Sunday, September 3, 2017

Heroic Painting from 17th-century Europe

Bartholomeus Spranger
Baptism of Christ
 oil on panel
National Museum, Wroclaw, Poland

Gerard ter Borch
The suitor's visit
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Guido Reni
before 1642
oil on canvas
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Salvator Rosa
Scene from Greek history - The deaf-mute son of King Croesus prevents the Persians from killing his father
ca. 1663-64
oil on canvas
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

"Croesus, last king of Lydia (c. 560-546 BC), son of Alyattes.  He secured the throne after a struggle with a half-Greek half-brother, and completed the subjugation of the Greek cities on the Asia Minor coast.  His subsequent relations with the Greeks were not unfriendly; he contributed to the rebuilding of the Artemisium at Ephesus and made offerings to Greek shrines, especially Delphi; anecdotes attest his friendliness to Greek visitors and his wealth.  The rise of Persia turned Croesus to seek support in Greece and Egypt, but Cyrus anticipated him; Sardis was captured and Croesus overthrown.  His subsequent fate soon became the stuff of legend . . ."

 Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edition (1996), edited by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth

     "And what of the fate of Croesus himself?  To answer that question I must mention his son again, the one who despite all his many other qualities had always been a mute.  In the days before the ruin of his prosperity, Croesus had done all that he could for the young man, trying this and that, even to the extent of sending emissaries to Delphi to consult the oracle on his son's behalf.  This was the Pythia's reply:

          Such folly, though you are lord of many, Lydian-born Croesus!
          Beware what you wish for!  That sound you long to hear, in your home,
          Your son finding his tongue  better for you never to hear it.
          Know, when he does talk for the first time, that the day will be an evil one!

     Well  the battlements had been stormed, and one of the Persians was approaching Croesus to cut him down, not knowing who he was.  Even though Croesus could see the soldier coming, such was the numbing effect of the catastrophe which had overwhelmed him that he did not care  for what did it matter to him now if he was struck down and killed?  But his son, the mute, terrified and appalled by the sight of the Persian bearing down upon his father, suddenly found that his tongue was sounding out words. 'Please, Sir,' he cried, 'do not kill Croesus!'  This was the very first time that he had spoken  and from that moment on he could talk with perfect fluency, and continued to do so all his life."

 from The History of Herodotus, book 1, translated by Tom Holland (2013)

Salvator Rosa
Soldiers gambling
ca. 1656-58
oil on canvas
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Guido Cagnacci
Death of Cleopatra
ca. 1659-63
oil on canvas
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Eglon van der Neer
Wife of Candaules seen naked by the hidden Gyges
ca. 1660-62
oil on canvas
Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf

"Gyges, king of Lydia (c. 680-645 BC), founded the Mermnad dynasty by murdering King Candaules and marrying his widow.  The word TYRANT first appears in Greek applied to Gyges.  He started the exploitation of gold from the Pactolus; attacked Miletus and Smyrna, captured Colophon and sent sumptuous offerings to Delphi.  He gained Assyrian protection against the Cimmerians but lost it later by helping Psammetichus I of Egypt.  He was killed in a new Cimmerian invasion . . . "

 Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edition (1996), edited by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth

     "Candaules was distinguished for the vehemence of his conjugal affections; but not satisfied with the encomiums he paid his vanity by thinking his queen the fairest and most perfect of women, he communicated his thoughts to Gyges, the son of Dascylus, one of his body-guards, a favorite, in whose breast were often reposed the most important secrets of the State.  Not long after, the king addressed this object of his partiality with words still more warm, for such was the inevitable train of misfortune which hung on his head. "I cannot persuade myself," said he to Gyges, "that you give any credit to me, when I expatiate on the beauties of my wife; for, indeed, the impression of words upon the ear is less than that of objects upon the eye.  You must, therefore, comply with my request, and behold the queen in her naked charms."   "What injudicious words escape my sovereign!" replied Gyges, with astonishment: "Do you wish me to see my royal mistress naked?  Do you forget that a woman lays aside her modesty with her apparel?  The principles of decorum are known to us from ages, and among them we ought not to neglect this important maxim, that every man should attend merely to his own concerns.  As to the queen, I acknowledge her to be the fairest and most accomplished of her sex; and therefore, I entreat you not to press upon me commands which it were unlawful and criminal to obey."  In this manner the favorite combated the proposals of his master, and seemed to dread the consequences of compliance.  "Fear not, Gyges! distrust me not," rejoined his sovereign. "It is not my wish to lay snares for thy credulity; and from the queen, be assured, thou canst receive no cause of complaint, there is no ground for apprehension; for if the measures I recommend are pursued, she will ever remain ignorant that she is exposed naked to thy view . . . "

     "Since words proved unavailing, Gyges complied, and when the sovereign retired to rest, the favorite was secretly introduced into the apartment, where the queen soon followed.  While she undressed herself, she was fully exposed to the eyes of Gyges, who no sooner saw her go towards the bed, than he obeyed the monarch's injunctions and retired from the room.  He did not, however, escape unseen; the queen's eyes were directed to the door, and the weakness of Candaules discovered.  The emotions of resentment were stifled by the superior feelings of delicacy; but while the queen reflected with silent horror on her husband's imprudence, she meditated revenge, and considered the affront as doubly injurious, since, among the Lydians and other barbarian nations, it is an indelible disgrace even for a man to be exposed naked to the public eye."

     "The rest of the night was thus passed in profound silence; but with the dawn of day, the incensed queen sounded the attachment and fidelity of her servants, and summoned Gyges in her presence.  The favorite appeared, but as such a summons from his royal mistress was frequent, he never suspected that the favors he had received the preceding night were known to any other, except himself and Candaules.  He, however, no sooner appeared, than the queen addressed herself to him in these words: "Gyges, I have two things to submit to your choice, and I wait for your decision: either murder Candaules and receive as your reward the possession of the crown of Lydia and my affections, or else prepare yourself to die. No more shall your blind compliance with the caprices of Candaules lead you to behold what is forbidden and unlawful: therefore, on the death of one of you two I am resolved; either he, whose imprudence has forced me to this necessity, must fall; or you, who, in violation of decency, have presumed to see me naked."

 from History of Herodotus, book 1, translated by John Lempriere (1792)

Jusepe de Ribera
St Francis receives the Seven Privileges from the Angel
ca. 1650
oil on canvas
Musei di Strada Nuova, Genoa

Mateo Cerezo
Ecce Homo
before 1666
oil on canvas
Prado, Madrid

Karl van Mander III
Portrait of the artist with his family
oil on canvas
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Frans Hals
Portrait of Willem Coymans
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

William Dobson
Portrait of Sir Endymion Porter
ca. 1642-45
oil on canvas
Tate Britain

Laurent de La Hyre
Allegory of Experience
ca. 1650
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gerrit van Vucht
Vanitas Still-life
before 1697
oil on panel
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam