The basis for the European Paintings collection at the New Orleans Museum of Art is comprised of gifts of 32 paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The Kress Foundation provides crucial and ongoing support for conservation and preservation of the collection.
This capriccio (caprice in Italian) constructs a romantic view of Rome’s ancient past. Monuments that in reality are located across the city are gathered into one perspective. Identifiable are: the entrance of the Temple of Antonius and Faustina at right, the pyramidal tomb of Caius Cestus behind it, and the arch of Dolabella at left. The monuments are in various stages of decay, which is accented by the vines and vegetation, and visitors climb and explore. The even, bright sun replicates the glow of the campagna that enlivens and dramatizes the architecture and the scene’s actors. A romantic pastiche, the painting is a product of the eighteenth-tour ‘Grand Tour’ culture when Europeans made a point of traveling to visit Italy as an essential part of their cultural education.
The subject of St. Sebastian was common during the Renaissance. A Roman soldier who suffered torture for his Christian faith under the emperor Diocletian, Sebastian recovered from his wounds. In later centuries, he was invoked against the plague. The tradition of depicting Sebastian nude offered artists the opportunity to meditate upon real and ideal human form, the arrows becoming almost ornamental. As such, Sebastian celebrates beauty as a manifestation of the divine.
This painting is essentially a study in light, color and form. The boy may represent Tiepolo’s son Lorenzo. He turns toward the viewer as if interrupted while reading. The sense of immediacy is enhanced by the fresh, quick and fluid brushwork. The gold clasp of his fur vest depicts a laughing satyr’s head. It must be a play with the viewer and serves as a contrast to the boy’s light-filled, rosy visage and large, glowing eyes.
This small panel depicts the Martyrdom of St. Lucy. After refusing to marry a wealthy suitor, Lucy was subject to repeated trials and tortures, each of which she miraculously survived. She was finally killed by a sword, which we see here. The train of oxen refer to one of her many torments. The priest to her right offers her the wafer of communion and forgiveness before her death.
St. Lucy is usually portrayed holding a tray with her eyes on it, referencing another torment. Because of this association with sight and light she is celebrated in Scandinavia on December 13th on the eve of the winter solstice, where she is honored as the harbinger of daylight, spring and rebirth in the time of deepest darkness.
Sitting on a ledge, this lute player contemplates the passing of time, as indicated by the hourglass and delicate flowers beside him. The motto under the hourglass reads: cito pede labitur etas, or ‘Time flies on swift feet.’
The motto comments on the details of the landscape where tales of the dangers of passionate love are illustrated. At middle left is Delilah cutting her lover Samson’s hair, the source of his strength. At right, Daphne’s arms and head sprout branches and leaves as she transforms into a tree, while Apollo grabs her in vain. These stories of love pursued without regard for reason culminate in the small scene at the upper left where the horse-drawn chariot surmounted by the cupid celebrates the triumph of love over reason, time and earthly possession.
Often opting for unusual colors, Bacciacca’s use of coral pink is striking, especially in concert with the teal blues of the lute player’s sleeves and the landscape. The coloring, the spiky tree leaves, the otherworldly landscape, and even the strange asymmetries or the musician’s face achieve a mystical tone.
Through the opening in the upper third of the composition we witness the Annunciation to the Shepherds. The delicate archangel Gabriel appears in a halo of light proclaiming the arrival of the messiah to the startled herdsmen. In the foreground, the first shepherd to arrive offers a lamb to the family, symbolizing Christ’s future sacrifice for mankind.
After the birth of the Christ child, the Holy Family was visited by kings who followed the North Star from the East to pay homage to the new king of heaven. Here, the Christ child receives the gift of a chalice from the kneeling king Jasper, a reference to his ultimate sacrifice.
Vanni is one of Siena’s earliest registered painters. He traveled as diplomatic envoy to France on behalf of the city’s government and his exposure to art at the Papal court in Avignon is reflected in the lavish costumes of the Magi and exotic headgear of the onlookers, which make reference to their eastern origin, as do the camels.
The Bellini family of painters pioneered new approaches to the altarpiece in Venice at the end of the fifteenth century and played a central role in the use of oil painting in Italy. The close cropping and the tight grouping of figures at the picture plane illustrates their distinct approach to devotional (or personal) altarpieces.
The lavish, red tapestry with a flower motif hanging behind the figures serves to isolate, honor and highlight the static Virgin and Child, and adds an element of movement. The curvilinear writing on the hanging’s border mimics the Kufic script of early Arabic inscriptions typically included on the borders of metalware made in the eastern Mediterranean. This adaptation of traditional carpet patterns references Venice’s position as Europe’s port to the East and, by extension Jerusalem as location of the origins of the church.
This stately man in armor confidently thrusts his sword. The artist revels in describing the varied materials and textures – the sheen of the armor, the flutter of the feathers, the luster of the sword, and the fine hairs of his beard. Complementing his assertive stance, the man’s side-long glance suggests thought, while his pert lips and slight wink convey pluck and ingenuity.
When Romanino executed this painting he had just moved to Padua, 25 miles from Venice. The sitter’s plush, theatrical hat is adorned with ostrich feathers, a common luxury item coming through the port of Venice. The hat features the more common brown feather as opposed to the rarer white from the female birds. The hat’s prominence in the picture serves to mark the sitter’s cosmopolitanism and rank.
None of Beccafumi’s works are signed but his highly personal style makes his paintings immediately identifiable. Venus and Cupid is a typical example of his bold use of color, pearly statuesque flesh, serpentine poses, and expressive, almost bizarre landscapes. Venus and Cupid stand in the foreground, a cave at left depicts the iron forge of the god Vulcan, and an extensive landscape unfolds at right. Cupid gestures to his mother asking for the arrows she holds, which were made for him by Vulcan. Venus holds the arrows hostage as she gestures to the landscape explaining to her son the weight of responsibility possession of the arrows will bring, for his arrows strike immediate love in humans, nothing to meddle with or take lightly.
This panel was originally part of a group of paintings illustrating the life of Christ. The Last Supper was Christ’s last meal with his followers, the twelve apostles, before his crucifixion. The apostle at Christ’s right leans to accept the wafer of the first communion, which would become common practice in the Catholic Mass.
This unidentified artist is working in the artistic style of the eastern Mediterranean island of Crete, reflecting the dynamic, international artistic community of the port city of Venice. The flat stylization of the drapery folds and expressive white strokes of the men’s white hair economically communicate form and movement. Following the Byzantine traditions of Crete, the artist places the scene at a round table, while later Italian Renaissance depictions seat the figures at a rectangular table, in favor of symmetry and clarity.
At the center of this altarpiece, the Virgin and Child share a tender exchange, as he affectionately pulls at her dress and cloak. Flanking the central pair are: a follower of St. Francis dressed in the habit of the order; a Christian martyr with a palm frond of victory; St. Michael holding his sword and the celestial orb as defender of the gates of heaven; and St. Benedict holding the Benedictine rule of his teachings. Taken together, these lay figures and defenders of faith represent the community of the faithful as the cornerstones of the church. The prophets in the pinnacles above reinforce the mission to preach and spread the word.
Bernardo Daddi was Florence’s premier artist of his generation. This work was likely made in his large workshop for the prominent, Florentine Rucellai family. It illustrates the master’s distinct ability to integrate elegance and dignity.
This project was made possible, in part, by generous funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation