A writer doesn’t get to say this often with absolute certainty: the Flesh & Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum exhibition that opens at the Kimbell Art Museum March 1 is a once in a lifetime opportunity for patrons of the arts.
This exhibition features 40 works from one of Italy’s most important but somewhat lesser known museums and offers visitors the opportunity to experience major masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque art in the context of the Kimbell’s galleries.
“This is without question one of the greatest assemblages of Italian painting ever seen in Texas, and I don’t know when we’ll see the likes of such a show again. The exhibition features so many iconic paintings that it’s like art history 101 come to life, with works such Parmigianino’s Antea, Titian’s Danae, and Annibale Carracci’s Pieta.
Don’t let the title – Flesh & Blood – be off-putting. Some images are graphic, of course, but it really is a tour of the seminal change in European art toward more focus on the individuals depicted with efforts to capture their emotions.
Especially significant is Caravaggio’s The Flagellation, painted for a church in Naples in 1607. The Kimbell owns an earlier Caravaggio, The Cardsharps, painted in 1595, which is in the permanent collection, and considered to be the painting that launched Caravaggio’s career in Rome, giving patrons the ability to compare earlier and later styles.
The exhibition was organized by the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte in Naples, the Kimbell Art Museum, the Seattle Art Museum and MondoMostre, a leading museum exhibition organizer with offices in Rome, Milan and Moscow. Promotional support is provided by American Airlines, NBC 5 and PaperCity.
Guillaume Kienz, curator of European Art at the Kimbell, curated the exhibition. He joined the Kimbell last year from the Louvre in Paris, where he was curator of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American art.
In an earlier interview, Kienz says his hope is that patrons will leave the exhibition wanting to return again and again.
He would like visitors to be overwhelmed by beauty and not focused on nationality of the artists or the dates of the paintings, “but just see them as the best expression of what human beings can do when human beings are at their best.”
“Old Masters’ paintings, they’re not dusty things from the past. They are contemporary art, not contemporary art of today, but contemporary art out of the past,” Kienz said.
They were young artists struggling in their time but became Old Masters.
“The contemporary artists today will be Old Masters tomorrow,” he said. The flow of the exhibit leads visitors from Renaissance through Baroque into Rococo style:, a tendency, Kienz said, toward a more declarative approach and more grace that is typical of the 18th century in France. That’s in the last gallery of the exhibition.
“The Museo di Capodimonte in Naples is one of the largest and most spectacular collections in Italy, and its holdings have a particular strength in paintings of the Renaissance and Baroque periods,” Lee said in an earlier news release by the Kimbell.
“These paintings embody innovation, exuberance and grandeur—the result of revolutionary painting techniques and dramatic use of light and dark. The works continue to influence artists and inspire art lovers the world over,” Lee said.
The Renaissance paintings in the Capodimonte Museum come from the collections of the Farnese family, among the richest and most powerful Italian clans during the 16th century. Their destiny was secured by the election of Alessandro Farnese as Pope Paul III in 1534, and their impressive palace in Rome embodied their ambition and glory, the Kimbell said. Farnese was the brother of Giulia Farnese, the mistress of Pope Alexander VI.
The Capodimonte collection’s second major component, Baroque painting, has a more local origin. In the 17th century, Naples was one of the largest, richest and liveliest cities in Europe, far more cosmopolitan than Paris or London. Artists – both native-born and foreign – found patronage in the city, creating hundreds of paintings for its churches and palaces. Many of the finest of these are now brought together at Capodimonte and are featured in Flesh and Blood, the Kimbell said.
While there were many female artists, they – then and even now – were not as well known or recognized as their male counterparts.
A notable exception in this exhibit is Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting Judith Slaying Holofernes. It depicts a story told in the Book of Judith, a 2nd century text, where Judith slays Holofernes, an Assyrian general whose army was besieging her city.
Kienz said that other versions of the painting including one by Caravaggio depict Judith acting alone.
“But here the servant is helping. And why? My guess is because Artemisia, unfortunately, knew from experience and from life that one single woman was not enough to handle a man and to avoid to be assaulted,” he said.
“We’re especially thrilled to have in the show the major Caravaggio altarpiece, The Flagellation, which the artist painted for a church in Naples in 1607 after fleeing Rome for having murdered a man during a brawl,” Lee said at a news briefing Feb. 27.
“It doesn’t travel a lot. I think it’s only the second times it comes to the U.S. and we’re very lucky to have it indeed,” Kienz said. “I think it works perfectly well on the concrete wall (of the Kimbell), especially with very modern frame, which is a travel frame.”
“The painting is still owned by the church but has been on loan to the Capodimonte for 50 years. It was complicated to have the painting be a part of the exhibition, and – in a nail-biter – we didn’t know for sure whether it would travel to Texas until just a few weeks ago,” Lee said.
The Kimbell describes the painting as “profoundly shocking yet gently poignant.”
The work is among Caravaggio’s most mature paintings, combining his signature tenebrism, sculptural solidity, realistic details and physical beauty. The scene contrasts the unleashed violence of the persecutors and the peaceful resignation of the suffering Christ.
“By placing Christ in a brilliant shaft of light, Caravaggio focuses the composition on Christ’s expression and painful posture. The opposition between the anatomical perfection of Christ’s body, bathed by light, and the anger and ugliness of the shadowed men who torture him engages the viewer’s sensibility in empathic condemnation of such cruelty,” the Kimbell said.
It ushered in the Baroque style of painting by stripping away unnecessary figures and details and focusing on human feeling.
Kienz said the artists who led the journey into Baroque were intentional and even created an academy in Bologna.
“They really wanted to regenerate the art in their time because they totally got that the Renaissance was dying and that we needed something else, something new. But at the same time, they didn’t want to get rid of the great achievement of the Renaissance. So they try to translate, to convert, the Renaissance ideals into a modern language,” he said.
“The big masters were all dead. Titian was dead, Raphael was dead, Leonardo DaVinci was dead and all the followers, they were just following without inventing and they decided to reinvent the Renaissance while their rival, Caravaggio, decided to do a tabula rasa, to start out from scratch almost,” Kienz said.
The de Franchis family commissioned The Flagellation of Christ as an altarpiece for their chapel in the Church of SanDomenico Maggiore in Naples (property of the Fondo Edifici di Culto del Ministero degli Interni), where it was on view for more than 300 years, the Kimbell said in its material.
Naples was a haven for European artists and patrons in 17th-century Italy.
Caravaggio, a controversial figure, had fled there from Rome as an outlaw after killing a rival. Protected by the powerful Colonna family, he lived and worked in Naples on two separate occasions in his short life and perfected there his signature chiaroscuro technique ¬– literally the mastery of “light and shadow.”
Caravaggio was influential throughout Europe, but the works he produced in the cosmopolitan city of Naples served to spread his fame, to cement his legacy in the history of European art and to inaugurate a new Neapolitan figurative style.
“There is no other artist like Caravaggio,” Kientz said. “His paintings are among the most ambitious and, at the same time, the most approachable of all artistic achievements, speaking directly to viewers’ eyes and hearts. His work has inspired generations of artists throughout Europe, and his influence is still felt today.
“The reason for that, I suppose, is his deep understanding of the reality of both the human soul and human body. He manages to turn religious martyrdom into a human drama and to give human drama a divine dimension and dignity, so that viewers can identify with the figures of his composition in their suffering and in their grace. He touches both the human and divine part in us.”
Photographers among the patrons will instantly recognize Caravaggio’s use of light in modern photographs.
This article includes news release information from the Kimbell.
Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum
March 1-June 14, 2020
Admission: $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and students, $14 for ages 6-11 and free for children under 6. $3 for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients.
Admission is half-price all day on Tuesdays and after 5 p.m. on Fridays.
Admission is always FREE to view the museum’s permanent collection.
3333 Camp Bowie Blvd.
Fort Worth, Texas 76107