Liberal Arts Blog — Vienna: Velazquez, Vermeer, Caravaggio
Liberal Arts Blog — Friday is the Joy of Art, Architecture, Design, Film, and All Things Visual Day
Today’s Topic: Vienna: Velazquez, “Infanta Margarita,” Vermeer, “The Art of Painting,” Caravaggio, “David with the Head of Goliath”
Today, we continue the tour of the world’s great art galleries to which I have never been. We started with five posts about selected masterpieces from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Two weeks ago, we traveled to Moscow where we examined Rembrandt’s “Ahasuerus and Haman,” Cezanne’s “Pierrot and Harlequin,” and Van Gogh’s “Red Vineyard.” Last week, Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum. The highlights were two Rembrandts and a forgotten Swedish sculptor’s “Thor.” Today, we travel south to Vienna. And as usual the post has three parts. But the focus is very different in each. In the first case the topic is the subject of the painting. Who was Infanta Margarita? In the second, what I found most intriguing was the history of the painting itself in the 1930s and 1940s. In the third, the question is: why was Caravaggio so obsessed with severed heads? Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
DIEGO VELAZQUEZ (1599–1600) “Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress” (1659)
1. At age 15, the Infanta Margarita Teresa (1651–1673), married her maternal uncle and paternal cousin, Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor (1640–1705). They had four children only one of whom survived infancy.
2. She blamed the death of her children on the Jews and “reportedly inspired her husband to expel the Jews from Vienna…During the Corpus Cristi celebration of 1670, the Emperor ordered the destruction of the Vienna synagogue and a church was built on the site on his orders.”
3. “Weakened due to four living childbirths and at least two miscarriages during her marriage, Margaret died on 12 March 1673, at the age of 21.”
NB: The Infanta is the central figure in “Las Meninas,” the most famous of the paintings of Velazquez, and “one of the most analyzed works in Western painting.” (See second link below.)
JOHANNES VERMEER (1632–1675) “The Art of Painting” (1666)
1. “In 1935, Count Jaromir Czernin had tried to sell the painting to Andrew Mellon, but the Austrian government prohibited the export of the painting.”
2. “It was finally acquired by Adolf Hitler for the collection of the Linzer Museum, at a price of 1.82 million Reichsmark through his agent, Hans Posse on 20 November 1940.”
3. “The painting was rescued from a salt mine near Altaussee at the end of World War II in 1945, where it was preserved from Allied bombing raids, with other works of art. The painting was escorted to Vienna from Munich by Andrew Ritchie, chief of the Monumennts, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFA&A) for Austria, who transported it by locking himself and the painting in a train compartment.”
NB: “The Americans presented the painting to the Austrian Government in 1946, since the Czernin family were deemed to have sold it voluntarily, without undue force from Hitler.” The family has attempted but failed to get the painting returned.
CARAVAGGIO (1571–1610) — “David and the Head of Goliath” (1607)
1. I Samuel 17:57: “As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head.”
2. Related themes: Sacrifice of Isaac (1596), Medusa (1598), Judith and Holofernes (1598). (See second link below.)
3. More: Salome and the Head of John the Baptist (1606), the Beheading of John the Baptist (1608)
NB: The severed head of Goliath is generally recognized as a self-portrait. Caravaggio did at least two other versions of David and the severed head of Goliath: one is in Rome (fifth link), the other in the Prado (sixth link). His obsession with decapitation may be related to the fact that Caravaggio himself was “a whore-mongering cutthroat with a rap sheet as long as your arm.” (fifth link)
1. Other masterpieces in the “Museum of Art History” (Kunsthistoriches Museum) of Vienna are: Breughel’s “The Hunters in the Snow” and “The Peasant Wedding,” and Titian’s “Portrait of Isabelle d’Este.”
2. Vienna also has a gallery focused mainly on Austrian art called the “Osterreichishe Galerie Belvedere.” At its heart is the world’s largest collection of the work of Gustav Klimt. The highlights are the “The Kiss” and “Judith and the Head of Holofernes” (note the thematic continuity with Caravaggio). Other featured artists are Egon Schiele (1890–1918) and Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980).
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