Tag Archives: Peter Paul Rubens

Scipione Borghese – Puppetmaster of Caravaggio

Caravaggio

Caravaggio, Ottavio Leoni, 1621

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) created a world of darkness and light through his paintings.  What may appear as just another expression of art to the casual viewer is in actuality a true reproduction of his world.  I have returned to the well of Caravaggio for another story from the artist’s short life, the influence of his patron, Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1577-1633).  Drawing from Andrew Graham-Dixon’s book, Caravaggio, A Life Sacred and Profane, and M, the Man who became Caravaggio by Peter Robb, a portrait of sorts has appeared, detailing the obsession of the Cardinal and his ruthless collecting of the artist’s works.  No accidents of fate can be attributed to their relationship, only a hot- headed painter and one of the many who manipulated him to their own rewards.

Scipione Borghese, Ottavio Leoni

Scipione Borghese, Ottavio Leoni, 1610

Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope John V, is someone fit to be called the Cardinal Nephew, willing to bend all opportunities to his desired machinations in the name of the papacy.  Scipione built three major private estates: Palazzo Pallavcini Rospigliosi, the Villa Borghese and Palazzo Borghese.  The Villa Borghese art collection is a testimony of Scipione’s drive to establish the Borghese legacy with other ancient Roman families such as Colonna and Orsini.  Tireless and ruthless in his quest for art, the Cardinal considered extortion and outright theft to be tools of acquisition to complete his gallery.

The meeting of these men occurred in the Antechamber of Quirinale Palace, where Borghese was the papal representative of judicial administration.  Caravaggio was caught up in the net of his own violent arrogance, having assaulted the notary Mariano Pasqualone, who brought charges against him.  A settlement was the required agreement, and for this consideration, Caravaggio showed his gratitude to the Cardinal with a gift, Saint Jerome Writing.  The deal was private enough that no record of a commission or payment survives, but the painting does appear in the possession of Scipione Borghese following this interesting event.

Saint Jerome Writing

Saint Jerome Writing, 1605

Camillo Borghese, Pope Paul V,

Camillo Borghese, Pope Paul V, 1552-1621, Caravaggio, 1605-6

Soon after, Caravaggio found himself the latest flavor in the Roman carnival of fame.  Commissions came his way from several sources, including a portrait of Pope John V, and a commission for the Basilica of Saint Peter; The Madonna and Child with St. Anne, 1605-06; for the altar of the Archconfraternity of the Papal Grooms.  The dream of his fellow artists to be enshrined in this cathedral with the greatest names of the day was within his grasp, for two days.

Madonna of the Grooms, Caravaggio

Madonna of the Grooms, 1605-6

“In this painting there are but vulgarity, sacrilege, impiousness and disgust… One would say it is a work made by a painter that can paint well, but of a dark spirit, and who has been for a lot of time far from God, from His adoration and from any good thought…” note from a Cardinal’s secretary of the time.

This was not the first of Caravaggio’s paintings considered unacceptable, but it was rejected by the College of Cardinals, from Saint Peter’s.  Displayed from April 14 thru April 16, the painting was removed and purchased at a remarkably reduced price by Scipione Borghese.  Recent archival research has revealed that the Cardinal was involved in obtaining the painting at a very early stage of the commission.  Borghese was stepping up his collection of the temperamental artist, by fair means or foul.

Death of the Virgin

Death of the Virgin, 1606

The Death of the Virgin, commissioned by Laerzio Alberti for his chapel in the Carmelite Chuch of Santa Maria della Scala, was ultimately rejected by the Carmelites.  The public reason is the portrayal of the Holy Mother is considered too secular, showing her bare legs.  Accused by his contemporaries of using a local prostitute in the portrayal of Mary, sacrilege for the time, the church deemed it unacceptable, giving another wound to Caravaggio’s pride.  The painting was immediately purchased by the Duke of Mantua, on the recommendation of Peter Paul Ruebens, who called it Caravaggio’s “best work.”

The next masterpieces came to the Borghese collection in 1607, through the settlement of a tax bill.   Giuseppe Cesari, former teacher of Caravaggio, found himself an impediment to Cardinal Borghese’s obsession.  Cesari had a considerable stock of paintings from various apprentices, with two by Caravaggio; Borghese made an insulting offer, which Cesari had the temerity to refuse.  That mistake saw him arrested on false charges with a possible death sentence hanging over him; the payment came in the form of 107 paintings.  The Pope gave them all to Scipione including Sick Bacchus, and Boy with a Basket of Fruit, advancing the Borghese family collection further.

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Sick Bacchus

Sick Bacchus, self portrait, 1593

I leave the story of Caravaggio for the moment, as he struggles between the love and hate of Rome, his ego filled with righteous indignation and praise.  The events of his life are ready to collide with the murder of Ranuccio Tommassoni and the artist’s life on the run from papal justice.  Scipione Borghese is not finished with Caravaggio, becoming a crucial figure in his final days.

Has Caravaggio influenced your view of art?  Is his story typical of the tortured artist or are his actions compounded by the puppetmasters of the time?  I would love to chat with you about this artist!

If you want to learn more about the artist Caravaggio, there are similar facets to his story posted here:

Caravaggio, before Fame and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Detail, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Detail, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Picture Links

Caravaggio, by Octavio Leoni

Scipione Borghese, by Octavio Leoni

Saint Jerome Writing, by Caravaggio

Pope Paul V, by Caravaggio

Madonna of the Grooms, by Caravaggio

Death of the Virgin, by Caravaggio

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, by Caravaggio

Sick Bacchus, by Caravaggio

Research Links

Andrew Graham-Dixon, Caravaggio, A Life Sacred and Profane

Peter Robb, M, the Man who Became Caravaggio

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Museum Monday

Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, museums, virtual tour, museum experience, social media

Plantin Moretus Museum, Antwerp, Belgium

November 5, 2012

By Mary Jo Gibson

Today on Museum Monday, we are visiting the Plantin Moretus Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, which honors the famous printers Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus.  It is located in their former residence and printing establishment, Plantin Press.

The site offers a video tour of the building, and some tutorials about printing and art.  The Museum possesses an exceptional collection of typographical materials, and the two oldest surviving printing presses with a complete set of dies and matrices.  The extensive library with its richly decorated interior and archive of the business is part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program, registered in 2001 in recognition of their historical significance.  Let’s go inside and see what we can find!

Entrance to Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, museum experience, virtual tour

Entrance to Plantin Moretus Museum

Tapestries at the Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Tapestries at the Plantin Moretus Museum

Library at the Plantin Moretus Museum, virtual tour, Museum Monday, social media, museum experience

Library at the Plantin Moretus Museum

The Residence, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

The Residence

Second LIbrary, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Second Library

The thriving enterprise of Plantin produced 2450 works, and was continued after the death of Christophe Plantin by his son in law, Jan I Moretus (1543-1610), and then his son Balthasar I Moretus (1574-1641).  His friendship with Peter Paul Rubens consolidated the firm’s reputation.  The famous artist produced drawings of exceptional works of Baroque publishing.  The international reputation led to visits by Marie de Medici in 1631, Queen Christina of Sweden in 1654 and a number of Italian and Polish aristocrats.

The collection features the Biblia Polyglotta (1568-1573), a Bible in five languages

The Thesaurus Teutoniae Linguae

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, a geographical book by Abraham Ortelius

Cruydeboeck, by Rembert Dodoens, a book describing herbs

A book on anatomy by Andreas Vesalius and Joannes Valverde

Paintings and drawings by Peter Paul Rubens

A study by humanist Justus Lipsius and many of his works

The Deposition, Lucas Vorsteman, 1595-1675, after Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640, ca. 1620, Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

The Deposition, Lucas Vorsteman, 1595-1675, after Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640, ca. 1620

In the first half of the 16th century, Paris was a dangerous place for anyone in the book trade suspected of disseminating literature tinged with Reformation ideas.  This may have prompted Platnin’s move to the more liberal atmosphere of Antwerp in 1549.

Even in Antwerp, printers had to be careful.  Plantin’s property is seized in 1562 because he sold a heretical pamphlet, but he conceived an ambitious project that would place his credentials as faithful servant of the Church beyond doubt.  He planned to print the multi-volume polyglot Bible in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldaic (Middle Eastern language), and Syriac.  He sought sponsorship from one of the most powerful men in Europe, Philip II, whose domain encompassed not only the kingdom of Spain by all the Netherlands.  Because of the royal sanction, the Bible became known as the Biblia Regia.

Polygot Bible, Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Polygot Bible

Philip II insisted that a learned Spanish clergyman, Benito Arias Montano, should supervise the project.  The multi-volume project became a difficult and expensive undertaking.  New typefaces were struck in the Greek and Hebrew alphabets.   Plantin’s son in law and business partner, Jan Moretus, was fluent in Greek, but compositors employed who were capable of setting Hebrew.  Philip II proved far readier at sending instructions than at forwarding the financial aid he had promised.  Even after publication of all eight volumes, the problems did not cease.  A rival scholar denounced Montano to the Spanish Inquisition, claiming that the Hebrew and Chaldaic sections were overly supportive of Jewish beliefs.  Montano was acquitted, but nobody in the 16th century stood before the Inquisition without anxiety.

With various typefaces skillfully arranged on the page to avoid confusion, the Polyglot Bible is regarded as Plantin’s masterpiece as a printer.

Abraham Ortelius by Peter Paul Rubens, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Abraham Ortelius by Peter Paul Rubens

Abraham Ortelius’ momumental work, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, regarded as the first atlas to appear.  It was an instant success and four issues of the first edition are published in 1570.  When it appeared, it was the most expensive book ever printed.  The enthusiasm from the public resulted in 7300 copies from 1570-1612.

Map of Alexander the Great's conquests, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Map of Alexander the Great’s conquests

The thriving enterprise of Plantin produced 2450 works, and continuing after the death of Christophe Plantin by his son-in-law, Jan I Moretus (1543-1610), and then his son Balthasar I Moretus (1574-1641).  His friendship with Peter Paul Rubens consolidated the firm’s reputation.  The famous artist produced drawings of exceptional works of Baroque publishing.  The international reputation led to visits by Marie de Medici in 1631, Queen Christina of Sweden in 1654 and a number of Italian and Polish aristocrats.

Balthasar Moretus, Plantin Moretus Museum, social media, Musuem Monday, virtual tour, museum experience

Balthasar Moretus 1574-1641

Book Illustration by Rubens, Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Book Illustration by Rubens

During the first quarter of the 19th century, the situation of the Moretuses deteriorated.  Unable to come to terms with the modernization of printing, development of mechanical and rotary presses; Edward Moretus (1804-1880) was to be the last of the printer/publishers of the family; in 1866 the final book is produced, Horae diurnae S. Francisi, and Edward was forced to cease printing.  He became the curator of the family patrimony and a collector.  In 1873, he negotiated the sale of the property with all the contents to the Belgian state and City of Antwerp.

Printing Art, Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Printing Art

Museum Staff, 1902, Museum Monday, Plantin Moretus Museum, social media, virtual tour, museum experience

Museum Staff, 1902

Illustration of Omega Symbol, Plantin Moretus Museum, Museum Monday, social media, virtual tour, museum experience.

Illustration of Omega Symbol

Thank you for joining me on Museum Monday at the Plantin Moretus Museum.  Next week I plan a review of the Chazen Museum exhibition, Offering of the Angels: Paintings and Tapestries from the Uffizi Gallery, which may be the closest I get to this storied place for the next few years.  I look forward to chatting with you about other museums you enjoy!

Cheers,
MJ

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