Rococo: When even death was magnificent ♦
(Last of Andrew Mangravite’s five-part idiosyncratic tour of the National Gallery of Art.)
My walking tour is now in its homestretch. As I said at the start, chronology wouldn’t count for much. Although I may have seemed to be traveling back in time— exploring Northern European art from Rembrandt to Rogier van der Weyden and van Eyck— now we are jumping forward again and returning to an examination of the art of Southern Europe.
Bernardo Strozzi’s Saint Francis in Prayer (1620-30) presents us with a rather soulful-looking Francis, clutching a rosary—which the real Francis probably never owned—and a nary a devil in sight. Alessandro Magnato’s Christ at the Sea of Galilee and The Baptism of Christ (both 1740) are works in which the surrounding landscape is treated in an extremely “broad,” borderline Romantic manner—his Christ at the Sea of Galilee, in complete opposition to Tintoretto’s monumental depiction, could almost be by Albert P. Ryder, so completely is its tiny Christ subsumed by the fury of the elements around him.
Giovanni Baptista Tiepolo, whose work is a high point of the Rococo movement, is well-represented by the following works: Queen Zenobia Addressing the Soldiers (1725-30), Apollo Pursuing Daphne (1755-60), Saint Roch Carried to Heaven by Angels (1735-45), Scene from Ancient Rome (1750), Study for a Ceiling with the Personification of Counsel (1762), and Wealth and Benefits of the Spanish Monarchy under Charles III (1762). While the first three pieces present the artist to his best advantage as a portrayer of scenes from mythology and ancient history, the latter two pieces represent sketches for the monumental allegorical works that graced the ceilings of churches and palazzos and for which he is perhaps best remembered.
All of Rococo art was a celebration of the high life and the holy life—both represented with great brio and style. I sometimes think latter generations have hated Baroque and Rococo Art because they made life seem so much better than it actually is. Even dying in Baroque and Rococo Art is a magnificent experience. If the artists of these two movements ever saw Goya’s depiction of his ailing self being assisted by his physician, they probably threw up their hands in horror and ran away.
Tiepolo enjoys a last bow with his portrait, Young Lady in a Tricorn Hat (1755-60), a simple enough work compared to his allegorical extravaganzas, but one that manages to sum up all of the mystery and allure of the poets’ Venice.
So my tour that began with the bang of El Greco and Tintoretto ends with the mannerly whimper of G.B. Tiepolo and a couple of romantic-looking landscapes by Annibale Carracci. I exit the galleries into the small foyer where I began and— with a final glance at the uplifted ecstatic face of Saint John of the Cross, my unofficial patron— I ring for the elevator to the street level.
(Last of five articles on the National Gallery of Art.)
To read the first article in this series, click here.
To read the second article, click here.
To read the third article, click here.
To read the fourth article, click here.
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