This is a little scene that Eckersberg likely observed at one point during his time in Rome. It depicts a family ritual, where a godmother holds a small newborn in swaddling clothes up to the cross on the sealed Holy Door to St. Peter’s Basilica. The door is ceremoniously opened during special anniversary years, which until the 20th century was held every 25 years. It is a momentary scene, yet re-enacted by thousands of other Roman families again and again. The work is a cross between an architectural study with staffage and a genre painting of contemporary life in Rome. Eckersberg’s sober approach to the subject and composition is clear, however. The staffages appear in sculptural poses on equal footing with the architecture, and together they form a number of dynamic lines and diagonals in the holy space. This lends the painting a somewhat static character; a scene removed from time and space.
About the artist:
Eckersberg studied under Nicolai Abildgaard and art historically, he has been proclaimed the Father of Danish Painting, because he was the first professor to establish a school and his students include many of the most famous Golden Age painters. He broke with the idealising art of the 1700s and introduced a new form of realism based on nature studies and compositional principles. In 1810, he won the Academy’s prestigious gold medal, and subsequently spent a year in Paris studying under the great neo-classical painter Jacques-Louis David. Eckersberg was the very first to introduce direct study from nature at the Art Academy, and in doing so, had a decisive impact on the development of Golden Age art in Denmark. He was greatly influential for numerous young artists such as Martinus Rørbye, Christen Købke, Constantin Hansen, Jørgen Roed and Wilhelm Marstand.