The Museum Barberini is presenting its first old master exhibition: Baroque Pathways showcases 54 works from the collections of the Palazzo Barberini and the National Galleries Barberini Corsini in Rome, including an early work by Caravaggio, his painting Narcissus of 1597–1599.
Tracing the birth of Roman Baroque painting in the wake of Caravaggio, its spread through Europe and development north of the Alps and in Naples, the exhibition explores the role of the Barberini as patrons of the arts and the Prussian kings’ yearning for Italy.
The Palazzo Barberini in Rome, the architectural inspiration for the Barberini Palace in Potsdam, holds one of the world’s most important collections of baroque paintings. Together with the Galleria Corsini, it is home to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome.
Pietro da Cortona’s monumental ceiling fresco, The Triumph of Divine Providence, from the Gran Salone of the Palazzo Barberini, welcomes visitors to the Potsdam exhibition as a ceiling projection. The famous painting celebrates the power of the Barberini, one of the most important families in seventeenth-century Rome.
Maurizia Cicconi, curator, Galleria Nazionali di Arte Antica, Rome
The Palazzo Barberini and the ceiling fresco in the Gran Salone glorified one of Rome’s most important families. After his election to the Holy See in 1623, Maffeo Barberini, Pope Urban VIII, became one of the leading art patrons and together with his brothers transformed Rome into the capital of baroque.
Michele Di Monte, curator, Galleria Nazionali di Arte Antica, Rome
A patron of literature, theater and music, Urban VIII was also responsible for radical changes in Rome’s cityscape. He had numerous churches built and restored, and he commissioned magnificent art works for Saint Peter’s basilica.
The bees on the family coat of arms, which adorns many buildings in Rome, remind us of the Barberini’s activity.
Caravaggio (1571-1610): Narcissus, 1597-1599
Narcissus is lovesick. Having discovered his mirror image in the calm waters of a spring, he cannot stop looking at it and is consumed by love for the young man on the surface. According to the legend told in the Ovid’s Metamorphoses, this love was his punishment for having cruelly rejected all the love that others showed for him.
Caravaggio has captured the son of the river god Cephissus and the water nymph Liriope in an intimate moment of self-reflection. The light shimmers on his skin and illuminates his white shirt but the total darkness that surrounds him and his mirror image foreshadow his impending death.
„Focusing on a narrative’s decisive moment, Caravaggio initiated a new kind of art. Like a spotlight on a stage, a strong source of light monumentalizes his figures. With its theme of disappointed self-love, Carravagio’s Narcissus from the Palazzo Barberini, the centerpiece of the exhibition, exemplifies the relevance of this artistic style for the twenty-first century.“
Ortrud Westheider, Director Museum Barberini
Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), Saint Francis, Supported by an Angel, c. 1612
Coinciding with the Counter-Reformation and religious wars across Europe, Caravaggio’s realism hit a nerve. The crusade against Protestantism, condemned as heretical, encouraged a new form of piety, which finds expression in the drama and immediacy of Caravaggio’s paintings.
Carlo Saraceni (1579-1620), Madonna with child and St. Anna, c. 1611
Like Caravaggio, the artists in his circle studied models who came from the poorest parts of Rome. This practice invested the monumental altarpieces and paintings of saints with an unprecedented poignancy. Devotional images came alive and were reinterpreted as scenes of everyday life.
Luca Giordano (1634-1705), The Master Builder (Crates), c. 1660
His involvement in a fatal brawl drove Caravaggio to flee Rome for Naples, then under Spanish rule. His style inspired numerous local artists. Jusepe de Ribera, Luca Giordano and Battistello Caracciolo adopted not only his close focus and the monumentalization of his figures but also experimented with his dramatic lighting.
Michael Sweerts (1618-1664), The Artist at Work, mid 17th century
During the wars of religion, Rome became a European melting pot. Artists from Flanders and France like Simon Vouet, Matthias Storm, and Michael Sweerts adopted Caravaggio’s strikingly lit interiors and nocturnal scenes. Their treatment of light and shadow became a popular theme in their home countries.
„The Grand Tour, which included a sojourn in Italy and focused on antiquity, art and architecture, was obligatory for young European aristocrats. By the eighteenth century, private Roman collections, like that of the Barberini, gained in importance. For German princes, they became a model of their own collecting ambitions.“
Inés Richter-Musso, guest curator of the exhibition
After the Seven Years‘ War, Frederick commissioned the New Palace in Potsdam and a gallery with Italian art which explores the disastrous consequences of male desire. The Prussian king set up this gallery just outside the apartment of his nephew Frederick William, thus confronting his later successor with this “Gallery of Foolishness.“
What he did not know was that two of the works were painted by a woman—Artemisia Gentileschi.
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1654),
Tarquin and Liucretia, c. 1630
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1654),
Bathseba at her Bath, c. 1635