I like the paintings of Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787). I consider him one of my friends despite the distance in time and space. Pompeo Batoni was one of the most notable citizens of 18th century Rome. He was considered by his peers the most eminent and honored artist in the city.
Popes, emperors and kings of Europe and many rich visitors were received in his study. Pompeo Batoni supported his numerous children and relatives and an open house for musical evenings and a painting academy painting highly prized portraits.
In the theme paintings, the rich effect of color and the complex rhetoric behind attitudes, gestures, and expressions create highly dynamic compositions. His humanized saints, the Holy Families and the Virgin express a meditative approach to religious emotion.
I appreciate him above all for his thinking, for his allegory representations of harsh and abstract ideas. Allegory is a work of art in which a deeper meaning underlies the superficial or literal meaning.
I start with three examples: Time Unveiling Truth, Truth and Mercy, Justice and Peace because the coded message in colors and shapes is less complicated and can stimulate the reader’s thinking.
- Truth is pure light and Time is a young seeker. After unveiling the Light, we are no longer innocent. He is supposed to know the difference between good and evil. Sinning after having received the Truth is different. Over time, through experience and study in the school of hard knocks, we have the opportunity to bring the Light and more personal responsibility into our lives.
- Truth vs. Mercy is a totally different allegory. Truth holds up a more material symbol, a tragic and brilliant face. From her attitude we feel that the Truth is very important and egocentric. Mercy, kneeling, looking as if she is one with the viewer, demands compassion. The material Truth, more earthly, cruel and implacable, is in front of us and at the humble request of Mercy. Is it more important to judge than to forgive? The viewer is involved, a mature person can decide differently than a young one. The National Gallery, special features, paintings from the exhibition, photo #6
- Justice is not blind in Batoni’s work. He has the instrument for weighing arguments and facts in his left hand. He temporarily stopped judging, because Peace is unfolding on his side bringing comfort and warmth. Again, what is the value of judging and criticizing all the time over the peace of acceptance? I brought these examples to gradually introduce you to Batoni’s theme.
The Virgin and Child in Glory” fascinated me. The original is in the Toledo Museum of Art (Ohio).
“The Virgin and Child in Glory” is the only painting I know of that depicts the Divine and the relationship of evil from the human point of view on the same canvas.
In the center, in full light, the Mother gracefully holds the precious Son of God. She is focusing beyond the angels. The upper space of the painting is opened by the striking left angel. The angels above are emotionally involved in what is happening below, where the cross-spear of Jesus Christ agonizes the devil. The gesture and representation of the baby are very humanized. The devil is depicted according to the ancient description with wings and here he is holding the sphere of the Earth. The little angels in the background, very childish, hug each other leaning to one side to avoid the horrible breath of evil.
A group of five musicians close to Madonna glorify the divine mission. We humans can identify with scientists and artists. On a deeper level we can perceive the body of Christ in the crucified posture in the hands of the Mother. The mother is looking for help and understanding.
The viewer is involved in many ways at different levels of emotion, stimulating the mind to keep working. The line “But deliver us from evil” was my first understanding from the first second I saw this materialized meditative masterpiece.
The recent book “Pompeo Batoni: Prince of Painters in Eighteenth-Century Rome” by Edgar Peters Bowron and Peter Bjorn Kerber (2007) contains all the images discussed in my article.
This book is published in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of the birth of Pompeo Batoni with exhibitions at:
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, October 21, 2007 – January 27, 2008;
- The National Gallery, London, February 20 – May 18, 2008
You can also visit the link below on the winer4us.com website for more information and a mini movie I made at the Toledo Museum of Art for you.