Skip to main content

The Other Bolognese

Guido Cagnacci - The Death of Cleopatra - WGA03758
Death of Cleopatra, ca.1659

Born on January 19, 1601 near Rimini, Italy, Guido Cagnacci was a Baroque painter from the Forlì school and also the Bolognese School, whose contemporaries include Guido Reni, Domenichino, Guercino, and Lionello Spada among others. Considered odd and unreliable, it is unfortunate because his work represents a rare vision on the sensuality of women at a time when the Inquisition did not have an open mind about it. Cagnacci's work is unique from most of his contemporaries for this reason, and his women are unaffected and life-like in a way that is ahead of his time.

In Death of Cleopatra we clearly see the Baroque influence from Caravaggio but here Cagnacci heightens the soft flesh with transparent shadows and bright colored drapery. The asp coils loosely around her wrist and bites the forearm of Cleopatra yet her expression is one of surrender, if not pleasure. Cagnacci groups her closest servants on a horizontal plane yet creates a confined space by placing the three figures to the left overlapping each other while the three on the right nearly evenly spaced out. The chair Cagnacci uses bears a resemblance to the one used by the Pope himself. His drybrush skills reveal a remarkable control of the paint with very smooth blending and intuitive color sense. This is a beautiful painting.








Guido Cagnacci - Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity - WGA03760
Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity, ca.1660


Depicting Mary Magdalene, who lies topless on the floor with her jewelry and fancy clothing scattered beside her, is being lectured by her sister Martha, who points to the devil being driven out of the room by an angel. This idiosyncratic interpretation is a synthesis of fantasy and allegory with visual influences of Renaissance, Mannerism, and Baroque to create a surreal, dream-like work. Note the similarity in the soft light on Martha's face to Cleopatra above.









David with the Head of Goliath by Guido Cagnacci, Getty Center
David with the Head of Goliath, ca.1650


A rather stylish and bold interpretation of a well-known biblical theme, here David is androgynous and flamboyantly dressed, complete with feather in cap. Cagnacci uses color and costume to tell an age-old story, and here the blue and red create a visually compelling harmony against the cool grey background. In contrast to Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity, Cagnacci is suggesting that style and talent are the very thing that conquers brute strength and ignorance.









Allegory of Vanity and Penitence

Cagnacci seems preoccupied with this theme of vanity, and yet here there is a very different interpretation. The young model Cagnacci has chosen is stunningly beautiful and Classical, clutching a rose in one hand with a skull in the other. Her skin is luminous with transparent shadows...he paints her with confidence, unaffected by the judgements of others. The painting is surprisingly modern in its approach, and deserves merit for capturing a state of mind and for its strong sensuality.








Guido Cagnacci - Lucrezia
Lucrezia

Cagnacci's interpretation of the suicide of Lucretia is sympathetic and without the dramatic chiaroscuro one would associate with this theme, which has been painted by countless artists. Her skin is remarkably cool and softly glowing, yet it is the drapery that Cagnacci paints with breathtaking realism. One could study those orange folds for hours and still learn something from them. Look closely and you can see subtle green midtones in certain areas. Cagnacci may have been odd or unusual, but he could definitely paint, and he painted women in a special way.

Popular posts from this blog

More Old Master Drawings

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.
Robert Henri








Charles Louis Müller, A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864

Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful.







Anton Raphael Mengs, Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755

One of several Academic nude studies by Mengs, this …

Guercino il Magnifico

Self-Portrait of the Artist holding a Palette, ca.1635


Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino was born on February 8, 1591 in Cento, a small city near Ferrara. He is one of the great masters of the Italian Baroque and poet of painters. Noted for his speed and efficiency, Guercino also worked in a number of mediums with equal passion whether ink, chalk, charcoal, or oils. His nickname, which means 'little cross-eyes' in Italian, derives in part from an apocryphal childhood accident where he supposedly awoke from a deep sleep as a child from a loud scream that caused his eyes to cross. Another story says something was thrown into his eyes. At any rate, he was self-taught as an artist from as early as nine years old and by his early teens was discovered by the eldest of the Carracci where he would spend some time at the Accademia Degli Incamminati before venturing out on his own. Despite his apparent 'handicap', his vision and talent would make him a giant that few…

Old Master Drawings

Drawing is not the form; it is the way of seeing the form.
Degas



A male nude from behind, c.1630 Gian Lorenzo Bernini

In this blog I talk about painting but the importance of drawing cannot be understated of course, and I believe we can learn just as much from studying their techniques of line and strokes as we can from brushstrokes...more in most cases as the drawing is more expressive and intimate. It reveals the personality and character of the artist.

The above drawing apparently comes from the period of Bernini's teaching at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, one of four from the exact same model. This drawing is fairly big for a study, at 55.6 x 42cm (21 x 16 inches). Consider Michelangelo's study for Libyan Sibyl, is only 28.9 x 21.4 cm (11 3/8 x 8 7/16 inches), a small study for a fresco which would be painted several times larger than life size. I can only guess that Bernini was teaching a big class and that maybe his work was on display for students to study, or it ma…