Sant'Andrea al Quirinale


After the papacy of Innocent X, Pope Alexander VII found himself needing a larger Jesuit Church due to increasing number of officials and attendants. The talented Gian Lorenzo Bernini accepted the offer to create the Sant'Andrea al Quirinale by no surprise. Firstly, Bernini had a relationship with the Society of Jesus, the sponsoring Jesuit group behind the new church, and Alexander. Also, Alexander asked Camillo Pamphilli, a patron of the Church, to fund this project. Pamphilli strongly disliked Borromini, Bernini's main competitor. After Bernini reluctantly accepted the position to lead this project, he made sure he would receive no compensation. He wanted to turn this project from a monetary necessity to a privilege. This would serve as a personal triumph representing his devotion to Christianity. Throughout the years, Bernini became increasingly more invested in his faith. So, constructing the Sant'Andrea for free showed everyone his prioritization of religion over commissions.

The building itself sits on Quirinal hill on top of the remains of the previous church that Bernini had demolished. The smaller, intimate space has a Palladian facade fronting the oval shaped body. This layout mocks Bernini's rival Borromini's ellipse church down the road from the Sant'Andrea, The visitor upon entering will see the main altar surrounded by red columns and red marbled walls. The somber blue and grey floor is plastered with designs and texts. The oval shape allows the focus point at the end to be the altar. Guillaume Courtois' beautiful Martyrdom of Saint Andrew hangs on the blue wall with a hidden window beaming light from above. The four pillars encasing a statue of Saint Andrew ascending on a cloud represent the Jesuit beliefs. The major component of the church is the fluorescent ceiling lit golden by the yellow stained glass in the center and surrounding. The pattern eerily resembles the honey comb interior introduced by Borromini earlier in San Carlo, his small church that seems to provide the basis for Bernini's designs in the Sant'Andrea. Bernini successfully created a church that pleased both himself and Alexander, however, in the process he managed to undermine the work done by his competitor Borromini years before.

  • 7:00 AM

Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese

Bernini, Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, 163

The typical story of a commission we are all familiar with by now: rich and/or powerful person wants his/her portrait done, finds the most notable artist in the area, and has the artist complete their portrait by an agreed date. Bernini's commission to do Cardinal Borghese's portrait was no different at first until what seemed like an absolute disaster occurred two weeks before he would present it before the patron.

Having become arguably the most notable sculptor in all of Rome, Bernini soon became a favorite of the clergy, thus opening his career to the most sought-after commissions, including portraits of the most powerful people in Rome at the time. When Bernini was hired to sculpt a bust of Scipione Borghese, Bernini observed the Cardinal in his day-to-day activities and made a handful of quick sketches to reference later when chipping away at the marble. Unlike most portrait artists, Bernini did not use a live model for this commission, but rather used his sketches to get a grasp for the Cardinal's demeanor and filled in the gaps with his memory. This quality drastically increased the desirability of hiring Bernini because of the amount of time saved by not having to stand still for the sculptor.  

According to one of his biographers, Filippo Baldinucci, Bernini was putting the final touches on the bust when he saw that a noticeable fault had appeared on the marble Cardinal's forehead that ran around the circumference of it's head with fifteen days before the piece was due. Bernini weighed the few options he had - he could present the piece as it was or he could ask for an extension, both resulting in the loss of the reputation he had vigorously slaved over. Instead, Bernini dealt with this issue unconventionally. Instead of telling the Cardinal about the serious problem, or anyone else, he kept the secret to himself and with two weeks left, (or three days according to Domenico, Bernini's son) Bernini began a completely new bust of Borghese. 

On the much anticipated day Bernini would present his sculpture, he unveiled the bust before the Cardinal, receiving praise for the likeness between Borghese and his marble counterpart. However, Bernini knew that his patron would be disappointed, so he wheeled in the second bust before Borghese, immediately resulting in the Cardinal's astonishment and endless compliments. 

Bernini twisted the challenge he faced into a benefit that left him with ten times the amount of scudi originally offered and enough credit to last him a lifetime, proving how charisma can exponentially better an artist's career. 

Additionally, it was not just Bernini's showmanship that woo'd his patrons, but the evidence that his work was far superior to what any other artist was doing then. The representation of Scipione Borghese shows the Cardinal making a face as if beginning or finishing a sentence. This technique was intentionally crafted and perfected by Bernini, which results in a sculpture filled with suspense and leaves the viewer curious and entranced. Furthermore, Bernini believed that the ideal way to capture the essence of person is to capture them in an unposed and natural fashion. While Bernini won over the Roman clergy with his witticism and cleverness, it is his remarkable pieces that are remembered hundreds of years later. 

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Palazzo Barberini

Carlo Maderno, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Francesco Borromini, Palazzo Barberini, 1627-1633

The story of the Palazzo Barberini starts with a Pope. Urban VIII, formerly Maffeo Barberini, was a religious man from a powerful Italian family that reached their height right around the time their great villa-style palace was constructed. During Urban VIII's reign he set out to beautify Rome, and in 1627, construction began on this building, as a way to glorify the family and a place to hold parties and enjoy the finer things that were still allowed by Catholicism. Urban and his brother Taddeo were very involved in this commission, arguably more than most. While the ideas for the villa-esque layout and facade originated in the heads of these brothers, the reality and the nuance of every building belongs to the architect. Or in this case, architects.

Let's start at the beginning. Even though we're really talking about Bernini and Barberini, the first architect to try their hand on this building was Carlo Maderno. After only a few years, Maderno died, leaving his brilliant assistant, Borromini, behind. Urban, a fan of Bernini at the time, caught up in his popular glow, assigned him to be the chief architect of this project. Borromini feared he'd lose his job, but Bernini was a sculptor, not an architect, and asked him specifically to stay on due to his engineering brilliance. Only Borromini could find a way to bring Bernini's designs to life. After all, what good are a building's plans if they can't be executed?

I love this building for many reasons, particularly the fact that this is really one of two buildings in the world that had both Borromini and Bernini invested and making an impact on it. There are a million things I could dive into with this building, but, for sheer lack of time and space, I'll focus on two aspects of the building that make up a single perfect metaphor. Stairs.

There are two main staircases in this funhouse. First the left side stairs, the main stairs. Bernini's attempt to display the grandeur of the Barberini family with a single feature. These stairs are classical in style, and angular, with tall pillars, and covered in relics and statues built into the very walls. It's certainly grand, but without a clear understanding of space and engineering, these stairs... well... kind of miss the mark. They're a little cramped, a little bland, a little unoriginal. Not bad, but it's clear Bernini has other "areas of expertise."

Then there are the right set of stairs, the only part of the building totally created by Borromini, and you can tell. They're different from the rest of the house. And one glance shows you why. Borromini's stairs curve up in a gorgeous elipse, white and glorious while retaining all the grace white marble should have. In the classic Borromini style, his stairs seem to make rock malleable, curving and bending at his will. These stairs, his silky fingerprint on this massive palace, are the essence of Borromini, the simple, natural beauty of his work.  

While Bernini is likely the greatest sculptor in history, these stairs are on example of Borromini transcending his architecture game in an undeniable way. This pair would feud after this until their deaths yet their cooperation has left its mark on Rome in a way that we can still see today. 
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San Giovanni at Laterano

Francesco Borromini, San Giovanni at Laterano, Renovated by Borromini in 1649

Pope Innocent had big plans for San Giovanni in Laterano. He wanted it to be the new St. Peter’s, which Julius chose to demolish and rebuild. After, witnessing the problems with St. Peter’s, Innocent vowed to preserve as much of the old church as possible, just embellishing it.

Innocent needed an architect who could manage the technical issues of renovating an old, nearly decrepit building. Innocent was aware of the challenges Borromini faced at Sant’Ivo and was impressed how Borromini created such a nice church in the small confines of the courtyard. April 15, 1646 the pope appointed Spada to oversee the renovation and Borromini as the architect.

“The job called for more than just an artist or a theorist; it demanded a technician, an engineer, a problem solver--a realist, not a dreamer someone who understood the secrets of stone and wood, the limits of travertine and tile; someone who could refurbish the pope’s church the way the pope wanted.” (Morrissey 193)

Borromini was the man for the job. He had the experience and expertise to help Innocent’s dreams become a reality. His deep understanding of architecture set him aside from all other young architects at the time. His ability to work well with limits and defy expectations qualified him for the job.

Innocent was determined not to discard the past in order to forge a new, more dynamic future. Borromini abided by Innocent’s restrictions, but felt that his artistic capabilities were being hindered. Perhaps Borromini’s greatest disappointment at San Giovanni was the ceiling. He wanted to vault it, but Innocent would not allow him to tear down the carven wooden ceiling by Pius IV. He had more freedom with the side aisles, allowing his creativity to come to being. He inserted windows between the aisles, allowing him to play with light and shadow. He also placed cherubs and angel heads as decorations above arches and along support beams.

On December 6, 1649, the body of a young man, Marco Antonio Bussone, was discovered at San Giovanni. It was determined that the workmen caught the boy damaging marble for the church and the laborers beat him. It was also found that they even tried to dispose of the body by burying it in the church. Their supervisor, aka the guilty party, was Borromini. Because of Innocent’s intervention, Borromini was given a light sentence ,and it was never fully enforced. He was remanded to temporary banishment at the pope’s pleasure with the prospect of a three-year expulsion from Rome to Orvieto. He completed the renovations and Innocent awarded him knightship in July 1652.

“The pain that incites it in the first place, the anguish that breeds the longing for self-destruction, never fades.It stands out on the soul like a welt on tender skin, aching and raw. Even after the deed is done, the mark remains--a last, terrible legacy of a life lived in torment.” (Morrissey 1)

The story of San Giovanni at Laterano is really the story of Borromini’s downfall. It talks about his lack of happiness, even with his successes, his troubles with the papacy and the law, his shady past and constant position as an outsider, his place in the wrong crowd of people, and his need to work with damaged property because he was always the second place (meaning Bernini always got the fresh piece of marble and he got the cracked piece). And yet, with all of the cracks and grooves, Borromini was still able to create a beautiful piece of architecture and cement his fate as a great architect.
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San Carlo

Francesco Borromini, San Carlino, 1646

Bernini or Borromini? Borromini or Bernini? Jake Morrissey spends the majority of his book, The Genius in the Design, detailing the rivalry between these two great men. With their architectural achievements serving as his evidence Morrissey makes the argument that people are either Team Borromini or Team Bernini. And I have to admit that although I love Bernini’s sculptures, Borromini has won my architectural heart.

Four words. The San Carlino Dome. Although the entire church is absolutely stunning, there is something awe inspiring about Borromini’s dome. I opted to show you the dome as if you were standing in the middle of San Carlino’s floor, gazing upwards. In the image, you can see the columns that surround the dome in addition to the curved walls that ripple likes the waves of the ocean.

Borromini started working on San Carlino in 1634, after he left projects for the Palazzo Barberini and St. Peter’s due to “artistic differences” with Bernini. In true Borromini fashion, he agreed to design the plans for San Carlo free of charge.

If you were to describe San Carlino in three words, I would use moment, white, and metaphoric. Borromini despised corners, so in all his works when he could, he beautifully blended the walls to make their seams appear nonexistent. By alternating columns, walls, and bulbs throughout the church, he gives the building breath. San Carlino breathes with the dome serving as heart of our building turned lifeform.

Not a decorating fanatic, Borromini opted for white stucco everything. The stark white walls and details of the church bring out Borromini's architectural brilliance.

As for evidence of Borromini’s talents with metaphors let’s return to his dome. The honeycomb design of the dome itself parallels the Barberini (Pope Urban) family crest which contains three bees. Borromini references bees in order to pay homage to both Pope Urban and the Barberini family their monetary contributions to San Carlino. In the center of the dome, with the circle encompassing the triangle and the dove inside the triangle, Borromini’s references the circle to show the eternal life of God, the triangle for the holy Trinity, and the dove to show the holy spirit. Borromini’s attention to detail and symbology demonstrates his deep devotion and faith.

I teared up a little bit, looking at the dome of San Carlino, marveling at Borromini’s ability to make his architecture appear so effortless. His lines are not forced or aggressive, but supple and easy-going. Borromini does not force his architecture on you, he lets the viewer walk right into it. He doesn’t rely on elaborate coloring, materials, or theatrics to win you over. His craftsmen does all the talking, and I admire that.

I wish we still took as much pleasure, and care in the construction of buildings today. Can you imagine if instead of looking to construct a building in the cheapest way possible, we gave architects creative liberty to define a place? Today we complain about feelings of placelessness, and this explains why we got lost in the Borromini’s work because he makes us nostalgic for a sense of place. He gives us more than a building. Borromini gives us a part of our humanity back.

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Borromini, Sant'ivo, 1642-1660

Sant'ivo, also known as the Palace of Wisdom, was created by Borromini in 1642 and was completed in 1660. His determination for Sant'ivo was much more grand than other projects he worked previously on. He wanted to make Sant'ivo a place to show his respect to God and express his emotions and ideas. Borromini's inspiration was deeply personal, which helped Borromini successfully complete his ideal church. 

Just like people say, Simple is better. Sant'ivo was aimed to be designed in simpler form, but main focus was put into the dome and the lantern. The dome was created with simple shapes that included triangles, circles, semi-circles, and curves to create depth and pentagram of alternating curves. The Dome was decorated with sculpted angels and stars. The interior wall was covered in white and gray paint to show purity. Although the Dome is short, it rises up to the lantern which was also known as tempietto at the time. It was designed in spiral form to lead up to an altar. The altar is topped with stone sculptures of torches that symbolize knowledge. 

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Scala Regia

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Gianlorenzo Bernini, Scala Regia, 1666


Related imageBefore Bernini redesigned the entrance from St. Peter's Basilica to the Vatican, popes thought of the trip between the buildings as long, difficult, and dark. Alexander and the Popes requested a new entrance for reasons of health and safety, but also so they could enter through a more impressive entryway. Maderno attempted to revamp the entrance before, but Bernini was the one to make a solution. He tore down a tower and realigned the Portone di Bronzo to make enough space for his vision. Even after maximizing his work space, Bernini still had only a constrained area. The hallway was narrow, the lines of the walls were not parallel which created a triangle shape, and the stairway had to begin and end at specific heights.

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The width of the stairs narrowed with ascension, so Bernini installed columns to give an impression of uniformity of length. Where the hallway widened Bernini constructed the columns more towards the middle of the walkway; tricking visitors into believing the stairs were the same length the entire way up. Bernini also decreased the height of the columns as they moved up. Looking at the Scala Regia visitors thought the columns looked shorter, but figured it was only a trick of perspective. To fix the problem of length and darkness, Bernini adapted the stairwell even more. For the stair height, Bernini created a landing between flights to give a sense of space. He then added light to the stairwell to widen the space by opening one window over the landing, and another at the top of the stairs.

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Image result for palazzo spada borrominiBernini referred to his Scala Regia as the most daring operation that he had attempted, and claimed that if he had heard of another artist doing the same, he would not have believed them. But as it turned out, Borromini had used the same approach his earlier, smaller scale, Palazzo Spada. In Borromini's Palazzo Spada, he uses deception to make an 8.82 meter walkway appear much longer. Just like Bernini shortened the columns with ascension through the walkway, so had Borromini. This example exemplifies the complex relationship between Bernini and Borromini. Even if Borromini had been bothered by Bernini's obvious borrowing of his ideas, he did not voice it. Borromini was used to Bernini getting effusive praise. The public easily forgot about Bernini's mistakes, and the help lent to him by Borromini, and consistently regarded Bernini as far more advanced.
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Florence Triumphant over Pisa

Giambologna, Florence Triumphant over Pisa, 1570


This is a Terracotta sculpture of modelled clay. The dimensions are: height 39 cm, width 15 cm, and the depth is 17 cm maximum. This sculpture is the well-known Triumph of Florence over Pisa. This model is one of the earliest recorded for the many different models he created before doing the marble sculpture. In this model we can appreciate Florence triumphant over Pisa, what represents the republic of Florence, interpreted by a woman, victorious over Pisa, a rival city conquered by Florence. 

Giambologna got the project in 1565, and was planned to be showed in the Salone del Cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio during the celebration of Francesco’s marriage with Joanna of Austria. However, there was not enough time for choosing and transporting the marble block from the quarry. Because of that this plaster model was shown. The marble sculpture was completed in 1570.The bozzetto was created in a board made of wood, underneath is visible the print of which. Giambologna focused on Florence. He did not construct Florence’s arms. That allowed him to create more detailed on the torso, and on the skin (which is smooth). On the other hand he did not spend plenty of time on Pisa; for instance if you take a look to Pisa's head, you will notice that the face is missing. Nowadays, this statue is located in Florence, in the Palazzo Bargello, in the Medieval & Renaissance department, Room 62.
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St. Peter's Baldacchino

Bernini, St. Peter's Baldacchino, 1634

Arguably Bernini's greatest architectural achievement at St. Peter's, the construction of this enormous bronze Baldacchino was not only because of Bernini's talent. Between 1624 and 1633, Bernini and Borromini worked together on multiple projects as rivals, this including the St. Peter's Baldacchino. This specific piece that these artists created working together marked the first great emblem of Baroque, art that included emotion and drama. But, like most of the works Bernini and Borromini worked on together, Borromini received little recognition.

A baldacchino is an ornamental structure resembling a canopy used especially over an altar or a cloth canopy fixed or carried over an important person or sacred object. The baldacchino, as described by Jake Morrissey, "does for the interior of St. Peter's what Michelangelo's dome does for the exterior: It proclaims the miracle that lies beneath it." However, unlike the conventional baldachin, the baldacchino in St. Peter's is stable while being light and huge at the same time. Also, this baldachin was designed to mark the tomb of Saint Peter and the high altar in the basilica.

Each of the four marble columns' bases supporting the canopy are called "plinths" and are decorated on the outside by the Barberini's family coat of arms, representing the three bees of the Barberini family. Although all of the shields look identical, when examined closely, the female face changes dramatically. Overall, the baldacchino was created to be a visual mediation between the height of people and the size of the building.

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Palazzo Spada

Borromini, Palazzo Spada, 1652


Borromini's Palazzo Spada excellently displays optical illusion as well as elegant design. The palazzo was originally purchased by Cardinal Bernardino Spada in 1632 to house his extensive art collection. Spada commissioned Borromini to design a sculpture Garden attached to the original palace. The garden or Galleria was completed over the year long period between 1652 and 1653. Borromini was allotted 8.82 meters for the project, however through optical illusion he created a design that seemed much more spacious. 

The architect designed short columns in the front of the corridor that progressively lengthened with a vanishing point at a sculpture. The arched roof and patterned floor in addition to the columns added to the perceived spaciousness. Borromini employed mathematicians to assist in the construction. The optical illusions in this work inspired Bernini later in his career. In conclusion, the Palazzo Spada masterfully employed the use of the optical illusion while staying true to Baroque Roman architecture. 

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Bernini, David, 1624

Bernini’s David was made for Scipione Borghese’s villa and completed in 1624. For unknown reasons, Bernini stopped working on Apollo and Daphne to make David in only seven months. David is about to throw the stone and which will allow him to behead Goliath. David did not wear armor, it lays at his feet, because he fought better without it. There is also a harp by his feet which shows that he was a talented musician. 

A statue of David was never made like this before. The figure is in the middle of the action and life-like. His face is scrunched in concentration and his body is tense. He is in the middle of fighting, so he does not have a perfect, sublime face or display Goliath's head like other statues. He steps forward towards the viewer and twists his body in anticipation of throwing the stone.

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The Rokeby Venus

The Rokeby Venus, 1651, Diego Velazquez 

In 1905 The National Gallery in London purchased Velazquez's The Rokeby Venus for 45,000 pounds. The painting was publicly displayed until March 11th, 1942 when the gallery
held a typical public viewing day. One of the many attendants, Mary Richardson, stowed a meat chopper in her fur hand muff that she would later use in her attempt to destroy the painting. After using the chopper to break the glass, guards ran into the room after hearing the shatter although Richardson had already slashed the painting seven times. Thankfully, the painting has since been restored to where it almost appears as if the accident had never happened.

Velazquez generally excels at any genre of painting he takes his hand at, although especially in portraiture. In the Case of The Rokeby Venus, Velazquez most likely painted the piece in Rome since it provided a more liberal audience in the art scene. As one of Velazquez's three remaining nudes, it is an admirably unique piece. There is some stipulation on whether the painting was commissioned by notorious womanizer,  Gaspar Medez de Haro Bio, or whether it was Velazquez's own mistress. Either way, the painting shines a light on the road leading to artistic advancement and developing a more liberal, modern style.

The especially captivating part of this painting is Velazquez's work with reflection. Venus lays admiring the view of herself in the mirror while Cupid holds it and admires as well. Although while Venus reflects on her own beauty, she makes simultaneous eye contact with the viewer.
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Saint Agatha

Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Agatha, 1633

If you could not tell...there on that platter Saint Agatha of Sicily holds her severed breasts. Just like most ancient anecdotes there are multiple versions of Saint Agatha's story. Saint Agatha is one of the most highly-venerated virgin martyrs of the Catholic Church. She notably fully dedicated her life to God. She had a very flattering appearance, and decided to remain celibate and devote her life entirely to Jesus and the Church in a life of prayer and service. Though she had made such a decision that did not stop men from wanting and desiring her. 

One in particular was Quintianus. He was a very well respected male of high diplomatic ranking, and he thought he could force Saint Agatha to go against her vow to God. Upon many rejections he decided to have her arrested and tried before a judge. The judge was no other than Quintianus himself. He anticipated her giving in to his demands when he explained she would be tortured and and be faced with possible death. Instead she reassured her faith in God praying for courage and strength. To once again attempt to change her mind, the determinated Quintianus imprisoned her in a brothel. Through such undeserved conditions she still never lost faith. She was interrogated and during her interrogation she told him that to be a servant of Jesus Christ was her true freedom. In retaliation of her undesireable reactions, the infuriated Quintianus sent Saint Agatha to prison instead of the brothel hoping to instill more fear in her - though it possibly brought a bit of relief. 

Bothered by her joy Quintianus ordered that Saint Agatha be tortured and in some versions as he noticed her endure these different forms of torture, such as being whipped or burned with torches, with a sense of cheer. He ordered that her breasts be cut off. In other versions she cut them off herself. Since Saint Agatha is the patron for breast cancer patients,  rape victims, and wet nurses, I'm pretty sure all would agree that it would make the most sense for her to have severed her own breast simply showing her own power and agency as a women and also it's simpluy more badass, but we as receivers and readers are not the ones who make the story, we are just the ones who may tell it. 
  • 7:00 AM

La Pietá

Luis de Morales, La Pietá, 1565

 BY: BHux

Morales’s style of art attracted commissioners who wanted to strike grief into people's hearts, and even bring them to tears. Morales’s dramatic compositions, with few figures and dark backgrounds, aim to evoke anguish over the tragedies Christ experiences during his life. Mary cradles her lifeless son helplessly in her arms. In her face, Morales beautifully details the the pain a mother experiences from losing a child. A single, nearly translucent tear can be seen slowly dripping down her cheek. Sharp, harsh shadows not only add depth and dimension to the subjects, but highlights the intensity and seriousness in the scene. The darkness of the shadows adds weight to the characters; the viewer sees the severity of the emotional burden that weighs Mary down now that her son has died. The dark background highlights the characters in the stark light of the foreground and emphasizes their roles as the subjects of this work. In the background, miscellaneous rubble litters the ground as Mary kneels in front of the cross used in her son’s crucifixion. Even the grass she kneels on looks lifeless and defeated. Morales’s technique creates drama and intensity that makes the viewer feel they are suffering in the same dark, defeated world void of hope as Mary. 
The title, La Pietá, refers to the subject of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus. Pietás began in Germany in the 14th century and quickly spread to other parts of Europe. Typically, artists use sculpture for their Pietás, but Morales chose to paint the scene. Morales was known as “El Divino,” as most of his work was religious and included a range of Madonna and Childs, Passions, and other Pietás. As was common at the time, Morales chooses to have Mary’s hands in a fairly upright position with Christ’s body slumped on the floor. Morales's decision to exclusively include Mary and Christ as subjects as the painting defines this piece as a Pieta. If he had included any other New Testament figures, it would be considered a Lamentation. Painters took artistic liberties when painting Pietás because of the broad requirements needed. In Morales’s La Pietá, he chooses to beautifully but morbidly depict Mary’s anguish over her son’s death with his dramatic, surreal style of art.
  • 7:00 AM

St. Francis in Meditation

Francisco de Zurbaran, St. Francis in Meditation, 1635

At the time Zurbaran painted this, the Counter-Reformation movement was well alive in Seville. During this religious transformation, St. Francis was adopted as an icon of the movement. St. Francis preached to the poor after he had a vision where he was instructed to save the church. St. Francis helps the movement grow, but artists like Zurbaran, Murillo, and Ribalta sometimes struggled with this transforming religion in their work.

Zurbaran was known for his still lifes and deeply moving portraits. His depiction of St. Francis is a portrait rather than a religious piece. That’s not to say the subject does not have religious meaning, but this work lacks the mystical magic of El Greco’s Burial of the Count of Orgaz or The Vision of St. Anthony by Murillo. This realistic portrait of St. Francis makes the religious ideas more acceptable to people. Rather than created a grand, overwhelming altarpiece, Zurbaran painted this understated religious portrait, which commands the same emotional attention as any work, but lacks the theatrical aspects in the work. Zurbaran appears to cut away the religious fluff, such as cherubs and heavenly clouds, to get at the real story of St. Francis and the Counter-Reformation movement.

St. Francis kneels on the ground wearing a tattered and patched robe. The worn-in parts of his robe show his religious dedication and repeated position of prayer. He firmly holds his hands together around the top of the skull. He is a dark room, but light shines from the left side, possibly from a window. The light casts shadows that add even more drama to the piece. St. Francis looks up in prayer as if he is looking for G-d, and his mouth is agape in awe as if he found G-d.

The skull rests in the hands of St. Francis and stares up at him. St. Francis also looks up, away from the memento mori, or reminder of death, and instead looks towards the heavens. Rather than stare death in the face as Zurbaran did in other depictions of St. Francis in meditation, he has him longingly look towards heaven. In this moment, St. Francis appears to be asking if G-d is present just as death is present in the work. Another way to view it is that as St. Francis comes to terms with death, but his soul also ascends to heaven and solidifies his spot as a religious icon.

Zurbaran’s attention to detail makes St. Francis appear alive. This religious portrait is better than most family portraits at the time, but St. Francis does not appear physically different from your average man. Zurbaran appears to send the message that St. Francis is not any different from himself or yourself. While St. Francis’ soul could ascend to heaven, Zurbaran that his body will die as any mortal man. To emphasize this, St. Francis is weighed down by his large robe. Any viewer at the time would be able to relate to this image and its ideas. In the time of religious transition, people searched for new understandings and connections to G-d. St. Francis’ search for G-d in the painting was accessible to the viewers, who at that time, were searching for the same thing.
  • 7:00 AM

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz

El Greco, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, 1586-88

As we learned about Spanish artists in renaissance period in class, I came across some comparisons between the art styles from Spain and Italy. I believe that Italian artists painting style is more soft and delicate, while Spanish art styles are more elaborate and bold. Especially on delicate details the Spanish artists seem to be better at it. El Greco's The Burial of the Count of Orgaz can be a great example of bold color schemes and elaborate style in Spanish paintings. Although the color choices that El Greco chose aren't bright or colorful, the combinations of gold, and yellow gray makes the painting seem alive, but also mourning.  

I love that El Greco uses toned-down colors because not only it creates emotion, but also it seems modern. Its interesting that everything on this painting seems to some what mirror each other for example, the position of God is symmetric to the position of the Pope and Count if someone drew a line. The composition of this painting seem crowded, but the way each individual is laid out is pleasing to the eyes. 
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Still Life with Game Fowl, Vegetables, and Fruit

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Juan Sanchez Cotan, Still Life with Game Fowl, Vegetables, and Fruit, 1602

In the 1600s Spanish art began to shift from the idealistic El Greco to a more naturalistic style. El Greco began the effort to emulate nature in his religious paintings, but apprentices and observing artists took naturalism to the next level. Juan Sanchez Cotan painted several still lifes of assortments of game, vegetables, and fruit, contrasted against a black background. He sets the objects in the same space, aiming to separate them as individuals. Although they lie within the same plane, Sanchez Cotan's pattern of naming his paintings puts an emphasis on individual objects. Sanchez Cotan entitled one of his most famous paintings Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cabbage, as it portrays one of each. Still Life with Game Fowl, Vegetables, and Fruit contains items from all three of these categories, but Sanchez Cotan fails to specify. Sanchez Cotan's careful emulation of everyday objects force the viewer to contemplate unreligious items and identify the individuality of each form. Paintings like such characterize his work and call for his recognition as the creator of the prototype for Spanish still-lifes.

A horizontal light brightens the surface of the objects and creates a shadow behind each one. Sanchez Cotan's realistically deep shadowing creates for an intimate yet separated, intense work. Sanchez Cotan's portrayal of simple and slightly unattractive everyday objects beautifies them. His ability to do so emphasizes the superiority of simple things over riches. During the period when Sanchez Cotan worked, society continued to glorify the wealthy and ruling class, and the richness of religion, in most paintings. Sanchez Cotan abandoned the usual subject matter to bring the vitality of conventional objects to life.
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Christ Embracing St. Bernard

Francisco Ribalta, Christ Embracing St. Bernard, 1625-27

As we have learned time and time again in with art history, we are skewed in favor of chance when it comes to the study of art. What paintings happen to survive define how we look at entire periods and how we bring art together in the groups we so love. Well, Ribalta bucks the system: in terms of a lack of records, in terms of the style of his painting, and most of all in terms of his religious interpretation. Francisco Ribalta existed at a time of transition for Spanish art, wedged in between the drama of early counter reformation and the brashness of up-and-coming naturalism. In his first years as a serious painter under the church patriarch, Juan de Ribera, well within the norms of late 16th century Spanish painting. His early works had all the color and intensity of an el Greco with the authenticity to the bible that church leaders so valued at this time. But when Ribera dies, so does record of Ribalta's work and when we catch sight of him again, everything is different.

As you can see in Christ Embracing St. Bernard, Caravaggio's influence has hit Spain with full force. With the intense chiaroscuro, the emphasis on earth tones, the intimacy of the scene, and the circular composition between the figures, Ribalta has given into the same fascination with Caravaggio that still haunts everyone who studies him. There's more though. Between the wrinkles, Jesus's wounds, and the more accurate proportions, we can see the emerging influences of naturalism taking hold in his work. This is the painting of a changed man.

The real reason I chose this painting, however, has little to do with the fact that Ribalta changed his own style and has more to do with what I see emerging in the Spanish art world. This momentum ends up producing some of my favorite works. The coming movement brings Christ and the saints to life and provides the first realistic exemplifications of what it is to be a holy man in a human body. "But no!" you say. "That's what all of renaissance art history has been about! Libby, we've been looking at nothing but holy men for the whole year! Surely you can't have missed all of that." To that I say, yes and no. Yes we have definitely seen a LOT of Jesus, but the image of their holiness has always been conveyed with a demure -- borderline sleepy -- expression and a halo. Caravaggio is the first one who comes close to creating depictions of these folks that look like actual people, but where his figures have gained realistic talent and emotion, they have lost the tenderness and the essence of God. Ribalta is the first to bring together both aspects. He creates figures that are lifelike and still deeply graceful. Although we're not exactly sure what brought about this shift or what his art looked like as it evolved, I'm just glad we got here. In this work Ribalta shows relatable human expression and struggle with the presence of godly people inside of their godly nature as they might look in the flesh. To me, that is an extraordinarily valuable thing. 
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Christ After the Flagellation

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Christ After the Flagellation, 1665


A rare moment, a solitary moment. Christ alone. He is not risen above his followers, or even in a powerful position. Christ appears as any other man bending down to pick up his garments.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo worked during the Spanish Counter Reformation as a painter primarily commissioned to paint religious works, yet throughout his life he holds on to a love of still-lifes. On one hand you have the religious Murillo, set with the task of demonstrating to the Spanish people how their individual pain does not compare to the sacrifices made by celebrated religious martyrs. Although on the other, you have the Murillo who cherished the common folk, with an exposed butt cheek or a few crushed egg shells.

Although Murillo’s Christ After the Flagellation lacks a subtle apple or dwindling candle, one still feels the still-life vibes. We know Titian for his beautiful colors and flawless skies, Caravaggio for bringing blood and lust into a painting without a single fleck of red, and now for Murillo we can not think of his paintings without pausing on his innate ability to effortlessly combine the light and dark.

With his Christ, Murillo casts a light that extends down from Christ’s torso to his illuminated thigh. Murillo parallels the light on Christ’s forward thigh in Christ’s front arm. By playing a game of peek a boo with the light, Murillo makes the viewer search for the points of reflection. For Murillo the casting of light is not a task simple added to illuminate shading, but to bring another dimension into the work.

Murillo’s approach to the distribution of the light is much like his approach to Christ. Contrary to artists who favored the spiritual aspects of Christ, Murillo settles in on the human. Christ’s posture demonstrates his vulnerability, his slightly sloped shoulders accompanied by his rigid back indicate that although he appears defeated... his back, his mind, his body are not broken.

Although Christ’s head is tilted downward, his eyelids float upwards towards the top of the canvas, in a bright light of ecstasy, a more subtle type of devotion. For if he extended his head he would lose sight of the clothes that lie before him. His garments ground him to the earth, to his suffering.

Murillo casts the white cloth that surrounds Christ as the center of the painting, yet due to Christ’s extended arms and hands the viewer’s eye drifts to the slightly, dirtier, rougher version of the white cloth. Indicating that although Christ may seem content with the brightly lit cloth he would rather wear the dirtier one. With the cloths bright and dull hues, Murillo references how Christ lives life in the bright light, and how all those consuming hues have led to him on his knees in this very moment.

Within the ripples of light, one sees the bruises starting to form around Christ’s forearm, upper back, and abdomen. Murillo does not hide the pain or make it the focus. He hints at the multiple lashings it would take to accumulate the bruising, building up the pain with each and every brushstroke.

Murillo’s Christ captures the intimacy of a Caravaggio, and the darkness of a Tintoretto. Besides the lighting and intimate shading I cannot get the posture out of my head. Christ bends slightly off center, off kilter. Off in his own space. Anchored only by his hands clutching the cloth before him.

By any comparison this painting is beautiful, but more than that it’s an artist’s work. You see Murillo. Yes, you see the church that commissioned it due to the subject matter, but Murillo makes it his own. Murillo proves that power does not reside in standing over others, but in the private moments that make us we are. He makes the statement that although you might not see the bruises at first glance, it does mean that they do not exist. He charges you to take the soiled cloth and your bruises and stand up with that rigid back of yours.
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