The ambitious projects of urban renewal, development, and expansion initiated in Rome in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries reach a spectacular apex during this period. An affluent and powerful papacy sponsors many of these projects with the aim of fashioning the city into a world capital of great beauty, a hub of learning and the arts, and, above all, a symbol of Catholic glory. Artists from elsewhere in Europe, particularly the North, visit Rome to study the masterpieces of antiquity and the Renaissance and to execute commissions for the popes and a wealthy secular clientele. It is here that the Baroque style takes form, shaped especially by the hands of several great masters: Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), Francesco Borromini (1599–1667), and Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669). Monuments of the Baroque join architecture, painting, and sculpture into a unified whole of extraordinary grandeur.
Possession of territories in Southern Italy is, as in the last period, widely contested by various foreign powers. Many artists from the Iberian Peninsula are drawn to this region, particularly to Naples, a city under Spanish rule. A school of painting flourishes there, profoundly influenced by Caravaggio (1571–1610). Notable examples of Baroque architecture occur throughout Southern Italy, particularly in the Sicilian cities of Noto, Ragusa, and Modica, rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1693. Southern Italy is also an important center of porcelain production.
The Calling of Saint Matthew and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) are unveiled in the Contarelli Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. They comprise Caravaggio’s first public commission, and their success—hinged upon the master’s revolutionary approach to painting—comes with fame that will extend beyond the last decade of Caravaggio’s life and influence a generation of painters, both Northern and Southern, through the first half of the century. Caravaggio defies the conventions of contemporary painting, choosing to paint directly from live posed models and using the technique of a focused light source against a dark or abstracted background to effect an intense physical realism and psychological depth. His influence is also strongly felt in Naples, where he spends some of his last years.
Orazio Gentileschi (1563–1639), a painter of Pisan birth, is active in Rome. Here Orazio is influenced by his younger contemporary and close acquaintance Caravaggio; his works display a progressively heightened realism, which he combines with a poetic mastery of detail and description of surface textures. In addition to producing altarpieces and easel paintings, Orazio works as a decorative painter, collaborating with Agostino Tassi (ca. 1580–1644) on an elaborate musical concert scene for the Casino delle Muse (1611–12) of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. In the early 1610s, while Orazio is producing his finest Caravaggesque pictures, his daughter and pupil Artemisia (1593–1651/53) produces her own earliest known works. Artemisia’s gift for rendering dramatic, even violent narrative is evident from this time and culminates in her greatest mature works, including Judith and Her Maidservant of ca. 1625–27 (Detroit Institute of Arts). Artemisia relocates to Florence following her marriage in 1612, later returning to Rome and traveling to Venice, Genoa, London, and Naples, where she finally settles and spends her last years. Artemisia is one of a handful of Italian women artists to win great international acclaim during her lifetime and numbers among her patrons Cosimo II de’ Medici, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, Francesco d’Este I, and Charles I of England.
Annibale Carracci (1560–1609) completes the Galleria ceiling of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. The theme of the fresco program—widely considered his masterpiece—is the triumph of love, which Annibale depicts in a series of exuberant mythological scenes framed by illusionistic grisaille architectural motifs. From his early years in Bologna, Annibale advocates the reform of painting and a departure from the Mannerist style, fusing in his works elements of a heightened naturalism with idealizing classicism.
Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) is in Rome, where he paints three large-format pictures for the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme: Saint Helena Discovering the True Cross, The Mocking of Christ (both now Grasse Cathedral), and The Raising of the Cross(destroyed). During his stay, he studies masterpieces of antiquity and the Renaissance, as well as works by contemporary masters. His virtuosic technique combines with a thorough understanding of the Italian artistic tradition that allows him to rival even the greatest Italian painters of the period. In his professional capacities as diplomat and emissary, Rubens maintains a close contact between North and South, fully absorbing the Baroque style as it develops at its source in Rome, and significantly contributing to its dissemination throughout Europe.
Guido Reni (1575–1642), a student of the Carracci and the preeminent Bolognese painter of his time, paints the ceiling fresco Aurora for the Casino Rospigliosi in Rome. Reni works in a classicizing style, imbuing his figures with ideal beauty and grace.
Spanish painter Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652) arrives in Naples, a city under Spanish Habsburg rule where the realism and emotional immediacy of Caravaggism prevails. Ribera’s stylistic development is strongly influenced by this legacy, the effects of which can be found in his numerous commissions in Naples, particularly at the monastery of Certosa di San Martino. Ribera’s lyrical naturalism has its own legacy, as a generation of Neapolitan painters—including Luca Giordano (1632–1705) and Salvator Rosa (1615–1673)—display a heightened sensitivity to color, light, and other compositional elements that give new life and energy to Neapolitan painting.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) produces the sculptural group Apollo and Daphne (Galleria Borghese, Rome), depicting the moment at which Daphne, pursued by the god Apollo, transforms into a laurel tree. With technical brilliance manifest from the first decade of his professional life, Bernini brings to his sculptures emotional immediacy and realism akin to that which Caravaggio brings to canvas. The effect, as in Apollo and Daphne, is that the viewer witnesses a scene of great drama as it transpires. From the election of his friend Cardinal Maffeo Barberini as Pope Urban VIII (r. 1623–44), Bernini maintains a tie with the papacy that is crucial not only to his own success, but to the artistic climate of Rome. Urban and his later successors look to Bernini as a peerless artistic authority and charge him with commissions for sculpture, architecture, and painting. Following the completion of the facade of Saint Peter’s and its consecration in 1626, Bernini is placed in charge of its interior adornment with various sculptural groups extolling the papacy. The most outstanding of these projects is the production of a great canopy, or baldacchino, to mark the grave and high altar of Saint Peter, which he executes with a team of artists, including Francesco Borromini.
Flemish master Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) is in Palermo during a severe outbreak of plague. In July of this year, the supposed relics of Saint Rosalie, the city’s patroness, are discovered in a grotto on Mount Pellegrino. The cult of Saint Rosalie gathers fervent momentum as devotees pray for her divine intervention. Saint Rosalie Interceding for the Plague-Stricken of Palermo (71.41) is one of several depictions of the saint painted by van Dyck during his stay.
French painter Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) is active in Rome, in the circle of Cassiano dal Pozzo, an influential archaeologist, philosopher, and naturalist in the employ of the Barberini. Poussin’s work stands out against the backdrop of the prevailing Baroque as the artist chooses a more individualistic path, lending a particular style, tone, and mood to each composition as the subject demands. Poussin exerts a profound influence on artists of his adopted city and also sets the tone for classicizing artists in his native France.
Andrea Sacchi (ca. 1599–1661) is one of the leading painters active in Rome. He advocates a restrained classicism that opposes the style of Pietro da Cortona, with whom he engages in a famous public debate in 1636 over the virtues of including few or many figures in a composition. Sacchi argues that paintings with fewer figures are preferable, a viewpoint reflected in his own oeuvre (for example, Marcantonio Pasqualini Crowned by Apollo, 1981.317)
French painter Claude Gellée (1604/5?–1682), called Claude Lorrain, settles in Rome; he is to become, over the course of his long career, the greatest landscapist of his time. In the early seventeenth century, landscape painting flourishes in Rome, propagated mostly by Northern artists such as Bartholomeus Breenbergh (1598–1657) and Paul Bril (1553/54–1626). Claude’s particular gift is the use of light to bring depth and unity to his pictures, as well as enhance their pastoral mood. By the mid-1630s, his idyllic landscapes and harbor scenes are so popular that forgeries abound. To safeguard against this, Claude makes a drawing after each of his compositions, entered with the details of its patron and geographical destination in a book he calls the Liber veritatis; he continues this practice until his death.
The Barberini, an ecclesiastic family of enormous wealth, construct a palace in Rome. They are led by Urban VIII, the first family member to achieve prominence, who establishes a reputation for great learning and cultural savvy rather than for religious piety. Urban gathers at his splendid court the most illustrious masters active in Rome, including Carlo Maderno (1555/6–1629), the architect of the Palazzo Barberini until his death, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Francesco Borromini, and Pietro da Cortona.
The great Spanish painter Velázquez (Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez) (1599–1660) makes his first of two trips to Italy (the second in 1649–51), visiting Venice and other northern cities, Rome, and Naples. In Rome, he paints The Forge of Vulcan (Museo del Prado, Madrid) and Joseph’s Coat Presented to Jacob (Escorial, Madrid). These compositions illustrate the artist’s inspiration from classical antiquity in his handling of the nude form, as well as the mastery of perspective he achieves in this city.
Francesco Mochi (1580–1654) carves the monumental Saint Veronica for a niche in the crossing at Saint Peter’s. The saint’s agitation is conveyed through posture, the gesture of her outstretched hands, and the wildly spiraling drapery of her garment and that of the sudarium that bears the image of Christ. In its portrayal of anguish, this work calls more upon the ancient world and the tragic heroes of Hellenistic sculpture than upon the languorous theatricality of contemporary sculpture. It is coolly received, as the city of Rome is at this time in the thrall of Bernini.
Urban VIII commissions Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669) to fresco the vault of the Gran Salone of the Palazzo Barberini. On a single surface, Cortona paints an illusionistic architectural frame that divides the plane into five sections; the unity of the fresco is retained, however, as figures from the scenes depicted in each of the sections reach, extend, and drift, unbounded. The feigned architecture is that of a ceilingless room, open to the heavens, at the center of which attributes of the Barberini represent the main subject of the fresco, Allegory of Divine Providence. This extraordinary work sets a precedent for later examples, including Andrea Pozzo’s fresco at Sant’Ignazio.
Salvator Rosa (1615–1673) travels from his native Naples to Rome, where he quickly establishes a reputation as a vivacious and learned if controversial figure. Though his fame rests chiefly upon his paintings, Rosa is also a graphic artist, poet, and actor whose many talents and fiery personality bring him to the center of Roman cultural life. His most successful works are freely painted, tempestuous landscapes; other works, including history scenes and allegories, are often informed by philosophical ideas.
During a brief period of papal disfavor, Bernini’s services are secured by Cardinal Federigo Cornaro for the decoration of his family chapel in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. The result is perhaps the greatest sculptural work of the seventeenth century. Bernini depicts The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa as a climactic theatrical event: the recumbent figure of the swooning saint and that of the angel who pierces her heart with an arrow of divine love are set at the center of an altar, around which figures representing members of the Cornaro family look on from choir stalls. Bernini’s seamless union of sculpture, architecture, painting, manipulation of light, and staging techniques make him the foremost influence on the Roman Baroque style. In the same year, Bernini submits a design to Innocent X (r. 1644–55) for a fountain to occupy the center of the Piazza Navona. His design is chosen and, restored to papal favor, he executes the Fountain of the Four Rivers.
Bernini undertakes his greatest architectural work: the construction of the Piazza San Pietro and the sweeping colonnade framing Saint Peter’s (completed 1667).
Pietro da Cortona designs a facade for the fifteenth-century Church of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome, and replans its surrounding piazza. The facade recalls classical Roman architecture but effects a contemporary dynamism and theatrical presence in its projecting semicircular portico.
Author and antiquarian Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1613–1696) delivers a lecture on L’idea del pittore, dello scultore e dell’architetto at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, where the painter, draftsman, and graphic artist Carlo Maratti (1625–1713) is principal. In his lecture, Bellori expounds upon a classicist art theory; Maratti exemplifies this theory, as he asserts the importance of studying antique sculpture, life drawing, and the depiction only of that in nature which is beautiful. His great masterworks, including The Triumph of Clemency, commissioned in 1674 by Clement X for the Palazzo Altieri, effect a dignified compositional clarity that is a major forerunner of Neoclassicism.
Francesco Borromini (1599–1667) designs a facade for the Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. In contrast to the structures of his great contemporary and rival Bernini—the grandeur of which is achieved by simple, unified forms on a large scale—Borromini’s architecture is complex, with a plastic, sculptural quality. Borromini’s other major projects include the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and the adjoining palace of Innocent X at the Piazza Navona. He also designs the Church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza (1642–60s) and remodels the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano (1644–48).
A branch of the French Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (founded Paris, 1648) is established in Rome. Eight years later, the first Prix de Rome awards a period of study in Rome to France’s most promising painters, architects, and sculptors. This highlights the emphasis made by leaders of the contemporary French art world upon a firm grounding in the classical tradition.
The Voyage of Italy, a guidebook by British scholar Richard Lassels (1603–1668), is published posthumously. In it, Lassels asserts the necessity of a “Grand Tour” through France and Italy to a truly serious student of classical antiquity, art, and architecture. He is the first to use this enduring term for a practice that begins in the middle years of the seventeenth century and peaks in the last years of the eighteenth. Undertaken by well-born, educated men, the journey (usually completed over several years) is intended to acquaint the traveler with the language and culture, politics and history of other regions, while presenting opportunities for the study and collection of antiquities and art objects.
Luca Giordano (1632–1705) is the leading painter in Naples. He departs from the darkly realistic Caravaggesque style prevalent in Southern Italy in favor of a bright palette and light-filled compositions influenced by Venetian masters of the sixteenth century (for example, The Annunciation, 1973.311.2).
Giovanni Battista Gaulli (1639–1709), usually known as Il Baciccio, wins a commission to fresco the dome, the pendentives, and the nave and transept vaults of the Jesuit church of Il Gesù in Rome. In these frescoes, the most outstanding of which is The Triumph of the Name of Jesus(1676–79), Gaulli employs a saturated palette that recalls his Bolognese origins. The energetic drama of Gaulli’s frescoes, their bold luminosity, and their unity with surrounding architectural and sculptural elements mark a high point in Roman Baroque art.
In the Dichiaratione della Galleria armonica, an informative catalogue of the contents of his museum, the Galleria Armonica e Matematica, musical instrument maker and inventor Michele Todini (1616–1690) describes an instrument called “La Macchina di Polifemo e Galatea”(89.4.2929). The harpsichord is a triumph of engineering, and its lavish design and intricate carving set it apart as a supreme example of Baroque woodwork.
Padre Giovanni Paolo Oliva, general of the Jesuit order, summons one of his lay brothers, Andrea Pozzo (1642–1709), to Rome. A painter, architect, stage designer, and theorist of northern Italian birth, Pozzo achieves through his rounded talents the artistic unity of many media prized in the Baroque period. During nearly two decades of activity in Rome, his numerous commissions include the design of magnificent architectural sets and painted trompe-l’oeil backdrops for religious plays, pageants, and festivals; his crowning achievement in painting, however, is the fresco work at the Church of Sant’Ignazio (1688–94). The Glory of Saint Ignatiusin the nave vault is a masterpiece of quadratura, a type of illusionism in which painting or sculpture seems to extend the three-dimensional space occupied by the viewer. In this fresco, Pozzo paints a steeply foreshortened architectural framework that continues the architecture of the vault and stretches it heavenward, through which angels, putti, and the exalted figure of Saint Ignatius rise. The effect is that of a mingling of divine and earthly space. In 1695, Pozzo wins another celebrated commission: the design of an altar of Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, for Il Gesù. Work proceeds (1695–99) with Pozzo as artistic director, and the result is a statue of Saint Ignatius flanked by two sculptural groups—Faith Crushing Idolatry, executed by Jean-Baptiste Théodon, and Religion Triumphant over Heresy by Pierre Legros the Younger.
Ruins of the ancient city of Herculaneum are uncovered. This is followed by the excavation, in 1748, of Pompeii. The archaeological watershed of these two events prompts a surge of renewed interest in the world of antiquity and fuels the Neoclassical movement in literature and the arts.
Pope Innocent XIII (r. 1721–24) accepts the designs of Francesco de Sanctis (died 1731) for the Spanish Steps, an elaborate system of staircases and landings designed to facilitate movement between two neighborhoods, previously impeded by a steep hill. The Spanish steps are completed in 1726. The steps are conceived by Innocent’s predecessor, Clement XI (r. 1700–1721), as part of a rigorous program of urban development that has as its chief aim the enhancement of public spaces for great beauty as well as practical function.
The young Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) arrives in Rome. The wide scope of Piranesi’s education in his native Veneto includes engineering, theatrical set design, and engraving. During his formative years he also develops a keen interest in architecture, particularly that of classical antiquity. While in Rome, Piranesi produces the imaginative yet meticulously studied etchings of architectural monuments that place him among the greatest topographical engravers of all time.
The Capodimonte porcelain factory is established in Naples by Charles VII, king of Naples and Sicily (r. 1734–59). Under chief modeler Giuseppe Gricci (1700–1770), the factory produces painted white-paste tableware, snuffboxes, and small sculptures, often of single figures or groups of characters from the commedia dell’arte. When Charles ascends the throne of Spain (as Charles III, r. 1759–88), the factory is closed and transferred along with many of its artisans to the palace of Buen Retiro on the outskirts of Madrid.
Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691–1765) is famed for his vedute and capriccios.These compositional types are closely linked to the educational phenomenon of the Grand Tour and gain widespread popularity in the early years of the century, particularly in Rome and Venice. The painted, drawn, or printed veduta depicts a landscape or urban view that is usually topographically correct, while the capriccio combines the real with fantasy elements (often of classical architectural ruins) to picturesque effect. Panini enlivens his scenes with the incorporation of minutely rendered figures, often gathered at a festival, fair, or ceremonial event.
The adornment of piazzas, palazzos, and structures of both official and private function with fountains, a practice that flourishes during this period, culminates with the completion of the most monumental fountain in Rome: the Fontana di Trevi. It is commissioned in 1732 from Nicola Salvi (1697–1751) in collaboration with Giovanni Battista Maini (1690–1752) and completed by Pietro Bracci (1700–1773). Set against the formal facade of the Palazzo Poli, the lordly figure of Oceanus presides over tritons and rearing seahorses amidst waters gushing over fantastic rock formations.
Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708–1787) is the leading painter in Rome, whose portraits are especially prized by foreign travelers on the Grand Tour. Early in his career, Batoni makes a living by producing masterful drawings after antique statuary, a practice that reflects his interest in the classical world and contributes to the Neoclassical tendencies of his mature paintings. Two pictures in the Metropolitan Museum, Portrait of a Young Man (03.37.1)and Diana and Cupid (1982.438), display Batoni’s accomplishment as a portraitist of extraordinary refinement and point strongly to his classical inspirations.
The influential engraver Giovanni Volpato (1740–1803) moves to Rome, where he opens a porcelain factory that specializes in the production of small statues after classical Roman models. In the same year, he publishes the Principj del disegno tratti dalle più eccellenti statue antiche. An important proponent of Neoclassicism, Volpato inspires a generation of Roman engravers.
Sculptor Antonio Canova (1757–1822), the leading Neoclassical sculptor of the day, exhibits the lifesize marble sculpture Venus and Adonis (Villa La Grange, Geneva) in Naples to great acclaim. Canova emulates the ancients but imbues the amorously entwined figures with an astonishing grace and refinement of modeling that secure his reputation as the greatest living sculptor of mythological subjects.
“Rome and Southern Italy, 1600–1800 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=09®ion=eusts (October 2003)