I like Pompeo Batoni’s (1708-1787) paintings. I consider him one of my friends despite the distance in time and space. Pompeo Batoni was one of eighteenth-century Rome’s most notable citizens. He was considered by his peers the city’s most eminent and honored artist.
Popes, Europe’s Emperors and Kings, and many rich visitors were received in his studio. Pompeo Batoni supported his numerous children and family and a open house for musical evenings and painting academy by painting very appreciated portraits.
In subject paintings the rich effect of color and complex rhetoric behind the attitudes, gestures, and expressions create very dynamic compositions. His humanized saints, Holy Families, and Madonna express a meditative approach to religious emotion.
I appreciate him mostly for his thinking, for his representations in allegory of hard and abstract ideas. The allegory is a work of art in which a deeper meaning underlies the superficial or literal meaning.
I am starting with three examples: The Time unveiling the Truth, The Truth and Mercy, The Justice and Peace because the message encrypted in colors and forms is less complicated and may stimulate the reader’s thinking.
- The Truth is pure light and Time is a young seeker. After unveiling the Light we are no more innocents. It is supposed to know the difference between good and evil. Sinning after we received the True is different. In time, through experience and study at the school of hard knocks, we get the chance to bring the Light and more personal responsibility in our life.
- The Truth versus Mercy is a totally different allegory. The Truth is holding firm and up a more material symbol, a tragic shiny face. From his attitude we feel the Truth is very important and self-centered. The kneeling Mercy appears as if she is one with the viewer, she demands compassion. The material, more earthly Truth, cruel and unforgiving, is facing us and the Mercy’s humble request.
Is judging more important than forgiving? The viewer is involved, a mature person may decide different than a young one.
The National Gallery, Special Features, Paintings from the Exhibition, picture #6
- The Justice is not blind in Batoni’s work. She has the instrument to weigh the arguments and facts in her left hand. Temporarily she stopped judging, because Peace is unfolding on her side bringing comfort and warmth. Again, what is the value of judging and criticizing all the time over the peace of acceptance? I brought these examples to gradually introduce Batoni’s thematic to you.
The Madonna and Child in Glory” fascinated me. The original is at Toledo Museum of Art (Ohio).
“The Madonna and Child in Glory” is the only painting I know which represents the Divine and the evil relationship from humans point of view on the same canvas.
Central, in full light, the Mother is holding with grace the precious Son of God. She is focusing up beyond the angels. The top space of the painting is open by the left angel who is calling for attention. The angels from top are emotionally involved in what is happening down there, where the Jesus Christ’s cross – spear is agonizing the devil. The baby’s gesture and representation are very humanized. The devil is represented according to ancient description with wings and here is holding on the Earth’s sphere. The very childish angels on the bottom hold each other leaning aside to avoid the evil’s horrible breath.
A group of five musicians close to Madonna glorify the divine mission. We the humans can identify with scientists and artists. On a deeper level we can perceive the Christ body in the crucified pose in Mother’s hands. Mother is looking up for help and understanding.
The viewer is involved in many ways on different levels of emotion, stimulating the mind to pursue more work. The line “But deliver us from evil” was my first understanding from the very first second I have seen this masterpiece of materialized meditation.
The recent book “Pompeo Batoni: Prince of Painters in Eighteenth-Century Rome” by Edgar Peters Bowron and Peter Bjorn Kerber (2007) contains all pictures discussed in my article.
This book is published in conjunction with the 300 years anniversary from Pompeo Batoni’s birth with exhibitions at:
- The Museum of Fine Arts, Huston, 21 October 2007 – 27 January 2008;
- The National Gallery, London, 20 February – 18 May 2008
You also may visit the winer4us.com website bottom link for more info and a mini movie I made at Toledo Museum of Art for you.