Friday, April 1, 2011
More bees on the ceiling of the great hall in Palazzo Barberini, where the center of Pietro da Cortona's immense fresco represents a coat of arms composed of living creatures. The floating female nymphs hold aloft the emblems of Papal might, communicating the importance of Urban VIII and his family.
Two famous Caravaggios are prominent in the painting collection.
From reproductions I had never much admired Caravaggio's Narcissus. Its power rests in the hypnotic way the reflection is painted in illusionistic water. No reproduction can approach the effect on the eye of the oil paint in person.
The Barberini also had the biggest and best collection in Rome of paintings by Caravaggio's followers. Many of these individual artists are no longer known to fame at all, if they ever were –
Not part of the Caravaggio cavalcade were the two Guercinos below. I include them here because seeing several of his paintings first at the Vatican and then at the Barberini successfully woke me up to this painter's claims – "characterized by a diffuse, atmospheric luminosity and a classically monumental composition, sustained by a refined chromatic sensibility and vibrations of color."
And just as at the Vatican, I was unprepared at the Barberini to find Poussin. The Bacchanal is an early work, made when Poussin was a young foreigner, new to Rome, and making a special study of Titian's manner and methods.
The Hagar (below) is a late Poussin. "The unusual format and the distinctive asymmetrical composition of the scene, with Hagar seeming to exit the painting, are characteristic of the last phase of Poussin's career. Likewise, the uncertain and tremulous brushwork, which gives figures and objects an evanescence, derives from the illness of the aging painter who was no longer able to hold a brush as firmly as he previously had. Far from the serene visions of the artist's youthful periods, this extraordinary landscape is described as menacing and inhospitable with looming black clouds and wild vegetation. Almost lost among these, and scarcely visible, the tiny figure of Hagar moves. Pregnant by Abraham, driven out of her village by the jealous Sarah, she seems here almost annihilated by the power of the nature that surrounds her. The only note of color is the luminous angel above, who orders Hagar to turn around and retrace her steps."