Flesh and Blood Exhibit is on display at Seattle Art Museum through January 26, 2020. Get tickets and more info here.
The Capodimonte Museum in Naples is the second largest museum in Italy (second only to the Vatican). Originally a royal palace built by the King of Naples, Charles of Bourbon – later to become Charles III of Spain, the exhibition shows only a small percentage of the incredible works of Baroque art collected by the Farnese family of Italy. Through the end of January 2020, part of the collection (38 paintings and one statue) will be on display at the Seattle Art Museum. It is not an exhibit to miss.
One of the most “under-visited treasure troves” with a “staggering collection of art” (New York Times), the exhibit is called “Flesh and Blood”. The paintings have their settings in both the mythological and religious worlds, celebrating the human figure in all of its glory, and it’s ‘no so glorious’ forms. While some represent the pastoral spiritual aspects of life, others show the grittiness and violence of reality. Everyone should view the works of these masters, but parental warnings of explicit violence (and PG-13 nudity) are represented in these incredible works of art.
Some of the masterpieces on view are represented by the greatest European artists of the time. Two paintings of Pope Paul III (one by Raphael and the other by Titian) are present showing the holy figure both at the beginning of his spiritual journey and towards the latter part of life. The infamous Greek painter from Crete, El Greco, has two paintings displayed including Boy Blowing on an Ember (c.1571), an incredible picture of a boy’s face lit up by nothing by a glowing ember in his hands. The play of light and dark is masterfully represented.
The section on “The Women” shows another side of the Baroque period. Antea (c. 1535) by Parmigianino shows a woman of means staring directly out at the viewer. She represents the epitome of beauty at the time, dressed in the finery of a lady’s station. Pietá by Annibale Carracci (c. 1599) shows the mourning Mary holding the dead body of her son. The contrast between the pink glowing flesh of the living figure opposed to the grey, lifeless form of Jesus is hauntingly beautiful.
The nude form is represented often, as was the tradition of the Baroque period in Europe. Drunken Silenus (c. 1626) by Jusepe de Ribera shows the inebriated god reclining and rejoicing in his debauchery. By contrast, Danae by Titian (c. 1544) is displayed and is frequently referred to as the most famous (if not erotic) nude painting in Western History. Originally designed for the private pleasures of a Cardinal, the painting shows the legendary figure of Danae, reclining naked, and being seduced by Zeus in the form of a shower of golden coins. The painting Venus, Mars, and Cupid (c. 1670) by Luca Giordano blatantly shows Venus flirting Mars while nursing a young Cupid on her lap. The milk from her breast is actually seen being squirted into the child’s mouth.
Violence was a part of life for the Italians at the time, and it is represented in the works of art. The powerful Lucretia (c. 1540) by Parmigianino shows the strong woman plunging the dagger between her exposed breasts in a dramatic, if not effective, act of rebellion. A violent depiction of Cain And Abel (c. 1612) by Lionello Spada, looks like a scene of rape at the first glance, but only when studied is it clear that the two figures are both male.
One of the undisputed highlights of this exhibit is the controversial masterpiece, Judith and Holofernes (c. 1612) by Artemisia Gentileschi. The biblical story of revenge is shown in gory detail as blood saturates the bedding beneath the general’s head as it is being hacked off with a sword. The picture reflects the tragic and violent circumstances in Artemisia’s own life, where the artist has taken her own personal rage and vented it through her own incredible work. A glimpse of the artist’s emotions can be seen in the cold, calculated expression, painted on the Jewish heroine’s face, even as she commits the heinous act of beheading.
Flesh and Blood is an incredible collection and is definitely not to be missed. Many of these pieces have not been shown together, outside of the Capodimonte Museum, and represent some of the greatest works of the Baroque period.
The Capodimonte Museum is a royal palace built by Charles of Bourbon, King of Naples. As the sole heir to the Farnese family line (the family name died out in the late 1700’s), Charles (who later became King Charles III of Spain) inherited the collection from his mother’s side. “I am thrilled that we have the rare opportunity to see these incredible works in Seattle,” says Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Director of Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture. “Epic and intimate, divine and brutally realistic, these paintings speak to the complexity of human experiences in a timeless way that will resonate with out visitors.”