As I write this piece I am overcome once again by melancholy, forcefully reminded once more to realize, that this show is about as close to Italy as I am likely to get for the foreseeable future.
However, instead of succumbing to self-indulgent despondency, I should be grateful that I live in a place where this sumptuous visual feast from the other side of the pond is served up to us, and that we may all take an uplifting mind trip.
I have seen these pictures twice before, in situ, in Naples. But just as George Shackelford promised, seeing them intelligently hung in the perfectly lit galleries of the Renzo Piano Pavilion of the Kimbell Museum was truly like seeing them for the first time.
A Family History
The show reminds us that the Capodimonte pictures are almost entirely the legacy of the Farnese family whose power and wealth increased dramatically when Paul Farnese became Pope Paul III. He is here — twice depicted by Raphael in middle age as a cardinal, and as a wily old fox as Pope in a splendid portrait by Titian.
His unhappy predecessor, Clement VII, who had to wait out the Sack of Rome self imprisoned for six months in the Castel Sant’Angello, is also present in portrait by Sebastian del Piombo.
It bears remembering that most of this collection was in Rome, including a fantastic collection of antique statues for which Michaelangelo designed niches in the Palazzo Farnese. In 1787, Ferdinand IV of Naples, whose grandmother Elizabeth Farnese inherited the Farnese legacy, moved all of the statues and the pictures to Naples over tremendous and powerful opposition.
There are many standouts in the forty works of art on display. A ravishing representation of Lucrezia by Parmigianino is thought to be his last work before his death at age 37. Flesh, hair, and silk are rendered with a shimmering luminescence against a contrasting deep dark background producing a near photorealist effect which is sensual and surreal.
The feast of Balshazzar by Mattia Preti, a massive canvas measuring six by eight-and-a-half feet, painted in Naples around 1665, is an unabashed profligacy of cupidity, perhaps giving us a glimpse into what court life was like at this time.
Even more excessive is Ribera’s Drunken Silenus, also painted in Naples. Silenus seems to wallow even revel in his own corpulence as he hoists his glass to receive wine while a grotesque Pan looks on.
Artemesia Gentleschi’s prestige in the first rank of Baroque painters seems to grow stronger and stronger. An exhibit of her art was slated for display at The National Gallery in London but has been delayed (COVID-19 strikes again) now set to open October 3rd. Her shocking and powerful Judith and Holofernes is certainly as gory as anything ever imagined by her contemporary Caravaggio. Her frequent depictions of female subjects and her rape as a young woman make her a compelling feminist subject-a Baroque Frida Kahlo if you will.
There is a cluster of four pictures by the Carracci and their circle. They were until the 19th century as revered as Raphael and delineated the course Baroque art would take. A curiosity is a canvas painted by Agostino Carracci entitled Hairy Harry, Mad Peter, and Tiny Amon (Arrigo Peloso, Pietro Matto e Amon Nano).
This is a densely populated picture which, as a composition, seems to work in spite of itself. The human subjects were physical curiosities in the court of Oduordo Farnese who join a menagerie of parrot, dogs and monkey, reminding us that a medieval callousness and crudeness, like the Gonzagas fascination with dwarfs, persisted longer In European courts than one might think.
Fort Worth can take pride in the fact that it continues to punch above its weight class and continues to mount shows of world class caliber. Also worth mention is the fact that the permanent collection boasts fine examples of El Greco, Anibale Carracci, Titian, Caravaggio, Ribera, Guido Reni, and Parmigianino some of the stars in the Capodimonte collection.
If you missed out or want a souvenir there is a catalogue catalogue raisonné available at the museum gift shop for $30.
*Foot Note. The show has been extended again till August 16th.