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Gaetano Gandolfi

Joseph's Dream, ca.1790

Gaetano Gandolfi belongs to a family of artists from the 18th century that, although not as well known as the Carracci, their artistic influence cannot be understated. Ubaldo, the elder and Gaetano, both brothers, along with Gaetano's young son Mauro formed the second Bolognese trinity, their difference being that the Baroque was coming to an end and being replaced by Neoclassicism. Between these three, a period of a hundred years would reveal the rise and fall of Napoleon right through to the end of great patronage, leading to the beginnings of Romanticism. Gaetano, born August 31, 1734, would be the most prolific of the three, forming a style synthesized by his strong Venetian influences and his Baroque foundations. The commonality that all three exhibit are an eloquence, a sense of poetry and drama that defines the era they lived in.

In Joseph's Dream above, Gaetano uses a cool green palette to create the dream-like mood, emphasizing the two primary figures with yellow and red. Note the unusual composition. The angel points to a murky background while touching his arm. Gaetano uses strong diagonals with intense, warm light spilling on them. Although taken directly from the Bible on the story of Joseph, this painting seems to also foreshadow the end of European painting and Classicism itself.

Portrait of a Young Woman, 1767

One of Gaetano's few portraits, the liberties he takes with anatomy at the expense of mood and presence are something that most artists could not get away with but here he does exactly that. Both pensive and feminine, his brushwork and incredible skin tones are what save this work from inaccuracy. Probably painted quickly, he manages to breathe life into this portrait of a young woman with luscious skin.

The Judgement of Solomon, 1770

Here we have one of the most well-known stories from the Old Testament made into art, and here Gaetano once again uses strong diagonals, dramatic light and his intuitive sense of figure posing and placement. One can clearly see how careful study of the past and what was already done are what inspired Gaetano to go forward with this incredible interpretation. The Venetian influence of Tiepolo is definitely present but here Gaetano suppresses color in favor of telling the story and using body language to that end. Virtually no explanation is required here...the actions of the characters tell the story.

Compare with this version by Matthias Stomer

Study for Bearded Man,ca. 1780

Drawing was a critical component of the Gandolfi art tradition, and here this colored study of an older man reveals his knowledge of expression and anatomy. Note how Gaetano suggests the hair yet manages to create a very convincing head and beard.

Study of a female figure, ca. 1780

This incredible oil sketch, also known as bozzetto or modello, done on paper shows just how much can be achieved with the simplest of colors and materials.

Study of a Male Seated Nude, ca. 1755

An academic study, or accademie, this is one of numerous drawings from the nude that the Gandolfi did as regular and consistent artistic training. Note how Gaetano introduces warm tones in small, key areas to enliven the drawing.

Venus Ordering Armor from Vulcan for Aneas, ca.1775

Possibly Gaetano's finest masterpiece, we see here the summary of his talents as a painter. Full use of color, dramatic light, graceful posing, heightened drapery, and an intuitive sense of composition. He seems to flawlessly marry Baroque with Venetian sensibility. Note how both Venus and Vulcan's bodies point in opposite directions. Her skin is fair, while his tanned and muscular. Contrast between the worlds of gods and mortals is made effortless into a painting that, like so many in the Old Masters, is underrated and unrecognized.

Look at the bozzetto here.

Head of a Bishop, 1770

This portrait of a bishop is one of my favorites by Gaetano. It is a painter's portrait. Drawn with the brush and painted loosely, the character and presence achieved here a century before Sargent with a very limited palette is a testament to the skills of Gaetano. Note the use of cool blues and greens in the brushstrokes of that beard. This is what portraiture is all about.


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