24 Feb Luca Giordano The Triumph of Neapolitan Painting
The Archangel Michael as he knocks down the Rebel Angel who twists and turns with monstrous grimaces, ravaged plague victims suffered in the streets, Saints who save entire cities, Our Lady of the Rosary “as a remedy for the conversion of unbelievers and the salvation of sinners…” as a description reads.
It is amazing to see all this in the “Triangle d’Or” — Golden Triangle — of contemporary art, in the Petit Palais, right across from the FIAC contemporary art fair center.
This is the very place where two bars placed one on top of the other or two stripes of color placed one next to the other are fought over and reach stratospheric prices (needless to say, they have to be bars by Donald Judd or stripes by Daniel Buren).
And this is where we see this tribute to a great artist of the Italian 17th century in the Luca Giordano exhibition (1634–1705), the Triumph of Neapolitan Painting.
There is indeed an amazing distance between the ephemeral aspect of contemporary art and the flesh, tears, and blood of the Neapolitan Baroque.
Just as impressive is the preparation needed to know how to understand a painting by Luca Giordano.
It takes none too little knowledge, encompassing theology, iconology, iconography, and art history in the specific sense. Also essential is deep knowledge of the painting techniques of the various periods and regions.
In other words, it is exactly the opposite of contemporary art. There, it is enough to have the opinion of an “art adviser” or a “curator” (always using the English term in every language as English has taken the place of Manzoni’s famous Latinorum).
The impression given more and more is that the only thing that a contemporary art buyer actually asks these figures is if it is a sure-bet investment.
Let’s get back to our “Fapresto” (meaning “be quick,” a slightly tart nickname given to Luca Giordano for his amazing speed in completing paintings). In this exhibition, we learn that his perfect copies of masterpieces by Titian Vecellio, Pietro Paolo Rubens, Guido Reni, and Correggio even got him accusations of forgery.
This did not stop him from becoming the painter of the Spanish Court, and, of course, a star of mid-1700s Naples, a cosmopolitan city and leading cultural center of the day.
This was also a city prone to absorbing the dictates of the Counter-Reformation. This explains the success of painters such as José de Ribera and Mattia Preti and their army of disinherited sons and beggars. These scenes mirrored attention to human suffering as a personal path to salvation.
In short, this is an exhibition that should not be missed by those who still have the courage to confront our history and our genetic legacy.
Looking our not-so-distant past straight on; our grandmothers still had the rosary on their nightstands.
Now this makes us smile or even laugh.
The tsunami that is making dust of our history seems irreversible, and the scariest thing is the nothingness that seems to be replacing it.
Visiting this exhibition might make us stop and think a little.