Most of the Caravaggios on show have a history of doubt. They are enthusiastically added to the list of the master’s works or they are mercilessly deleted. Caravaggio’s oeuvre seems to be either expanding or shrinking every now and then (well, like any old master’s). The famous Narcissus seems to have got a definitive roof over its head in Caravaggio’s house, after having been attributed to others, Spadarino amongst others. And what is definitive in art history? Now it shares its place as a frontispiece with Bernini’s Medusa for the exhibition Caravaggio – Bernini: Baroque in Rome at the Rijksmuseum. .
The exhibition shows works by Caravaggio and Bernini and especially by their followers and competitors. Amongst them some really great masters, whose fame only just survived the big shadows of the two great masters who have become iconic for the early Baroque period in Rome.
Amongst others the Brabantian sculptor François Duquesnoy, who arrived in Rome when he was around 20 years old and stayed there for the rest of his life
Look at this amazing self-portrait of Simon Vouet how he painted his collar. It’s just white paint and still it’s a collar.
Another great Vouet. Not just the expression of the sitter may strike you but also the way his cloths are painted with sketchy sprezzatura. It may remind you of Frans Hals.
One of the few but famous self-portraits by Bernini. Bernini, whose great example was Michelangelo, was not just a great sculptor, he was also an architect, a stage designer, director and actor and a talented painter, although – like Michelangelo – he preferred sculpture as a matter of principle.
This portrait of Maffeo Barberini is said to be by Caravaggio. According to the catalogue it is regarded as a real Caravaggio, based on “many arguments.” Whatever the arguments are, personally i think that if it is by Caravaggio it must be one of his very first ventures in portraiture, or it is a copy of a lost original by Caravaggio.
This bust of Scipione Borghese by Giuliano Finelli is said to be ordered by the sitter in competition with Bernini’s now famous bust of Scipione (in the Villa Borghese in Rome). Like in Bernini’s bust the cardinal seems to have had problems with his buttons and buttonholes.
It is a good thing that the exhibition doesn’t show just examples of masterpieces, although one could ask what this misfit by Carlo Saraceni is doing here, especially since there is a much more convincing Saraceni elsewhere in the exhibition.
This Boy stung by a bee by Hendrick de Keyser is a little extra by the Rijksmuseum, as De Keyser didn’t work in Rome and he is not in the catalogue.
One of the surprises of the exhibition is this St. Cecilia by Francesco Mochi, which almost looks like a Futurist sculpture.
In those days archaeology of the Roman past and its restoration had become a serious cultural business. Remains of antique sculpture were restored and completed by great sculptors, like this Faun whose limbs and head were sculpted by François Duquesnoy.
This impressive Spadarino was also on show in last year’s exhibition of the Caravaggisti at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, where i made this picture (click here for the report).
From here on i realised i had only very little time left as i had spent the morning and part of the early afternoon at the Stedelijk to see the Nam June Paik retrospective (see reports here in Dutch and here in English) , and as it was increasingly difficult to take a look at all interesting items of the exhibition and to keep a five feet social distance and to make some pictures which would give some idea of what i found to be interesting. So i decided to skip the photographing.
That’s why the ending of this photo report is a bit of an anti-climax.
It is a very full and detailed exhibition (which was made in co-operation with the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna) and i can only advise you to visit it, as far as possible and as far as wise, taking into account the upsurge of the Corona virus in Amsterdam.
This great retrospective of one of the most fascinating artists of the last quarter of the last century happened to be opened just before Covid-19 restrictions were implemented. Now, after reopening, the exhibition was obviously not prepared for the restrictions we still have. In the mean time the museum and its visitors are trying to make the best of it.
As i have written quite extensively in VLR about the exhibition, i just leave you here with some impressions.
The show is in its last week, so you have to hurry if you don’t want to miss it. And do bear in mind that you have to make an online reservation!
Though he wasn’t born in The Hague, he lived for a major part of his life in this town and undeniably left his artistic marks here.
There have been retrospectives of his work in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and even twice in Dordrecht, but in spite of that Verdijk has only become a household name to very few artists and art lovers.
The present exhibition – recently reopened when anti-corona measures were alleviated a bit, difficult to find on the museum’s website, and unclear in how long it will be there – may give a clue to that underrating.
Almost each work on show has the magic to suck you into the intimacy of its composition, such that you may even feel a voyeur; that is, if you really surrender to these works.
I have no idea how long these works will be on show, so hurry to see them!
It‘s not a big deal really, but for one reason or another i’m always attracted to it.
Alas, at the moment you can only see it with either reflections in the glass over it, or covered by your own shadow.
Other works i’m always happy to see are the small collection of portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) (photos 39, 40, 42 and 43), surely one of the very greatest painters of the Northern Renaissance.
Seeing them i usually forget about Rubens, Rembrandt and the whole lot.
The Mauritshuis museum says on its website that George Stubbs (1724-1806) belongs in England “without any doubt, in the panthenon [sic!} of eminent eighteenth-century British artists like Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and J.M.W. Turner.” Apart from the fact that Turner (1775-1851) – although he grew up in 18th century – is generally regarded as a 19th century romantic, one can wonder if this is meant to be a compliment.
Reynolds was without any doubt a good portrait painter, but his portraits are for their contents only interesting for those who are not bored with flattering images of self-indulgent, haughty people. But anyway, the English and the visual arts seem to be married in loving misunderstanding.
Stubbs was a painter who studied the anatomy of horses. Horses of the nobility that is. They all seem to be full-blooded and shiny.
Probably Stubbs’s greatest achievement is his book The Anatomy of the Horse of 1766. The Mauritshuis shows some of his wonderful, comprehensive illustrations.
They are drawn with great care, curiosity and dedication.
He painted his horses with the same great care, but in his paintings horses also become objects of representation, property.
They are shiny and perfect in their tamed wildness and anxiety, even in their eroticism, which is somewhere in between the male and female.
They have become symbols of civilisation, of how the English tamed the World.
The landscapes around them are mere decors, and don’t seem to have any influence on the glowing perfection of the horses.
Although Stubbs was also interested in other living creatures (and their anatomies) his portraits of horses became very popular amongst the rich.
Imagine a millionaire who wants a portrait of his best Maserati or of his private jet.
To be short: the drawings are great, the horses are well painted with great knowledge, the paintings themselves, as paintings, are uninteresting.
Again, under the tranquillity of the Covid-19 measures at the museum, it was a great joy to see these works in all their preciousness again, without the pressure of any other visitors who may disturb your attention.
After all, art watching is an egotistic activity.
At best it’s you and the work of art, and nobody in between or around.
However, i couldn’t spend much time there as i needed time for the Lucassen show. Reinier Lucassen (1939) has built an impressive oeuvre of paintings.
He started in the 1960s as an artist who combined elements of figurative and abstract art and of high art and consumer culture, like other artists in the Netherlands and Belgium, usually called Nieuwe figuratie (New Figuration).
In the case of Lucassen it has become an art intermingled with the beauty of the banal and the absurd.
Lucassen’s work is also linguistic, as such it may be even more mysterious to a non-Dutch speaker than it is for a Batavophone.
As usual in these big shows at the KM there is an overload of works.
The works are not presented chronologically.
To an extent, that works, as mutual correlations between the paintings of different periods may become clear.
On the other hand, after watching intensely (which is now really possible!) for some time, one gets the idea of getting a bit dizzy of all these different voices that shout, sing and whisper at you.
To be short about visiting the KM at the moment: it is now possible to really look at the works intensely, or even reflect on them while looking, which is great and unique for this period of the crisis.
However, as the exhibitions are quite big – apart from Navid Nuur’s, although his is big in its reflective content – you need to plan ahead what you really want to see.
Otherwise you may not fall victim to the Covid-19 virus but to the Stendhal syndrome.
There are very strict restrictions to enter and to move around in the museum.
Reservations have to be made online for a two hours timeslot, there is an obligatory choice between two routes and only one-way traffic is possible, but generally everything is very well organised and staff seem to be more friendly than usual.
The two routes are the so-called Berlage Route and the Mondrian Route.
Although two hours were obviously not enough for me, i very much enjoyed seeing all these works in real.
Because of the restrictions and the maximum number of visitors (which is indicated for every room) i had a very tranquil afternoon.
No crowds of people who are in your way, just silence and very little noise of another visitor now and then, that’s how i like it! In this report you see some aspects of the first leg of my tour: A.R. Penck (1939-2017) and Navid Nuur (1976).
I am planning a review for Villa la Repubblica (in Dutch) about at least one of the three not-permanent shows, so keep yourself posted!
As for A.R. Penck: I saw his work first in a solo show somewhere in the 1970s in the Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam (digitally i can’t find any reference to that exhibition).
That was quite an experience to me as an adolescent (which, i must say, is quite a broad definition in my case).
His works were exhibited on partitions, creating small rooms where you were confronted with his graffiti.
It was both artistically and for its presentation a revelation to me. Now he has become one of the classics of German art.
The present show at the KM is quite a big retrospective.
It has all the pros and cons of such a blockbuster.
It is quite overwhelming, and even some huge paintings were pushed into the very inner of the museum in one way or another.
A few smaller parts of the show are closed because of the corona measures, but, as it’s such a big show, you don’t really miss that.
I felt privileged having all these works practically for my own.
No idea how old Navid Nuur was when i saw my first Penck exhibition, but the times of revelations seem to be far behind us.
After the savagery of Penck’s painting Nuur offers you more introspection in the KM’s so-called project space.
Nuur shows you the almost eternal life of dead matter, its transformation into minerals, into life, into light, into history, into philosophy, permeating and indeed being part of us and the rest of the world.
He has made a fine ensemble out of it.
Another visitor walked around in the room as well, reading her booklet about the show, when at last she asked me if i understood it.
To me that is a question of conscience, for, as an art historian, one knows all too well that one can never fully understand a work of art…..
As i visited Amsterdam for some serious business (of which i will report later) i also took the chance to see the Allard Pierson Museum there, which contains different collections of the University of Amsterdam.
Presently there is an exhibition about the Egyptian god Bes.
Bes, sometimes together with his wife Beset, was a god who was helpful in all kinds of aspects of daily life and he was also a deity to have fun with.
He was small and a bit corpulent, with a big bearded, sometimes even lion-like head.
That was a bit problematic for the very strict classical Egyptian aesthetics and it is interesting to see how they managed to represent him through the ages.
Quite a lot of different aspects of Bes are paid attention to.
Apart from Bes i visited the permanent archaeological collection of the museum.
It has some copies of famous classical sculpture, and fine originals too.