Timeless wonder. Stone painting in Rome between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries | Installation view | Photo: © A. Novelli © Galleria Borghese
It resembles a martyr more than an executioner, surrounded by a careful play of lights and reverberations typical of the Baroque theater, while three angels play with the weapon that will soon sever the head of the biblical leader.
In this evocative nocturnal image of Giuditta, the glow of the painted candle illuminates the protagonist and makes the golden textures of the fabrics shine, while the mirrored surface of the stone reflects the real lights of the environment.
Marvel is really the right word to describe the exhibition since October 25 to January 29 there Borghese Gallery dedicates to stone painting in Rome between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. And not only for the numerous masterpieces arrived from Italian and foreign museums, as well as from important private collections. In this complex journey of research and discovery, which transforms the paintings into authentic allegories, the eye is invited, more than usual, to think about the materials, to capture, scrutinize, abstract and interpret the meanings hidden behind the stones. It is enough to take some time to enter face to face with the work and associate a meaning to a specific subject depicted in an era in which painting on stone meant making painting eternal, challenging time and sculpture itself.
Leonardo Grazia, Lucrezia, Oil on blackboard, Galleria Borghese, Rome | Photo: © A. Novelli © Galleria Borghese
A necessary sixteenth-century premise that testifies how the use of metals and marbles as a support to painting contributed to making the memory of a character lasting characterizes the first section of the itinerary, The painted stone and its inventor. Thus the Portrait of Roberto by Filippo Strozzi by Francesco Salviati on African marble alongside that of Cosimo de Medici, on red porphyry, attributed to Bronzino or even the Portrait of Pope Clement VII with a beard by Sebastiano del Piombo who gives the pontiff, through the hardness of the slate, the severe aspect, a symbol of moral solidity.
On the other hand, it was Piombo who rediscovered the practice of painting on stone, already known to the ancients, before the sack of Rome in 1527. After the terrible event, the painter and his clients were under the illusion that the stone supports would have made the indestructible painting, therefore eternal.
Antonio Tempesta, Perseus and Andromeda (recto), tempera and oil on lapis lazuli, Galleria Borghese, Rome | Photo: © A. Novelli © Galleria Borghese
At the entrance of the magnificent Hall of the Borghese Gallery the ticking of the night clock with Tanatos, the three Moiras and Ipno welcomes visitors challenging the passage of time with the solidity of lapis lazuli and the hardness of jasper. Next to it, the Borghese-Windsor cabinet in fir and poplar, inlaid with semiprecious stones, originally probably made for the Portuguese Luigi Gomez, is an extraordinary example of Roman manufacture, now in the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The reliquary shrine with theAdoration of the Magi with its splendor of stones it evokes the radiance of the faith of the saints, while in theAllegory of sleep by Alessandro Algardi black marble recalls the darkness of the night, and just as the touchstone was used to test the purity of gold, the work is now called upon to reveal the skills of the artist maliciously criticized by Bernini for not know how to sculpt.
The exhibition curated by Francesca Cappelletti and Patrizia Cavazzini continues on the first floor. Powers are sometimes attributed to stone or marble. And here are the Talismans or the incorruptible images of devotion, often part of the furnishings of the bedrooms of the cardinals, such as theAdoration of the Magi (1605 – 1620) on alabaster by Antonio Tempesta or the Madonna and Child with Saint Francis (1605 c.) By Antonio Carracci, painted on copper.
Antonio Tempesta, The taking of Jerusalem, Oil on village stone, Galleria Borghese | Photo: © A. Novelli © Galleria Borghese
From blackboard to black marble, from oil on lapis lazuli to village stone, the eye on display encounters a different rendering from that obtained from oil on canvas. And he perceives the beauty immortalized with oil on blackboard by the Tuscan painter Leonardo Grazia, where the confectioned effect of the execution makes the timeless beauty of Lucrezia, Ebe, Cleopatra smooth.
It is worth dwelling in the section Painting with stone which welcomes masters such as Antonio Tempesta and Filippo Napoletano, the most prolific creators of works “made by nature and helped with the brush”. Among their favorite supports, the village stone stands out, obtained from the pebbles of the Arno valley and which, properly cut, can take on a wavy or fractured shape. The beautiful Taking of Jerusalem of Tempesta where the artist adapts to the natural fragmentations of the stone and where minimal brush strokes transform these fractures into the image of a dazzling city.
Whether they were hung on the walls or placed on tables, or even kept in boxes, these stone paintings invited to be picked up to be admired up close. Finally, among the heroines of the myth on stone is Andromeda, the “ivory statue” dear to Ovid, painted on lapis lazuolo by Antonio Tempesta.
“We remember – explains the curator Patrizia Cavazzini – that the hero almost mistook the girl for a statue when he saw her chained to the rock, inseparable from it, just as her image cannot be separated from the stone on which it is painted”.
Detail from Guglielmo della Porta, Crucifixion, ca 1550-1577, Galleria Borghese, Rome | Photo: © A. Novelli © Galleria Borghese
To increase the timeless wonder, which also includes objects currently part of the Borghese collection, such as the Roman semiprecious stone table or the Tabernacle of the Chapel, are the statues with polychrome inserts in the Gallery, which generate a necessary comparison with colored marbles ancients to compose a surprising wunderkammer.
“The path – explains Francesca Cappelletti, director of the Borghese Gallery and curator of the exhibition – takes us to the discovery of a hidden wealth within the collections, it brings us closer to a form of work of art that could be touched, to observe it closely. and with great attention, letting oneself be enchanted by the artist’s skill and the creative energy of nature itself “.
The many lives of the stone go on, defying time, but in different ways. With the onset of the plague, for example, the stones will no longer be painted but shattered and that lapis lazuli so much used to simulate the sea and the sky, will now be used to lower the fever.
To accompany the exhibition, the catalog published by Officina libraria with an introduction by Francesca Cappelletti and texts, among others, by Patrizia Cavazzini, Piers Baker-Bates, Elena Calvillo, Laura Valterio, Judy Mann and Francesco Freddolini.