L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Marc'Antonio Pasqualini Crowned by Apollo, by Andrea Sacchi, circa 1640

Marc'Antonio Pasqualini (25 April 1614, Rome – 2 July 1691, Rome), Italian castrato opera singer of the Baroque period, described as the foremost male soprano of his day. (Despite being historically addressed as a soprano, Pasqualini's vocal range extended no higher than B5, thus a mezzo-soprano by modern classification.) Following his training at the French national church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, he came to the attention of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who is cited as the singer's protector upon his entry into the Sistine Choir in 1631. Pasqualini benefited greatly from the generosity of his patrons, the Barberini family of Pope Urban VIII. During the following decade he starred in most of the operas staged at the Palazzo Barberini, establishing a reputation for vocal brilliance as well as arrogance.

He is also believed to have conducted an ongoing homosexual relationship with Cardinal Antonio; the singer would have been about seventeen at the time the two first met, the Cardinal, only twenty-four. Contemporary testimony leaves little doubt that the "veritable passion" the cardinal felt, extended to more than Pasqualini's beautiful voice. Cardinal Antonio had a suite of rooms in the great Barberini Palace which were dedicated to music and his collection of musical instruments, and his protégé had rooms in the north wing attic. Pasqualini was also a composer, setting the Cardinal's poetry to music, and going on to write more than 250 arias and cantatas.

In Sacchi's allegorical portrait, Pasqualini's hand rests on the keys of an upright harpsichord, decorated with the figures of Daphne and a bound satyr. The figure of Apollo, the pose loosely based on the ancient sculpture known as the Apollo Belvedere, stands in front of Marsyas, tied to a tree with his bagpipes beneath him. A modern viewer might find this odd but beautiful painting more troubling than would its contemporary audience. Not at all unusual or decried at the time, to us the "alteration" necessary to produce the particular voice of a castrato seems all too uncomfortably referenced here. With the exact compositional centrality of Apollo's decidedly unaltered anatomy, and even its proximity to the singer's right hand, it's impossible not to ponder the difference in the two men in the foreground, the incomplete mortal and the intact god.

The earliest description comes from Bellori: "Andrea [Sacchi] applied his greatest industry in the portrait of Marc'Antonio Pasqualini, a famous soprano in his day and a close friend in the court of Cardinal Antonio Baberini. This is not a simple portrait but a most beautiful conceit, [Sacchi] having shown [Pasqualini] in the costume of a shepherd with Apollo who crowns him. He places his hands on a spinet, or rather an 'arpicembalo' with keys, and the cords upright in the guise of a harp, and while playing he turns to display his face, most beautifully painted from life... Opposite is shown Apollo, who with one hand places the crown of laurels on [the singer's] head and with the other holds a lyre at his side. On the ground lies a bound satyr, to signify his competition and punishment."

Sacchi's portrait combines features of contemporary musical practice with allegory to produce a picture that can be read on several levels. Bellori understood Pasqualini's costume to be that of a shepherd, a costume that doubtless evoked one of the singer's roles. It is a solo performance such as Pasqualini had so often given that Apollo awards, but one elevated to a mythic status by its contrast to Marsyas's punishment for his bold and unsuccessful challenge to a musical contest on his rustic pipes (here shown as bagpipes such as a real shepherd might use). This picture admits the viewer into the world of late Renaissance-early Baroque musical practice. Himself a musician, Sacchi was a close friend of Pasqualini and designed some of the stage sets and props for his performances. It isn't known who actually commissioned the portrait, but the most probable candidate is Pasqualini himself, whose friendship with Sacchi and vain character accord perfectly with the self-adulation implicit in the imagery. Indeed it now appears that in the seventeenth century successful musicians emerged not only as outstanding personalities but also as significant patrons.

The instrument he plays is a rare type of clavicytherium, or keyed harp, that gave a delicate, sweet sound suitable to chamber performances. One such instrument is listed in the Barberini inventories, and Sacchi may, in fact, show a specific clavicytherium on which Pasqualini performed. Similarly, the table, supported by three dolphins reminiscent of Bernini's Triton Fountain outside the Palazzo Barberini, may have existed.

(Text derived and adapted from several sources, including the Metropolitan Museum's catalogue entry by Keith Christiansen, 2015.)


Cardinal Antonio Barberini, by Simone Cantarini, circa 1633, not long after he met Pasqualini.
(Note the pentimento visible on the Cardinal's mozzetta.)


Andrea Sacchi (30 November 1599, Rome – 21 June 1661, Rome), painter in Rome in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, his work a leading example of High Baroque Classicism. The son of an undistinguished painter, he initially entered the studio of Cavalier d'Arpino. Quoting Bellori:
[...]hence Benedetto, his father, as soon as he saw that he was being outstripped by his son in his childhood, no longer having the courage to educate him, wisely thought to provide him with a better master and recommended him to Cavalier Giuseppe d’Arpino, who gladly took him into his school, perceiving him to be more attentive and bent on progress than any other youth.
He later studied in the workshop of Francesco Albani. Much of his early career was helped by the regular patronage by Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who commissioned art for the Capuchin church in Rome and the Palazzo Barberini.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Grand - Madame Grand/Catherine de Talleyrand-Périgord, Princesse de Bénévent by Vigée Le Brun and Gérard

Portrait by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783.

Very loosely adapted from the Metropolitan Museum's website - both paintings are in their collection - and other sources:

Noël-Catherine Verlée (or Worlée; 1761, Tranquebar, Tamil Nadu  – December 10, 1834, Paris), was the daughter of a minor French official posted to India. At the age of barely sixteen Catherine married a civil servant of Swiss descent working in Calcutta, George Francis Grand. The couple separated soon after, due to her brief but scandalous affair with Sir Philip Francis, a British politician. Subsequently, Madame Grand removed to London.

In about 1782 she moved to Paris where, being a beautiful blond, ill-educated but musical and clever, she became a very fashionable courtesan; the portrait that Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun painted of her in 1783 when she was only twenty-two attests to her lively personality and stunning looks at the time. She returned to Britain just before the French Revolution, but by 1794, with the Revolution waning, Madame Grand had returned to France.

Madame Grand now entered into a highly visible affair with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, later prince de Bénévent, the brilliant - and infamously wily - statesman and former bishop of Autun, who had become a principal figure in the emerging government of the Directory. When she was arrested on suspicion of espionage in March 1798, Talleyrand secured her freedom. That same year, having been estranged from her husband for more than ten years, Madame Grand obtained a divorce in absentia.

Portrait by François Pascal Simon, baron Gérard, circa 1804-5.

Elaborate negotiations with Napoléon and the Vatican were required before the former bishop was allowed to marry, at Neuilly, on September 10, 1802; despite the First Consul's strong reservations, Napoléon and Joséphine signed their marriage contract. Upon their first official reception at the Tuileries, Napoléon is alleged to have remarked, "I hope that the good conduct of citoyenne Talleyrand will cause the fickleness of madame Grand to be forgotten." (The alternate - and more likely - version of the marriage negotiations is that Talleyrand was actually quite reluctant to regularize their union, and had to be coerced by Napoléon for the sake of propriety and his political career.)

With her less than respectable personal history, Napoléon ensured that Madame de Talleyrand was rarely at court; his Empress' own scandalous past was problem enough. At any rate, the couple quickly drifted apart, living separately; Talleyrand had already taken an official mistress, Madame Dubois, when he married, and was soon preoccupied with other women. Eventually, he arranged that his wife should go and live - luxuriously - in London. She returned to Paris in 1817, during the Restoration, and lived there quietly until her death at the age of seventy-three.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Three young ladies in hats - pastel drawings by Guy Hoff, circa 1925.


Guy Hoff (1889 - 1962), American artist and illustrator. Born in Rochester, New York, he was trained at the Art School of the Albright Gallery in Buffalo, and the Art Students League in New York City. His first commercial illustrations were done for the Niagara Lithograph Company in Buffalo. In New York, he designed program covers for the Shubert Theatres and then sold his first magazine cover to Smart Set, which introduced him to the national market. Over the years, in addition to work for Smart Set, Pictorial Review, The Saturday Evening Post and other magazines, he also did advertising illustrations for Procter & Gamble, Lux, and Ivory Soap. His last commercial work was done in 1938, after which he concentrated on pastels and paintings for exhibition purposes.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

People in rooms II

Otto Beit in his study in Belgrave Square, Sir William Orpen, 1913.
Johannes Westrik and his family, by Tibout Regters, 1762.
The lady on the right has her knitting and dainty ball of yarn.
La mort du général Moreau, by Auguste Couder, 1814.
Muerte de don Alfonso XII (El último beso), by Juan Antonio Benlliure y Gil, 1887.
The King of Spain died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-seven in 1885. Here he is surrounded by his widow, Queen Maria Christina, and
their two daughters, Infanta María de las Mercedes, Princess of Asturias, and Infanta María Teresa; the Queen was pregnant with a son,
Alfonso XIII, who would be born a king six months later and reign until going into exile at the start of the Spanish Civil War.
The Villers Family, by Jean-Bernard Duvivier, 1790.
The family's attire and their home's furnishings are in the very height of fashion.
The family of King Louis-Philippe, French School, circa 1835.
The figures look quite waxen, but the satin drapery is marvelous.
King Gustav III of Sweden visiting the Royal Academy of Arts, by Elias Martin, 1782.
Every face is a portrait. (Save the model's, I presume.)
Théatre à Paris, by Adolph von Menzel, 1854.
The lady in the box above with her opera glasses; you'd think her proximity to the stage would make them rather unnecessary.
Domestic interior, German School, circa 1775-80.
The details in this painting are wonderful; among the books, candlesticks, and urn on top of the secrétaire, is a half-empty bottle of wine.
Barely noticeable is the long length of thread or yarn, looping from the hands of the standing woman to the dainty implement on the table.