II. ITALIAN ART

Art as well as politics felt this mounting rivalry between the sacred and the profane. Ecclesiastics were still the richest patrons, commissioning structures, paintings, statuary, metal work, and decoration; but the aristocracy now multiplied palaces faster than churches, courted posterity with portraits, and dowered it with collections of art. In seventeenth-century Italy the two streams of patronage ran side by side in a colorful descent from the Renaissance.

Turin was rising to affluence under the Savoy dukes. For the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, Guarino Guarini designed the Cappella del Santissimo Sudario, the Chapel of the Most Holy Shroud (in which, the faithful believed, Joseph of Arimathea had wrapped the corpse of Christ). The dome of the great Church of San Filippo, begun by Guarini, collapsed as it neared completion; it was restored by Filippo Iuvara, who was born (1676) seven years before Guarini’s death. Perhaps we shall meet Iuvara again.

In Genoa the master building of this time was the Palazzo Durazzo, built by Falcone and Cantone in 1650, bought by the house of Savoy in 1817, and thenceforth serving as the Palazzo Reale; its famous Hall of Mirrors, foreshadowing the Galerie des Glaces (1678) of Versailles, was shattered in the Second World War; it is not true that Mars ever loved Venus. The outstanding Genoese painter was now Alessandro Magnasco, whom we may sample by the Synagogue in the Chicago Art Institute, or by the Bohemian Repast in the Louvre.

Venice persisted in breeding heroes and artists. What could be more heroic than the defense of Candia against the Turks? Through a quarter of a century the soldiers and sailors of the Porte assailed Crete, then a Venetian colony; 100,000 Turks died in those passionate campaigns; 15 and though a Turkish army of 50,000 men took some minor cities in the island, the capital stood siege for twenty years, repulsing thirty-two attacks. In 1667 Francesco Morosini was sent to command the starving garrison. It surrendered at last (1668), but no one spoke any longer of Venetian degeneration. In 1693, when Morosini, aged seventy-five, took charge of the Venetian fleet, the Turks withdrew at its approach, awed by his very name. He was still the sort of man portrayed by Tintoretto and Veronese—courage incarnate and merciless.

Baldassare Longhena was another of this septuagenarian mold. Many years back (1632) he had designed that stately mistress of the lagoons, Santa Maria della Salute; now, forty-seven years later, he built the Palazzo Pesaro on the Grand Canal—powerful and beautiful with its double columns and multiple cornices; and in 1680 (aged seventy-six) the Palazzo Rezzonico, where Browning was to die. Sebastiano Ricci, another hardy plant, bore the Venetian seed through half the Continent. Born (1659) at Belluno in the province of Venezia, he went to Florence to decorate the Palazzo Marucelli, then followed the line of least starvation to Milan, Bologna, Piacenza, Rome, Vienna, London. He spent ten years in England, painted in Chelsea Hospital, Burlington House, and Hampton Court Palace, and narrowly missed appointment to decorate the new St. Paul’s. Then to Paris, where he was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. His Diana and Nymphs16 is as voluptuous as Boucher, as gracious as Correggio. Surviving till 1734, Ricci transmitted his skills to the eighteenth century, and prepared for the Indian summer of Venetian painting under Tiepolo.

The Bolognese school had not quite spent its force. Carlo Cignani won fame with his frescoes in the cathedral at Forlì. Giuseppe Maria Crespi (“Lo Spagnuolo”) revealed in his Self-Portrait17 a man absorbed, forgetting all troubles if allowed to paint. Giovanni Battista Salvi (“II Sassoferrato”) rendered the selflessness of devotion in The Madonna Praying, 18 and showed us, in his Virgin and Child,19 just such a simple mother, happy in her bambino, as one may see any day among the poor of Italy.

Two reigns of Tuscan grand dukes carried Florence, Pisa, and Siena through this age: Ferdinand II and Cosimo III. In 1659 Siena began its renowned palio: the ten wards provided a procession, in picturesque costumes, along streets adorned with architecture, bunting, flowers, and vivacious women alluringly dressed; then the chosen horsemen of the wards competed madly in a race for the cloak (palio) of the Madonna to whom the devout city had long since dedicated its life and soul. Florence had now only minor painters. Carlo Dolci continued, with lessened art, the sentimental, heaven-brooding Virgins and saints of Guido Reni; all the world knows his St. Cecilia. 20 Justus Sustermans, who migrated from Flanders to Florence, painted portraits that are among the arresting surprises in the Pitti Gallery—not least the majestic head of Galileo. So, and not as in the horned monster of Michelangelo, Moses might have looked, giving laws.

In Rome art was recovering from the restraints of the Counter Reformation. The popes returned in subdued measure to the spirit of the Renaissance, encouraging literature, drama, architecture, sculpture, and painting. Innocent X restored the Capitol and the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano. Alexander VII commissioned Bernini to raise a quadruple cordon of granite guardsmen around St. Peter’s Square (1655–67)—284 columns and 88 pilasters, successfully transmuting gold into stone. In the same reign Pietro da Cortona rebuilt the Church of Santa María della Pace, where Raphael’s Sibyls still pondered fate; and Girolamo Rainaldi joined with his son Carlo in erecting the handsome Church of Sant’ Agnese in the Piazza Navona. Father and son collaborated again in designing the Church of Gesù e María; and Carlo reared the shrine of Santa María in Campitelli to shelter an image of the Virgin which was believed to have stopped the plague of 1656. Cardinals and nobles housed and buried themselves palatially. Now rose the Palazzo Doria and the exuberantly baroque gallery in the Palazzo Colonna; and for the Bolognetti family, in the Church of Gesù e María, Francesco Cavallini carved a tomb that must have made the living envious of the dead.

Many painters testified to the survival of their art in Rome. Carlo Maratti was courted there, in the second half of the seventeenth century, as the pictorial protagonist of late baroque. His portrait of Clement IX 21 remembered Velázquez’ Innocent X, but it came off well enough; his Madonna with Saints in Paradise22 repeated a hundred such, but it is beautiful. When Clement XI wished to have Raphael’s Vatican frescoes restored he assigned to Maratti this delicate operation, dangerous to the restorer as well as to the pictures; and it was competently done. Giovanni Battista Gaulli (“II Baciccio”) was chosen by the Jesuits to paint the vault of their mother church, II Gesù, but they had in their own order one of the ablest artists of the time. Andrea Pozzo, who joined them at the age of twenty-three, designed in II Gesù the altar of St. Ignatius—one of the chefs-d’oeuvres of baroque. In 1692 Pozzo published a treatise, Perspectiva pictorum et architectorum, which made a stir in several languages. As fascinated with his subject as Uccello had been two centuries before, Andrea developed his studies with subtleties of illusionism, as in his frescoes in Frascati. Invited to Vienna by Prince von Liechtenstein, he exhausted himself with a multiplicity of undertakings, and died there in 1709, aged sixty-seven.

The greatest Italian painters were now in Naples. Everything flourished there—music, art, literature, politics, drama, hunger, murder, and always the gay, furious, melodious pursuit of feminine curves by agitated men. Salvator Rosa was moved by all these elements of life. His father was an architect, an uncle taught him painting, his brother-in-law was a pupil of Ribera, and Salvator himself was in time admitted to that august studio. Another teacher transmitted to him the technique of drawing battle scenes. Salvator became especially famous for such pictures, which can be seen in the Naples Museo Nazionale or the Louvre. From battles he passed to landscapes, but there too his wild spirit favored Nature in her tantrums, as in the Louvre canvas of heavy clouds and darkened earth abruptly illuminated by lightning that in a moment shatters rocks and withers trees. Lanfranco persuaded him to go to Rome and cultivate cardinals; he went and prospered, but in 1646 he hurried back to Naples to participate in Masaniello’s revolt. When that collapsed he returned to Rome, painted high ecclesiastics, and wrote a scornful satire of ecclesiastical luxury. He accepted the invitation of Cardinal Giancarlo de’ Medici to come and live with him in Florence; there he remained nine years, painting, playing music, writing poetry, taking part in plays. Again in Rome, he took a house on the Pincian Hill, where Poussin and Lorrain had lived. The dignitaries of the Church, smiling at his tirades, and loving his brush more than his pen, flocked to him for portraits; for a decade he was the most popular painter in Italy. He made the customary pictures of saints and myths, but in his etchings he indulged his sympathy for poor soldiers and harassed peasants; and these etchings are among his finest works.

His fame was rivaled only by another Neapolitan. Luca Giordano was already an artist at eight; then he painted, in the Church of Santa María la Nuova, two angels so graceful that the Viceroy, seeing them, marveled, and sent the boy some gold pieces, with a recommendation to Ribera. For nine years Luca studied with that brooding master, astonishing everyone with his readiness in copying masterpieces and imitating styles. He longed to go to Rome and examine the famous frescoes of Raphael, but his father, who lived by selling Luca’s paintings and drawings, protested. Luca absconded secretly; soon he was copying con furia in the Vatican, in St. Peter’s, in the Palazzo Farnese. His father followed him, and again lived by selling his son’s obiter picta; a story has it that Luca got his nickname, Fa-Presto, from his father’s urging him to speed.

Having absorbed Rome, he went on to Venice and painted, in the manner of Titian and Correggio, pictures hardly distinguishable from their masterpieces. But he painted originals too, which won acclaim; we may judge them from the powerful CrucifixionandDeposition from the Cross in the Venetian Academy. Returning to Naples, he decorated a dozen churches and palaces with a competence and celerity that reduced his rivals to picking flaws. Invited to Florence by Cosimo III (1679), he won plaudits for his frescoes in the Cappella Corsini. His friend Carlo Dolci fell into such deep melancholy at seeing Luca’s success that he soon died; 23 fond Italy tells as many legends about her artists as about her saints. In another story the Spanish Viceroy at Naples commissioned a large panel for the Church of St. Francis Xavier; raged when, after long deferments, he found no work done on the assignment; and was amazed, two days later, to find it complete and beautiful. “The painter of this picture,” exclaimed the Viceroy, “is either an angel or a demon.” 24

The fame of the demonic angel reached Madrid; soon Luca was pressed with invitations from Charles II to join the Spanish court. Though the King was approaching bankruptcy, he sent the artist a gratuity of fifteen hundred ducats, and put a royal galley at Luca’s disposal for the trip. When Giordano neared Madrid (1692), six royal coaches met him on the road. Soon thereafter, aged sixty-seven, Giordano began work in the Escorial. He adorned with frescoes the grand staircase of the monastery; and on the vault of the church he painted a “facsimile” of the heavens, showing Charles V and Philip II in Paradise—all their sins forgiven as a courtesy from the Trinity to the Hapsburgs. In the next two years he executed a large number of frescoes, which Spanish historians of art rank as the best ever made in the Escorial. 25 There and in the Alcazar, or royal palace, at Madrid, and at Buen Retiro and in the churches of Toledo and the capital, he painted so many pictures, with such industry, that his rivals taunted him with working eight hours a day and on holydays. Nor did it please them that he amassed an unseemly fortune, living abstemiously but buying costly jewels as a safe investment, since everything would change but human vanity. All the court honored him, and Charles II, in a lucid moment, called him greater than a king.

Charles died in 1700. Giordano remained in Spain despite the consequent War of the Spanish Succession, and when Philip V came to the throne he continued to receive lucrative and difficult commissions. In 1702 he returned to Italy, stopped in Rome to kiss the papal foot, and reached Naples in triumph. On ceilings in the Certosa, or Carthusian Monastery, of San Martino, overlooking the city, he painted in forty-eight hours a series of frescoes that displayed an energy and skill almost incredible in a man of seventy-two years (1704). A year later he died, sighing, “O Napoli, sospiro mio!” (O Naples, breath of my life!) 26

At his death his fame was equaled by that of no other artist in his generation. Dutch burgomasters competed with emperors and kings to buy his paintings, and in far-off England Matthew Prior sang the praises of “divine Jordain.” Laymen admired the richness of his colors, the force of his figures, the grandeur of his conceptions, the power of his presentation. But artists, recovering from this stupor mundi, pointed to the signs of haste in Luca Fa-Presto’s work, the incongruous mingling of pagan and Christian ideas or subjects in the same scene, the strained or affected attitudes, the excessive glare of light, the absence of harmony and repose. Luca had long since replied to his critics by defining a good painter as one whom the public likes. 27 It is difficult to refute such a definition, since there is no objective standard of excellence or good taste; but we may find the least subjective test of greatness in the extent of a man’s influence in space and time, and the least subjective measure of a reputation in its ability to survive. Giordano had the happiness of a successful life, and feels no hurt from his dying fame.

Francesco Solimena was forty-eight when Fa-Presto died, but his fourscore years and ten carried the Neapolitan school almost to the middle of the eighteenth century. Luca had painted the nave of the monastery at Monte Cassino; Francesco painted the choir; both works succumbed in the Second World War. But the museums preserve Solimena’s art: in Vienna The Rape of Oreithyia, a fleshly rapture of male muscles and female contours; in the Louvre an echo and challenge of Raphael in Heliodorus Driven from the Temple; and in Cremona a Madonna Addolorata accompanied by an angel so delectable that if heaven has many such we shall be reconciled to immortality.

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