15 Oct 2003 - 18 Jan 2004. The Braccio Carlo Magno exhibition space near St Peter's basilica opens once again to the public with an exhibition curated by Giovanni Morello entitled "Visions and Ecstasies". The exhibition features 17th and 18th century masterpieces by artists such as Caravaggio, Guercino, Reni, Carracci, Gentileschi and Baciccio.
Visioni ed estasi. Capolavori dellarte Europea tra seicento e settecento. 15 Oct-18 Jan 2004. These works reflect the mores of an extraordinary time and viewpoint, when space was pulled into spiralling perspectives fantastically stretched beyond reality, when contorted bodies of saints and angels could zoom directly skyward and shed blood the way mortals shed tears.
The sublimation of the natural human sexual drive has been one of the obsessions of the Catholic establishment. In the Counter-Reformation the grave, harmonious tapestries of the Renaissance gave way to the overblown theatrical scenery of the Baroque. Its bombastic exaggeration was not only to impress the public but also to dominate it.
Today we can only wonder at the sublime nonchalance with which the lavish Baroque could present raw sexual transport as a holy experience. The eternal longing for God, the problems of pictorial order and of religious dogma were ruthlessly and shamelessly scrambled in these grandiloquent compositions. No period has brought out more mediocre painters. The Baroque abounds in drama but not in pictorial grace.
However, here among the scrimmages of whirling saints, of dangling feet, of spouting blood and of heavens as crowded as modern-day shopping malls, there are some fine exceptions.
Poussin, who rarely indulged in religious art, paints a St Peter buoyed up by angels rising into a sky of pure lapis lazuli. Here is Annibale Caraccis landscape with St Hubert kneeling before a stag in the wet evening light of the campagna romana. Francesco Guardis St Filippo Neris holiness is expressed less by his upward gaze than by the sumptuous silkiness of his white and yellow robes. Caravaggio depicts St Francis as a humble, dusty man lost in perplexing thought. His Magdalene, straining backwards, is a young woman caught in the throes of a very real earthly paroxysm that is not in the least spiritual.
These works in this gathering of religiously correct baroque scenery look beyond the fluttering drapery and fakery of feeling. Edith Schloss