister Martha, already a Christ adherent, had urged Mary to go to the temple to hear Christ speak. Mary was so taken with what she heard that she promptly gave up her immoral ways.  She went back home to her room, disrobed and threw her clothes and jewels on the floor.  Mary's hysterical state shocked her servants.  Martha, finding her sister in this condition, sought to console her. She points to the angel and devil in the background as if explaining their symbolic meaning:  Virtue overcoming Vice.  The combination of allegory and the story of the repentant Magdalene in one painting is an invention of the artist.  



Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), Detail of The Repentant Magdalene, ca. 1660 - 1663,
 oil on canvas, 90 1/4 x 104 3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm),
The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
© Norton Simon Art Foundation
Photo:  Courtesy of the Frick Collection Media 

The devil, with tail and horns, floats in the air.  He looks toward Mary and Martha, biting his fingers in a gesture of anger.  The demon has lost one sinner and is about to be expelled right out of the picture frame.  


The angel, holding a rod like a baseball bat, pursues the devil.**  This heavenly being has the body of a classical god whose sex is concealed by a banner-like drapery.  A divine wind from the left blows the angel's covering cloth into a decorative s-shape; causes his golden ringlets to fly backward; and, ruffles the feathers of his impressive wings. 


Raking light comes from a closed window on the left which spotlights the painting's main figures.  Light also comes from the open door on the right which leads to a loggia or balcony.  A terra-cotta pot with a carnation plant rests on the ledge of the outdoor baluster's top rail. The plant has not blossomed.  Its buds are symbolic of rebirth or new beginnings and allude not only to Mary's new life but also to Christ's Passion.  Legend has it that the carnation plant sprung from the Virgin Mary's tears as they fell to the ground. Her weeping caused by Jesus's plight.  A further association with the Passion is the plant's buds.  In Italian, because of their shape, carnation buds are called "little nails" - nails like those used for Christ's crucifixion.   



Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), Detail of The Repentant Magdalene, ca. 1660 - 1663,
 oil on canvas, 90 1/4 x 104 3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm),
The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
© Norton Simon Art Foundation
Photo:  Courtesy of the Frick Collection Media 

Two female servants are leaving the room.  One of them, with her back to the interior, is closing one side of the double entry door.  She looks toward the scene taking place inside. The other maid is crying. With her left hand she dries her tears and in her right hand, between thumb and index fingers, she holds a small glass jar filled with translucent liquid. The maid with her back to the protagonists has been interpretive as representing Vanity; the tearful one as Contrition. A strong breeze from the outside moves the women's garments from right to left in opposition to the supernal current streaming towards the angel.  


Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), Detail of The Repentant Magdalene, ca. 1660 - 1663,
 oil on canvas, 90 1/4 x 104 3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm),
The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
© Norton Simon Art Foundation
Photo:  Courtesy of the Frick Collection Media 

On the floor of the room, between and behind Mary and Martha, are an empty alabaster jar, its lid next to it and tresses of Mary's long blond hair.  These elements together with the servant's container point to the biblical account of Mary Magdalene at the house of the Pharisee Simon. There she washed Christ's feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and covered them with perfumed oils.


Cagnaccio's splendid abilities to depict objects in various materials and forms are illustrated throughout the work.  Mary's disheveled outfit, shoes and jewels as well as a jewelry box spread across the floor are tours de force of the painter's still life skills.  



 Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), Detail of The Repentant Magdalene, ca. 1660 - 1663,
 oil on canvas, 90 1/4 x 104 3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm),
The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
© Norton Simon Art Foundation
Photo:  Courtesy of the Frick Collection Media 

The Magdalene's blue and white brocade dress has weight and substance.  Gold jewelry spills out of her overturned ornate oval jewel box whose tactile quality is truly remarkable.  

   Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), Detail of The Repentant Magdalene, ca. 1660 - 1663,
 oil on canvas, 90 1/4 x 104 3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm),
The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
© Norton Simon Art Foundation
Photo:  Courtesy of the Frick Collection Media 


The blue and gold shoes are so well defined that their interior nails are visible.  The pointed shape has caused a redness on Mary's toes where the shoes no doubt had pinched her feet.  

 Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), Detail of The Repentant Magdalene, ca. 1660 - 1663,
 oil on canvas, 90 1/4 x 104 3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm),
The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
© Norton Simon Art Foundation
Photo:  Courtesy of the Frick Collection Media  

In her haste to reject all worldly goods, Mary had ripped off a pearl rope necklace, breaking the string and causing loose pearls to scatter on the ground.  Nearby there are at least seven rings, pearl earrings and various bracelets and other necklaces.  Mary holds one long gold chain, partly twisted about her right wrist, like a rosary.


Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), Detail of The Repentant Magdalene, ca. 1660 - 1663,
oil on canvas, 90 1/4 x 104 3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm),
The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
© Norton Simon Art Foundation
Photo:  Courtesy of the Frick Collection Media 

Passages of beauty are found throughout - take note of the way hands and fingers are described and the renderings of cloth in motion.  Finger nails, knees, elbows, ears and flesh offer more confirmation of the the artist's talents. Colors are at times dazzling and, at times, subtle yet all is harmonious.  Naturalism is tempered with idealism.

Cagnacci must have been very proud of the painting for he signed his name in the lower right "GUIDO CAGNACCI INVENTOR" as if to emphasize his compositional innovation. 


The Repentant Magdalene was the artist's last achievement.  He died in Vienna in 1663 just a couple of years after the painting was begun. Seemingly, Cagnacci left no workshop or followers. 


At the 
Frick, the painting is superbly installed on the west wall of the East Gallery allowing for close observation.  Another view is offered from the center of the West Gallery.  From here, the ornate arched doorways of the Oval Room, which separates the East and West Galleries, perfectly frame the masterpiece.  The scene appears even more stage-like and the blues of the room's two Paolo Veroneses connect to the blues of the Cagnacci work - sky, angel's cloth and Mary's crumpled dress.  


Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), Detail of The Repentant Magdalene, ca. 1660 - 1663,
oil on canvas, 90 1/4 x 104 3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm),
The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
© Norton Simon Art Foundation    
Photo:  L'Art Magique Web site 

What led this artist to be forgotten?  The answer may be a combination of several factors.  One may have been Cagnacci's imagery which was perhaps too prurient for some subsequent generations. The Norton Simon Magdalene could be a Playboy centerfold.  Another problem may be Cagnacci's origins.  He worked most of his life in Italian small towns.  Art historical studies have traditionally neglected provincial areas - provincial being associated with insignificance.  Attention to these regions and their artists is a relatively new scholarly pursuit. Lastly, the artist's apparent lack of a studio meant no one was there to carry on his work.  Be that as it may, Cagnacci is becoming known. The recently published The Art of Guido Cagnacci by Xavier F. Salomon, Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator of the Frick Collection is a well-written, informative guide to the artist.  Copies are available for visitors at the exhibit.  

There are only four paintings by Cagnacci in public collections in the United States.  These include the Norton Simon Magdalene and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's recently acquired Death of Cleopatra (Gallery 601).***  Cagnacci's Death of Cleopatra from the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, will be on public display at the Italian Cultural Institute of New York f
rom December 2, 2016 though January 19, 2017.  Thus for almost two months, three Cagnaccis will be within easy walking distance on Manhattan's upper east side.  Take advantage.  Go see all three.


One additional suggestion:  while visiting the Cagnacci Cleopatra at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Gallery 601, take a look at the works by artists who influenced him.  Canvases by Guido Reni, Guercino and Ludovico Carracci are in the same Gallery 601.  Other Ludovico Carraccis are in the adjacent Gallery 623.  Titians, Veroneses, and Tintorettos are located in Gallery 607 and the Raphael altarpiece in Gallery 609.  Although the affect of these artists can be discerned in Cagnacci's art, he transformed their influences into something uniquely his own.  Enjoy.  

*This same model is very likely the Cleopatra in Cagnacci's Death of Cleopatra in the Kunsthisorisches Museum, Vienna.  This work was part of the collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria.

Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), The Death of Cleopatra, ca. 1659  -1663,
oil on canvas, 55.12  × 62.72 in (1593 x 1400 cm)
The Kunsthisorisches Museum, Vienna

**Cagnacci's angel is based on Michelangelo's figure of Charon in the Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

Michelangelo (1475 - 1564), Detail of the Last Judgment, 1536 - 1541, 
fresco, 539.4 × 480.3 in. (1,370 × 1,220 cm)
Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome
Photo:  Italian Renaissance Art Website

***The pearl earrings of Cleopatra in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Death of Cleopatra appear to be the same earrings Cagnacci depicted on the floor in the Norton Simon Museum's The Repentant Magdalene.  

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Cagnacci’s “Repentant Magdalene”: An Italian Baroque Masterpiece 
October 25, 2016 to January 22, 2017

1 East 70th Street, Manhattan
Tuesday through Saturday, 
10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Sundays, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays and holidays

On the first Friday evening of the month (except January), 
the museum is open until 9 p.m.  


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Monday, October 31, 2016

Guido Who? Part I

Cagnacci - The Other Side of Baroque

Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), The Repentant Magdalene, ca. 1660 - 1663,
oil on canvas, 90 1/4 x 104 3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm),
The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
© Norton Simon Art Foundation    
Photo:  Courtesy of the Frick Collection Media

Guido who?  Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663) that's who.  This seventeenth-century Italian painter fell into obscurity soon after his death in 1663. He was only rediscovered in the 1950s when Italian art historians were looking into Italy's artistic heritage.  Studies explored provincial areas, regions of small towns like Romagna where Cagnacci was born in 1601.  The artist is still relatively unknown outside of Italy but this should change.  On view at The Frick Collection is Cagnacci’s "Repentant Magdalene”: An Italian Baroque Masterpiece from the Norton Simon Museum.*  This complex painting is considered Cagnacci's master work and offers an excellent introduction into this somewhat bizarre painter's life and artistic achievements. Fortunately for visitors, the Repentant Magdalene was lent without a protective glass covering.   

Little is known about Cagnacci and what is known comes primarily from criminal and notary records.  In his teens, his father, a town crier and prosperous furrier merchant, sent him to Bologna where he was exposed to the period's most important painters.  There he very likely trained in the studio of Ludovico Carracci, probably untill Carracci's death in 1619. The artists Guido Reni and Guercino, also in Bologna, impacted his development. He accompanied the latter to Rome in 1621 where he came in contact with the Caravaggisti, painters who followed the style of Caravaggio. By the mid-1620s Cagnacci was back in his native region where he lived a peripatetic existence producing devotional works for churches convents and confraternities.  


Without doubt, Cagnacci was strange.  In 1628 he attempted to elope with a rich, aristocratic widow. Her family and Cagnacci's father ended the affair. Four years later, although the widow remarried someone else, Cagnacci petitioned for her dowry.  This failed but another account of 1636 relates that a different woman gave him all of her money, asking little for herself to live on.  No reason was given.  Oddly, the artist had the reputation of always going about accompanied by a beautiful young woman dressed as a man.  The women were likely his models/lovers and their disguise undertaken to hide illicit living arrangements.  At this time, it was illegal for a man to live with a woman without being lawfully married.  He had a strained relationship with his father whose will left everything equally to Cagnacci and his two sisters but meticulously subtracted from his son's share all the monies he had spent on him. 

In the 1650s Cagnacci was in Venice where he stayed for about ten years.  He studied the works of Titan, Veronese and Tintoretto. Inexplicably, he changed his name to Guido Baldo Canlassi da Bologna. Nevertheless, he continued to sign his paintings Guido Cagnacci.  By this time, he developed a career catering to collectors's amatory tastes. His specialty was easel-size, half-length, semi-nude women.  Attributes identified them as religious or historical figures - an asp for a Cleopatra, a knife for a Lucretia, an ointment jar for a Magdalene. Thus, the unclad maidens were given respectability.  What the patrons really wanted, however, was clear.


Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), The Death of Cleopatra, ca. 1655 - 1660,
oil on canvas, 47.2 x 62.2 in. (120 x 158 cm),
The Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
Photo:  Artstor

Cagnacci's pictures were sexy and sensuous, painted in a manner that may be described as idealistic realism.  Their commercial marketability is evidenced by the replicas and copies in extant probably made by Cagnacci's assistants as well as other artists. Cagnacci himself made several versions of some works -  sometimes five or six.



Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663), The Death of Cleopatra, ca. 1645 - 1650,
oil on canvas, 37 3/8 × 29 1/2 in. (95 × 75 cm),
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Website  


The artist's imagery brings up another side of the Baroque that was antithetical to the Papacy's powerful, grandiose art.  As a response to Counter-Reformation objectives, Papal art sought to entice the devoted away from Protestantism through monumental works glorifying Catholic theology.  Church art with any hint of kindling carnal desires was forbidden.  Yet artists, especially in Rome, were catering to a clientele entertained by disallowed art.  These painters banded together for drinking, brawls and debauchery and based their work on first hand experience.  They depicted the seamy side of life - drinkers, prostitutes, transvestites, beggars, witchcraft, tavern scenes, vices, pleasures and passions.  Physical love was expressed - whether the love object was male or female.   

This important but previously ignored aspect of the Baroque was the focus of the noteworthy exhibition, The Baroque Underworld:  Vice and Destitution in Rome that took place at the French Academy in Rome - Villa Medici, Rome, in 2014 and, later, with additional loans, at the Petit Palais, Paris, in 2015. The guide to the Petit Palais exhibition can be downloaded from TextLab.  This was the first exhibit dedicated to "underworld" subject matter.  Currently, two shows, Valentin de Boulogne Beyond Caravaggio at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Beyond Caravaggio, at the National Gallery of Art, London, shed further light on this other Baroque.  


How Cagnacci came to paint his masterpiece and the painting's iconography - symbolism and allusions - is the subject of the next blog post.  Look for it.

*The Repentant Magdalene, the Norton Simon Museum's loan to the Frick is part of a series of loan exchanges between the two institutions.  This arrangement began in 2009 in order to provide audiences the opportunity to view works that they might otherwise not be able to see. The Frick presentation is the first time the Repentant Magdalene has left the Norton Simon Museum since it entered the collection in 1982.  The painting will travel to London's National Gallery after the Frick's exhibit ends.  
                                                        
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Cagnacci’s “Repentant Magdalene”: An Italian Baroque Masterpiece 
October 25, 2016 to January 22, 2017

1 East 70th Street, Manhattan
Tuesday through Saturday, 
10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Sundays, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays and holidays

On the first Friday evening of the month (except January), 
the museum is open until 9 p.m. 

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Picasso's Sculptures:

The Unconstrained Id
View of Sculpture Garden, Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 2015 
with Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Monument,1972, Cor-Ten steel, 
12' 11 5/8" x 58 3/4" x 10' 5 3/4" (395.3 x 149.2 x 319.3 cm) including base,
Photo:  Hillary Ganton
  
The Museum of Modern Art's exhibition Picasso Sculpture makes you rethink the hierarchy of modern sculptors. Making great leaps in technique, iconography and artistry, Picasso's scupltural inventiveness leaves viewers breathless.  The show is not to be missed.

More to come.


Picasso Sculpture
September 14, 2015 - February 7, 2016
11 West Fifty-third Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), Manhattan
Hours:
Sunday - Thursday and Saturday 10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.  
Friday 10:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. 
Member Early Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. daily
Closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day