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Reclining Silenus

Reclining Silenus

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Portland Vase

The Portland Vase is a Roman cameo glass vase, which is dated to between AD 1 and AD 25, though low BC dates have some scholarly support. [1] It is the best known piece of Roman cameo glass and has served as an inspiration to many glass and porcelain makers from about the beginning of the 18th century onwards. It is first recorded in Rome in 1600–1601, and since 1810 has been in the British Museum in London. It was bought by the museum in 1945 (GR 1945,0927.1) and is normally on display in Room 70.

The vase is about 25 centimetres (9.8 in) high and 56 cm (22 in) in circumference. It is made of violet-blue glass, and surrounded with a single continuous white glass cameo making two distinct scenes, depicting seven human figures, plus a large snake, and two bearded and horned heads below the handles, marking the break between the scenes.

The bottom of the vase was a cameo glass disc, also in blue and white, showing a head, presumed to be of Paris or Priam on the basis of the Phrygian cap it wears. This roundel [ citation needed ] [2] clearly does not belong to the vase, and has been displayed separately since 1845. It may have been added in antiquity or later, or be the result of a conversion from an original amphora form (paralleled by a similar blue-glass cameo vessel from Pompeii). It was attached to the bottom from at least 1826.


Coin from Mende depicting Silenus
Obv: Inebriated Silenus reclining on a donkey, holding kantharos with wine Rev: Vine of four grape clusters within shallow linear incuse square, MENΔAIΩN, of Mendians
Silver tetradrachm from Mende, 460-423 BC

Mende was probably built during the 9th century BC by Eretrian colonists. The city owes its name to the minthe plant, a species of mint that still sprouts in the area. Mende's abundant lumber resources and possession of silver, gold and lead mines led to its rapid development. From the 6th century BC, it was one of the cities that controlled trade routes along the coast of Thrace there were even confirmed dealings with the Greek colonies in Italy, especially concerning the export of the famous local wine Mendaeos oinos.

During the 5th century BC, Mende became one of the most important allies of Athens and joined the Delian League, paying a tax that varied from six up to fifteen Attic talents per year. However, in 423 BC, it managed to revolt against Athenian rule, a situation that did not last long as the Athenians quickly suppressed the revolt (Thuc. iv. 121). During the Peloponnesian War, Mende, Toroni and Skione were the main regional goals of the two combatants, Athens and Sparta, specially after Brasidas, the Spartan general, raised an army of allies and helots and went for the sources of Athenian power in north Greece in 424. After the end of the war, Mende regained its independence.

The city tried to avoid Olynthian rule in the 4th century BC, when the Chalkidician League was established later it tried to avoid rule by the Macedonian hegemony, but in 315 its population, along with other Chalkidicians, was forced to resettle in Cassandreia, after this new city was built by king Cassander on the site of the former town of Poteidaea.

The sculptor Paeonius, who made the statue of Nike that was put on top of the victory pillar in Olympia - and is shown in the Archaeological Museum of Olympia - was born in Mende.

The location of Mende was identified with the area of the modern town of Kalandra by William Martin Leake in 1835. Systematic excavational research was conducted from 1986 to 1994 by the XVI Ephorate of Classical Antiquities.

The main archaeological area covers an area of 1,200 metres (1,300 yd) by 600 metres (660 yd) and lies to the open and flat place of a hill by the sea. It was continuously inhabited from the 9th to the 4th century. The acropolis of the city is located to the south uppermost point of the hill, where large storage buildings among with pottery dated from the 11th to the 4th century, were found.

The Proasteion (Suburb) of the city, which is also mentioned by Thucydides, occupied the waterfront area between the beach and the hill of the main city, where the harbour was located. Excavations revealed part of the main avenue, paved with pebbles, along with foundations of buildings with storage pottery, possibly shops or harbour buildings.

The settlement's Necropolis was found south of the city, near a modern hotel. Excavations were made in 241 tombs that mainly revealed burials of children inside engraved ceramic vases.

Those excavations are considered important mainly because they proved that a heavy Euboean influenced settlement was established already from the 11th century.

Decorative Bust of a Silenus

This small but elaborately modeled bust depicts a silenus, a jovial, heavy old man who often accompanies Bacchus in scenes of feasting and drinking. The work's wealth of detail was created by the complex lostwax method. The figure's beard cascades in magnificently rendered corkscrew curls down his chest, and a twisted wreath of ivy leaves-often associated with Bacchus- and berries sits in his hair. A goatskin is wrapped on his left side, tied with a cloven hoof that falls over his shoulder. A number of precious materials were used: the inlaid, piercing eyes are silver, with the pupil sockets deeply hollowed, while copper inlay was used for the berries, lips, and nipple.

The silenus would have been used as a finial on a support (or fulcrum ) forming the headrest or armrest of a reclining couch, used by wealthy Romans when resting or eating. It is an astonishingly well-modeled and high-quality example of Roman decorative arts, and significantly broadens the scope of the AMAM's collection of ancient bronzes. The sculpture was in the collection of the well-known antiquities collector the Countess de Béhague (1870-1939) in France in the early twentieth century.

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Coin from Mende depicting Silenus
Obv: Inebriated Silenus reclining on a donkey, holding kantharos with wine Rev: Vine of four grape clusters within shallow linear incuse square, MENΔAIΩN, of Mendians
Silver tetradrachm from Mende, 460-423 BC

The original Silenus resembled a folkloric man of the forest with the ears of a horse and sometimes also the tail and legs of a horse. [1] The later sileni were drunken followers of Dionysus, usually bald and fat with thick lips and squat noses, and having the legs of a human. Later still, the plural "sileni" went out of use and the only references were to one individual named Silenus, the teacher and faithful companion of the wine-god Dionysus. [2]

A notorious consumer of wine, he was usually drunk and had to be supported by satyrs or carried by a donkey. Silenus was described as the oldest, wisest and most drunken of the followers of Dionysus, and was said in Orphic hymns to be the young god's tutor. This puts him in a company of phallic or half-animal tutors of the gods, a group that include Priapus, Hermaphroditus, Cedalion and Chiron, but also includes Pallas, the tutor of Athena. [3]

When intoxicated, Silenus was said to possess special knowledge and the power of prophecy. The Phrygian King Midas was eager to learn from Silenus and caught the old man by lacing a fountain from which Silenus often drank. As Silenus fell asleep, the king's servants seized and took him to their master. Silenus shared with the king a pessimistic philosophy: That the best thing for a man is not to be born, and if already born, to die as soon as possible. [4] An alternative story was that when lost and wandering in Phrygia, Silenus was rescued by peasants and taken to King Midas, who treated him kindly. In return for Midas' hospitality Silenus told him some tales and Midas, enchanted by Silenus’s fictions, entertained him for five days and nights. [5] Dionysus offered Midas a reward for his kindness towards Silenus, and Midas chose the power of turning everything he touched into gold. Another story was that Silenus had been captured by two shepherds, and regaled them with wondrous tales.

In Euripides's satyr play Cyclops, Silenus is stranded with the satyrs in Sicily, where they have been enslaved by the Cyclops. They are the comic elements of the story, a parody of Homer's Odyssey IX. Silenus refers to the satyrs as his children during the play.

Silenus may have become a Latin term of abuse around 211 BC, when it is used in Plautus' Rudens to describe Labrax, a treacherous pimp or leno, as ". a pot-bellied old Silenus, bald head, beefy, bushy eyebrows, scowling, twister, god-forsaken criminal". [6] In his satire The Caesars, the emperor Julian has Silenus sitting next to the gods to offer up his comments on the various rulers under examination, including Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Marcus Aurelius (whom he reveres as a fellow philosopher-king), and Constantine I. [7]

Silenus commonly figures in Roman bas-reliefs of the train of Dionysus, a subject for sarcophagi, embodying the transcendent promises of Dionysian cult.


The Papposilenus is a representation of Silenus that emphasizes his old age, particularly as a stock character in satyr play or comedy. In vase painting, his hair is often white, and as in statuettes he has a pot belly, flabby breasts and shaggy thighs. In these depictions, it is often clear that the Papposilenus is an actor playing a part. His costuming includes a body stocking tufted with hair (mallōtos chitōn) that seems to have come into use in the mid-5th century BC. [8]

Why do Greek statues have such small penises?

Don’t pretend your eyes don’t hover, at least for a moment, over the delicately sculpted penises on classical nude statues. While it may not sound like the most erudite subject, art historians haven’t completely ignored ancient Greek genitalia either. After all, sculptors put as much work into penises as the rest of their artwork, and it turns out there’s a well-developed ideology behind those rather small penises.

In ancient Greece, it seems, a small penis was the sought-after look for the alpha male.

“Greeks associated small and non-erect penises with moderation, which was one of the key virtues that formed their view of ideal masculinity,” explains classics professor Andrew Lear, who has taught at Harvard, Columbia and NYU and runs tours focused on gay history. “There is the contrast between the small, non-erect penises of ideal men (heroes, gods, nude athletes etc) and the over-size, erect penises of Satyrs (mythic half-goat-men, who are drunkards and wildly lustful) and various non-ideal men. Decrepit, elderly men, for instance, often have large penises.”

Similar ideas are reflected in ancient Greek literature, says Lear. For example, in Aristophanes’ Clouds a large penis is listed alongside a “pallid complexion,” a “narrow chest,” and “great lewdness” as one of the characteristics of un-athletic and dishonorable Athenian youths.

Only grotesque, foolish men who were ruled by lust and sexual urges had large penises in ancient Greece. Art history blogger Ellen Oredsson notes on her site that statues of the era emphasized balance and idealism.

“The ideal Greek man was rational, intellectual and authoritative,” she wrote. “He may still have had a lot of sex, but this was unrelated to his penis size, and his small penis allowed him to remain coolly logical.”

There are several theories as to why the “ideal” penis size developed from small in ancient Greece to large today. Lear suggests that perhaps the rise of porn, or an ideological push to subject men to the same body shaming that women typically face, are behind the modern emphasis on having a large penis.

But Lear adds that in both societies, ideas about penis size are completely “unrelated to reality or aesthetics.” Contrary to popular myth, there’s no clear evidence that a large penis correlates with sexual satisfaction. Nor is there proof that a small penis is a sign of moderation and rationality.

“Greek men saw each other nude all the time in the gymnasium, so they must have been aware, at some level, that not every admirably moderate man had a small penis, and not every immoderate, cowardly, drunken man a large one,” adds Lear.

Society has been transformed in the thousands of years since ancient Greece but, when it comes to penis size, we’ve simply swapped one groundless theory for another.

Flesh & Blood: Paintings from Naples’ Capodimonte Museum at the Kimbell

Though the word “masterpiece” is used too freely, the 41 works in the Kimbell exhibition Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum include a murderer’s row of masterpieces by some of the most storied names in Western art, including Titian, Parmigianino, El Greco, Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Juseppe de Ribera. Very few U.S. museums — notably the National Gallery, the Frick Collection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the J. Paul Getty Museum — could muster a group of Renaissance and Baroque highlights of comparable caliber. Flesh & Blood is one of best exhibitions of Old Masters to tour the U.S. in recent decades, and the Kimbell Museum is one of only two U.S. venues. (It was previously at the Seattle Art Museum.) Just one of Flesh and Blood’s choice works could be the worthy subject of a mini-exhibition, as was Parmigianino’s Antea (c. 1531-34), when it was exhibited at the Frick Collection in New York in 2008.

Titian, Pope Paul III, 1543. Oil on canvas, 44 3/4 × 34 15/16 in. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples

Flesh & Blood also has strong and interesting works by artists as varied as Lorenzo de Credi, Raphael, Lorenzo Lotto, Sebastiano del Piombo, Moretto da Brescia, Agostino Carraci, Guido Reni, Giovanni Lanfranco, Bartolomeo Schedoni, Simon Vouet, and Matthias Stom. Not surprisingly, the Neapolitan School is strongly represented by a number of artists who are little known on these shores, and who are generally represented in U.S. collections by lesser works. In addition to Ribera (mentioned above), Flesh & Blood features a complex masterpiece by Battistello Caracciolo and vigorous works by Massimo Stanzione, Bernardo Cavallino, a student of Ribera known as the Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, and the fascinating still life painter Giovan Battista Recco. The sole sour note for me is the disappointing painting Venus, Mars, and Cupid (c. 1670) by the estimable Neapolitan artist Luca Giordano, who made extraordinary paintings in Ribera’s style before going his own way. Indeed, the most astonishing, jaw-dropping pairing in the Capodimonte Museum consists of the versions of Apollo and Marsyas by Ribera (c. 1652) and Giordano (c. 1657). These two paintings were unavailable for Flesh and Blood because they were lent to the Giordano retrospective in Paris.

The Capodimonte is one of Italy’s largest — though somewhat under-rated and under-visited — museums. The 41 paintings (and one small bronze by Giovanni da Bologna) in this exhibition did not denude the Capodimonte of its highlights, which include additional masterpieces by Titian, Raphael, Lotto, Parmigianino, Ribera, and Giordano. Other highlights include stunning works by the likes of Simone Martini, Masaccio, Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and Correggio. Some Italians have criticized the exhibition for lacking the scholarly rationale worthy of the loan of so many precious works, though Flesh & Blood has a catalogue and an exemplary series of exhibition videos drawn from the opening scholarly symposium. (Click here for the complete playlist.)

The exhibition was co-organized by the Capodimonte, the Kimbell Art Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and MondoMostre. I recently spoke by phone with Guillaume Kientz, the curator-in-charge at the Kimbell, who moved from the Louvre to the Kimbell in 2019. He is thrilled that the exhibition is reopening to the public, “giving the community access to all these great paintings.” He emphasizes the “striking scale” of the exhibited paintings, which are larger than most European paintings found in U.S. museums, including the Kimbell. Kientz thinks that the biggest revelations for visitors might be Caravaggio and Parmagianino, who, though “well-known by name,” pack an unexpected wallop in the flesh.

Flesh & Blood is drawn from the Capodimonte Museum’s two stellar core collections. The first component is the illustrious collection of the Farnese family. Alessandro Farnese (1468-1549) advanced the family’s fortunes by climbing the papal ladder. Pope Alexander IV made him treasurer and then cardinal deacon. Pope Julius II made him bishop of Parma in 1509. Alessandro catapulted his family into the highest social rank when he became Pope Paul III. As pope (1534-1549), he raised nepotism to an art form, stirring controversy when he made two of his teenaged grandchildren cardinals (popes usually extended this familial boon no further than nephews). Farnese power and wealth produced a remarkable collection of Renaissance and Mannerist paintings, as well as one of the world’s finest collections of classical sculpture (the latter is now mostly in the Naples Archaeology Museum).

Naples (which included a large portion of what is now Southern Italy) was a Spanish possession for centuries. Antonio Farnese, Duke of Parma, died in 1731 without heirs. The Farnese art collection passed to Charles of Bourbon (1716-1788) through his mother, Elisabeth Farnese (1692-1766), who was Spain’s Queen consort. Charles, who was installed as King of Naples in 1734, brought the collection to Naples in 1735. He started construction of the Capodimonte palace in 1738 and had the collection installed by 1759, when he moved to Madrid, where he was crowned Charles III, King of Spain. Charles’ successor in Naples, Ferdinand IV of Naples (1751-1825), began collecting local Baroque paintings. Naples was very cosmopolitan, and, after Paris, the most populous city in Europe. The arts flourished during the Baroque, in large part because of the renovation of Naples’ numerous churches, which began in the late 16th century. During the French occupation (1806-1818), religious art from suppressed monasteries joined the Bourbon collections.

Renaissance and Mannerism

For a short video tour of the exhibition, see here.

Titian, Pope Paul III (det.),1543.

The exhibition commences with Titian’s portrait as its centerpiece. Rarely has an artist so clearly articulated power and dominance: this is a man who knew how to seize power, how to bend it to his will, and how to create a dynasty. Paul III is aged but not frail, as evinced by his furrowed brow, penetrating gaze, and, above all, by his mighty, ringed hand, which glistens as it emerges from folds of billowing fabric. This hand of power is worthy of a Roman emperor or a conquering general. Titian conveys the notion that it might be a good idea to bend over and kiss that ring — if you know what’s good for you. Paul III was a canny judge of artists: Titian’s portraits of the Farnese family would make an excellent exhibition. This painting inspired two of the most authoritative portraits of prelates by succeeding artists: El Greco’s Cardinal Niño de Guevara (c. 1600) and Velázquez’s Innocent X (1650).

Titian, Danaë, 1544–45. Oil on canvas, 34 15/16 x 44 3/4 in. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples

Alessandro Farnese, Paul III’s grandson, was just fourteen when he was made a cardinal. He commissioned this mythological painting from Titian, which he kept in his private quarters behind a curtain. Danaë, who is being impregnated by Zeus’ golden shower, is thought to have been modeled on the cardinal’s mistress, Angela.

Parmigianino, Antea, c. 1535. Oil on canvas, 53 9/16 x 33 7/8 in. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples

Antea is the name of a Renaissance courtesan, but the subject of this panting is likely an idealized beauty, rather than a specific courtesan or noblewoman. Parmigianino indulges his flair for anatomical distortion and his taste for sumptuous materials with highly varied textures.

Parmigianino, Antea (detail), c. 1535.

Antea’s hands call attention to the costly materials at her midsection. Her left hand, which bears a pinkie ring, emerges from a heavily embroidered ruff and fingers her necklace, which is made up of chain links and cylinders spun from precious metals. This hand also rests upon a linen apron, whose texture is suggested by the weave of the canvas. Antea’s right hand is gloved in fine leather, and the stuffed marten head, whose fur she wears around her neck, appears to be biting her index finger through her glove. Antea creates this effect by manipulating the chain through the marten’s nose. Her shimmering, gold-brocaded sleeve creates further dynamic contrasts. The marten’s dangling right forelimb is nestled between her ruff and sleeve, as if it is struggling for traction to make its escape.

Parmigianino, Lucretia, 1540. Oil on panel, 68 x 52 cm. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples

In this painting from five years later, Parmigianino moves — at least ostensibly — from luxury to civic virtue, with a heavy admixture of literal titillation. Raped by the son of Rome’s dictator, Lucretia had her father and husband swear revenge. Then she killed herself. The tyrant was driven away, leading to the founding of the Roman Republic. In many paintings that depict this theme (as with numerous Bathshebas, Deaths of Cleopatra, Penitent Magdalenes, etc.), eroticism is clearly a primary interest. Lucretia’s pale flesh shimmers against the black background, creating chiaroscuro effects that exceed that of most Baroque paintings. Since the artist died the year this painting was made, one has to wonder how the future of art would have been impacted if he had continued in this vein. The painting is a marvel of tonal and colored gradations of flesh, from the pearly highlights at the base of the neck through the blue-gray shadows, to her orange-flushed face. Every detail — and every transition between details — is brilliantly painted, including the patch of blond hair that bursts into curls above the ear, some of which are individually painted, hair by hair. Two rows of what seem to be perfect braids cross her head, echoed by two strands of pearls. There are individual wayward hairs within the braids. The pearls have glistening white highlights, and a considerable amount of blue, which sets them apart from the blond hair. Lucretia’s elaborate coiffeur extends a distance behind her head, though it is almost lost in the deep shadow that envelops it. Tiny, granulated gold threads that are woven into her hair are more readily visible, though they are distorted by the light that they reflect (an effect familiar from Vermeer). Lucretia’s body is beautifully rendered, albeit with an unnaturally long neck and tiny head. This pale body, painted without visible brush strokes, invokes classical sculpture.

Parmigianino, Lucretia (det.), 1540.

Her toga, on the other hand, virtually screams: “I am made of paint.” The prominent hatchings and highlights are unblended, openly declaring their painterly materiality. The medallion has the same character, largely produced with brilliant highlights (the emerald and amethyst inlays are more fussily painted). These highlights create the unmistakable form of Diana the Huntress, the virgin goddess whose purity Christians analogized to that of the Virgin Mary. Lucretia, with her Heaven-ward gaze, would have been understood in a moralizing Christian context, subsisting in tension with the figure’s partial nudity and with Parmigianino’s evident delight in her naked flesh.

El Greco, Boy Blowing on an Ember, 1571–72. Oil on canvas, 23 13/16 × 19 7/8 in. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples

El Greco’s native Crete — where the artist began as an icon-style painter — was a Venetian possession. He moved to Venice in the 1560s to continue his education. The miniaturist Giulio Clovio (depicted by El Greco in a marvelous portrait in the exhibition) recommended him to Cardinal Farnese in November of 1570. The artist fell out of favor with the Farnese — perhaps because of his offer to repaint the Sistine Chapel in a “decent” manner (the Last Judgment was among the commissions Paul III had awarded to Michelangelo). The Clovio portrait and Boy Blowing on an Ember are thought to have been painted while the artist was lodged in the Farnese Palace in Rome. El Greco joined the Roman painters’ guild in 1572. Both pictures are rendered in an Italianate manner, as sober and precise as El Greco ever got.

El Greco was a bold, confident, and learned man. Boy Blowing is a manifestation of a classical ekphrasis (a verbal description of a work of art) by the Roman author Pliny the Elder. By creating his version of a boy illuminated by a faint fire that he stoked with his breath, El Greco contended with classical artists whose fame had outlived their most celebrated creations. This extraordinary work also points to a road not taken: El Greco could have become an important proto-Baroque realist. He instead became the creator of an ecstatic and expressionistic Mannerism. But his late style works because he had first mastered the naturalistic effects of nocturnal illumination, as in this painting. El Greco would go on to paint enormous, nocturnal altarpieces, illuminated by supernatural rather than natural light, but they are compelling — and “believable” — only because he could make them seem “real.” Two later, less naturalistic, firebrand-lit group pictures called Fábula (Prado and National Gallery of Scotland) can be viewed as transitional works between Boy Blowing and El Greco’s late works.

While El Greco eschewed the realistic detail, the quotidian colors, and the glowing ember found in this painting, he forever kept the bright light that began close at hand and had the power to blast through the eternal darkness of night. He reanimated the fantastic figural proportions he had learned in Crete he refocused his blinding light on the brilliant colors he had discovered in Venetian painting and he exceeded the dramatic gestures and facial expressions that he had witnessed on his path to Toledo. El Greco had no further need of flames and embers once his figures themselves became tongues of fire.

The Baroque

Annibale Carracci, Pietà, 1599–1600. Oil on canvas, 61 7/16 × 58 11/16 in. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples

This exhibition features three paintings by the Carracci. Pietà is an unusually classicizing work by the master due to its connection to Michelangelo’s sculpture in Saint Peter’s Basilica. In contrast to Renaissance paintings of this theme, Carracci decenters his protagonists: instead of a pyramidal configuration, he uses a scalene triangle. Rather than being cradled by Mary (a pose that forced Michelangelo to reduce Christ’s size relative to his mother), Carracci’s Christ reposes in part on the ground, while his head and shoulders rest on her lap. His corpse forms a diagonal that stretches across the canvas. A note of eerie naturalism is introduced by Christ’s corporeal discoloration, which is particularly evident in his hands and feet. The former are partially clenched, apparently in the grip of rigor mortis. Mary gazes at Christ, who faces our direction with a peaceful countenance, as if he were sleeping. The putti mirror this exchange of looks on a smaller scale: the putto who lifts Christ’s dead left hand looks down at the putto in the far right. He, in turn, faces and gestures toward the spectator as he pokes his index finger on a thorn in Christ’s crown, sampling his passion for our empathetic benefit.

Caravaggio, The Flagellation of Christ, 1607. Oil on canvas, 118 in × 92 in. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples, from the Church of San Domenico Maggiore, Naples (property of the Fondo Edifici di Culto del Ministero degli Interni)

Caravaggio’s Flagellation — a late addition to the exhibition — is quite a coup for the Kimbell. Only one Caravaggio altarpiece is in a U.S. collection (Cleveland Museum of Art) and it, too, originally came from Naples, via a Spanish viceroy. Caravaggio had to flee Rome (and the Papal states) when he killed Ranuccio Tommasoni in 1606. He spent seventeen months of his last four years in Naples, during 1606-7 and 1609-10. Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of Mercy, painted soon after his arrival, altered the course of painting in Naples. This imposing Flagellation was painted shortly thereafter.

Since Christ’s foster father Joseph was a carpenter, then this Jesus appears to have been a lumberjack. His Bunyanesque physique would have made him difficult to capture, had he resisted arrest. While Christ is presented as a passive exemplar of physical perfection, his standing tormentors have coarse features that violate classical norms. The man on the right seems to push off on Christ’s lower leg as he tightens the ropes that bind him to the column. His right arm and Christ’s flowing hair are cursorily sketched. Keith Christiansen, the John Pope-Hennessey Chairman of European Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, discusses Caravaggio’s loose, abbreviated painting techniques in his lecture “Caravaggio and Naples: Style and the Dynamics of the Market.” Christianson argues that Caravaggio’s techniques in this final period were efficient and expedient, as well as novel and expressive.

Caravaggio, The Flagellation of Christ (det.), 1607.

The ill-clothed, jug-eared brute on the left grabs a handful of Christ’s hair as he utters an angry scream that contorts his irregular face. Clutching a bundle of sticks in his right hand, he can’t wait to begin the flagellation. The younger man at the bottom of the painting wraps a rope around some sticks to create another torture implement. Scourging, which could be fatal, was a harsh punishment reserved for non-Romans. Since, according to the gospels, Christ was unable to carry his own cross to Golgatha, he presumably suffered a debilitating flagellation. We can surmise from Caravaggio’s dramatic composition that Christ will soon be assailed from all sides.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and Holofernes (c. 1612-1617). Oil on canvas, 159 x 126 cm, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples

The best-known female artist of the seventeenth century, Artemisia Gentileschi was the first woman admitted to the Florentine academy. She garnered an international clientele with paintings that often featured self-portraits within Biblical and mythological subjects. This might be Gentileschi’s first history painting, and it is likely her first treatment of this theme. She portrays herself as Judith in the act of slaying the Assyrian general Holofernes, who was attacking her town. This subject has often been linked to Gentileschi’s biography: she was raped by Agostino Tassi in 1611 (women were so disempowered at this time that Tassi’s crime was taking Gentileschi’s virginity without marrying her). It has been argued that Gentileschi enacted a painted vengeance by killing — and symbolically castrating — a male oppressor. However, as Patrizia Cavazzini points out, the subject might have been chosen by a patron rather than by the artist. In any case, the painting responds to the sanguinary Judith painted a few years earlier by Caravaggio (illustrated below), as well as other contemporary works.

Gentileschi depicts a frenzied, mortal combat, which features a tangle of six arms. Her youthful maidservant is an indispensable accomplice: she bears down on Holofernes, who puts up a mighty struggle. Caravaggio’s Holofernes, by contrast, is seemingly caught by surprise: a simple chop is sufficient to dispatch him, necessitating no assistance from the elderly maiden, who is a mere witness and trophy-bagger. Gentileschi’s Judith, still wearing the fine gown she had donned in order to beguile and disarm her enemy, stands at a curious distance from her victim. More psychologically complex and conflicted than Caravaggio’s Judith, she seems to shrink back, while nonetheless maintaining a steely resolve. Gentileschi’s more dramatic psychological effects derive from this state of deadly struggle. Her Holofernes resists, so she has to hold his head down with her fully extended left arm. Since she cannot lop his head off with a single, mighty stroke, Judith is forced to use an awkward backhand grip to saw it off, as if slicing through a loaf of bread that’s attempting to leap off of a table. As the adage goes, a woman’s work is never done. (For more information on Gentileschi, see essays by Judith W. Mann, Elizabeth Cropper, and Patrizia Cavazzini in the Metropolitan Museum catalogue Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi (2001), which can be downloaded here.)

Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598-9 or 1602. Oil on canvas, 57 in × 77 in., Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini, Rome (not in exhibition photo from Wikipedia)

Battistello Caracciolo, The Virgin of the Souls with Saints Clare and Francis, 1622–23. Oil on canvas, 114 3/16 × 80 11/16 in. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples.

Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of Mercy (1607) — which features all seven acts in one painting — broke conventions. Caravaggio’s example helped to free Neapolitan artists to make their own stark, strange, and complex compositions, such as this one by Caracciolo. Fittingly, it is installed opposite Caravaggio’s Flagellation.

Jusepe de Ribera, Drunken Silenus, 1626. Oil on canvas, 72 13/16 × 90 3/16 in. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples

This naked, unshaven, fat and rustic Silenus is a déclassé companion (and the foster father) of the wine god Dionysus (that could be him in the upper right corner, though it resembles traditional depictions of Apollo, the torturer-murderer of the satyr Marsyus). A far-from-ideal reclining nude, Silenus can be regarded as a satiric commentary on the reclining beauty/goddess theme. Ribera’s foray into that genre is lost, but Titian’s Danaë serves as an example in this exhibition.

Jusepe de Ribera, Drunken Silenus (det.), 1626.

Of the many international artists who followed Caravaggio’s example, Ribera was the single best handler of paint. This skill is particularly evident in the thick impasto Ribera used to emulate the wizened skin of old men, as in the old faun who refills Silenus’s shell from a wineskin. Edward Payne notes: “As one ‘skin’ is being emptied, another is being filled.” Punningly, Silenus’s upraised arm reads like a funnel in this wineskin-to-wineskin transmission. The face of Pan (the horned satyr who fathered Silenus) is particularly expressive as he adorns Silenus’ head with leaves. One wishes Ribera had painted more of these delightful creatures.

Jusepe de Ribera, Drunken Silenus (det.), 1626.

The young faun in the upper left happily has his own cup, and even the braying ass (which prefigures Goya) vocally signals its approval, perhaps in the hope that Silenus will become too drunk to ride the poor beast. A number of Spanish and Italian artists excelled in making cheery, realistic genre paintings of “low” subjects. Ribera’s Clubfoot (1642), a depiction of a Neapolitan beggar now in the Louvre, is a prime example. Drunken Silenus is an interesting painting to compare to Los Borrachos (1628-9), Velázquez’s nearly contemporary low-brow bacchanal. These two great paintings will no doubt continue to spark reinterpretations.

Giovan Battista Recco, Still Life with Candles and a Goat’s Head, c. 1650. Oil on canvas, 52 x 72 ½ in. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples

I close with this rustic still life by Recco, whose work is as plentiful in Naples as it is rare in the U.S. The deep shadows and the silverware that extend over the ledge reflect other aspects of Caravaggio’s influence over Baroque artists.

Extended through August 2 at the newly reopened Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth. The catalogue ‘Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum’ ($30) features essays by Sylvain Bellenger, General Director of the Capodimonte, and James P. Anno and Christopher Bakke, who are Curatorial Fellows.

Ruben C. Cordova is an art historian and curator who believes no trip to Italy is complete without a visit to Naples.

“Sacred Adornment: Jewelry as Belief in Ancient Egypt”

This brilliant blue scarab is carved from lapis lazuli (05.JW.180). Scarabs first become incorporated into finger rings in the Middle Kingdom (1980-1630 BCE).

Sacred Adornment: Jewelry as Belief in Ancient Egypt, a stunning new exhibition at Glencairn Museum, explores religious beliefs as expressed in the Museum’s collection of ancient Egyptian jewelry. By examining the materials and symbols present in these ornaments, we can come away with a deeper understanding of the complex ideas that guided the artists, as well as the hopes and beliefs of those who first wore this jewelry in ancient times.

Dr. Jennifer Houser Wegner, guest curator of Sacred Adornment, is an associate curator in the Egyptian Section at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Wegner has carried out fieldwork in Egypt since 1990, working at the sites of Giza, Bersheh, and Abydos. She recently coauthored a book about the Penn Museum's 13-ton red granite sphinx of Ramses II, and was involved in the move of this sphinx to its new location in the museum's entrance hall.

On Saturday, March 14, 2020 (10am -12:30pm), members of Glencairn Museum will receive free admission to “Sacred Adornment: Jewelry as Belief,” an exclusive PowerPoint presentation by Dr. Wegner on the subject of Glencairn’s collection of ancient Egyptian jewelry. Members will also have the opportunity to visit the Sacred Adornment exhibition, see jewelry in Glencairn’s Greek and Roman collection with Museum educators, and enjoy coffee, tea, and light refreshments throughout the morning. Reservations recommended by 5pm on Thursday, March 12 (sign up here). This is a members-only event information on membership is here.

Jewelry appears in the archaeological record in Egypt as early as 4500 BCE, in the form of beads made of shell and glazed stones. Beginning in the prehistoric periods, Egyptian burials included jewelry, indicating an interest in personal adornment. Over the more than 3000 years of pharaonic history, Egyptian artisans produced a dazzling variety of jewelry meant to be worn by the living and the dead, men and women, human and divine. The jewelry in Glencairn’s Egyptian collection represents much of the long history of ancient Egyptian ornamentation. Individual elements of jewelry in the collection date from the First Intermediate Period (2130-1980 BCE) through the Greco-Roman Period (332 BCE-323 CE) and beyond.

Figure 1: Some of the earliest jewelry in the collection can be found on this necklace, which features amulets carved from a variety of semi-precious stones including carnelian, amethyst, quartz, and green feldspar. The forms include a frog, falcons, human legs, hearts, poppy flowers, and female-headed sphinxes (15.JW.184).

Raymond Pitcairn acquired his collection of ancient jewelry from a Lebanese antiquities dealer by the name of Azeez Khayat and his son, Victor, during the 1920s and 1930s (Figure 2). Khayat was an amateur archaeologist who carried out his own excavations in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and Greece. The Khayats had offices in New York City, Haifa, and Cairo, where they sold the finds from their excavations. Today, antiquities laws prevent this practice, but in the early decades of the 20th century many well-known private collectors, as well as major museums, purchased antiquities from the Khayats.

Figure 2: Victor A. Khayat looking at antiquities in 1923. National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress).

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Grasping the wings of an eagerly gesturing cupid, a seated vendor proffers love to a buyer flanked by an attendant. Clodion&rsquos highly classicized composition, created during his formative years at the French Academy in Rome, presents a charming interpretation of a renowned ancient wall painting discovered near Pompeii and known through prints. Raised modeling emphasizes the female figures&rsquo profiles and drapery, and delicate incising captures the illusion of their gracefully contoured limbs receding into space.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738&ndash1814)
The Cupid Seller (La marchande d&rsquoamours), c. 1765&ndash70
10 7/8 x 11 3/4 in. (27.6 x 29.8 cm)
Private Collection

Clodion uses the purity and permanence of marble to portray with calm dignity this playful scene of the vending of love. The relief underscores the appeal of the Cupid Seller subject in the late eighteenth century since it may be a commission after the earlier terracotta by Clodion at left. Celebrated for his mastery of modeling in clay, the artist here demonstrates his equally refined technique in marble, as seen in his sensitive articulation of the folds of the female figures&rsquo garments and of the minute feathers of the cupids&rsquo wings.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741&ndash1828)
Vestal, c. 1767&ndash68
23 7/8 in. (60.6 cm)
Private Collection

A life-size marble statue in Rome served as the inspiration for this terracotta, which exemplifies the impact of classical antiquity on Houdon&rsquos early work in Italy. He depicts a priestess of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth whose followers (called vestals) adopted vows of chastity and guarded a perpetual flame in her temple. Featuring the blank eyes and serene expression of a classical sculpture, Houdon&rsquos figure holds an urn of the sacred fire with draped hands that attest to her modesty. A student of anatomy who observed nature as closely as he observed the antique, Houdon activates his figure through the slight sway of her stance, the gentle turn of her head, and the grace of her form emerging beneath the pleats of her garment.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738&ndash1814)
Pair of Vases with Bacchic Subjects, c. 1770&ndash75
10 5/8 in. (27 cm)
Private Collection

Clodion evokes the visual language of classical triumphal processions in these relief vases modeled during or shortly after his time in Italy. Reclining in mirroring poses on chariots pulled by teams of putti are Silenus, the drunken companion of Bacchus, and a female Satyr, whose furry legs identify her as half goat. The small-scale works emulate the form of the monumental marble Medici Vase, an esteemed antiquity in Rome. Clodion&rsquos depictions of Bacchic revelry in warm-hued terracotta invigorate the classical vase format and subject for the delight of learned eighteenth-century audiences.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738&ndash1814)
Three Graces, early 1770s
20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm)
Private Collection

This early work intended to support a marble basin exemplifies Clodion&rsquos imaginative approach to the Greek and Roman precedents he studied in Italy. He interprets the Three Graces &mdash guardians of life&rsquos pleasures &mdash as caryatids (female figures serving as architectural pillars). The artist embellishes upon the traditional single-figure caryatid by encircling the Graces, who link hands in accordance with custom, around a central column. Subtle variations in the figures&rsquo poses, coiffures, and classical costumes enliven the rhythm of the composition, lending it a contemporary, naturalistic spirit.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741&ndash1828)
Madame His, 1775
31 1/2 x 17 x 12 1/2 in. (80 x 43.2 x 31.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Victor Thaw, 2007

This portrait bust of Marie Anne de Vastre, wife of German banker Pierre-François His, highlights Houdon&rsquos gift for rendering lifelike features and textures in marble. The tumbling curls of Madame His&rsquos coiffure echo the undulations of her mantle and inwardly folding chemise, while her upright bearing, alert gaze, and parted lips &mdash animated to suggest that she is on the verge of speaking &mdash highlight her intelligence. By uniting close observation from life with the classical bust format, Houdon endows his subject with the superior rationality that Enlightenment audiences admired in ancient sculpture.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741&ndash1828)
Young Lise in the Guise of Innocence, 1775
18 1/8 in. (46 cm)
Private Collection

According to popular anecdote, a provincial innocent named Mademoiselle Lise arrived in Paris in 1774 under the naive assumption that husbands, as well as weddings, would be offered to local maidens during a municipal celebration. In this tour-de-force carving, Houdon contrasts the matte texture of Lise&rsquos bountiful hair, bound beneath a wide ribbon, with the smooth, polished surface of her unblemished features, endowing his imaginary portrayal with palpable reality. By adopting the idiom of a classical bust, Houdon transcends the specificity of his subject to personify timeless, youthful innocence.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741&ndash1828)
Diana the Huntress, 1776&ndash95
75 1/2 in. (191.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York Purchased 1939

Houdon&rsquos exploration of the figure in motion finds full expression in this life-size portrayal of Diana, the goddess of the hunt, who bounds forward in pursuit of her quarry with a bow and (lost) arrow. The open stance of the goddess, who balances on one foot in a display of technical ingenuity, expands the limits of the terracotta medium. In his unorthodox portrayal of the virgin goddess&rsquos nudity, Houdon combines classical subject matter with the knowledge of the human body that he gained while working from life in Rome.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741&ndash1828)
Comtesse du Cayla, 1777
21 1/4 in. (54 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York Henry Clay Frick Bequest

Houdon portrays the Countess of Cayla (née Élisabeth-Susanne de Jaucourt) as a bacchante, or female follower of Bacchus. By depicting her as she turns to run or dance, with windswept hair and a sidelong gaze, the artist explores the possibilities of the portrait bust format to convey motion. The grape leaves adorning the countess&rsquos breast emphasize her Bacchic role, perhaps an allusion to her husband&rsquos family name, Baschi. The contrast between this work and the more restrained marble busts by Houdon exhibited nearby conveys the artist&rsquos fluid approach to portraiture and the classical tradition, which he adapted to suit his distinct aims and the individual qualities of his sitters.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741&ndash1828)
Armand-Thomas Hue, Marquis de Miromesnil, 1777
25 1/2 in. (64.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York Purchased 1935

Adopting the dignity of a Roman imperial bust, Houdon portrays the marquis in his august role as minister of justice of France, which he held for thirteen years beginning in 1774. The highly polished surface of his official costume, including the buttoned cassock, bow-tied sash, and voluminous robe, is distinct from the delicately textured carving that defines the sitter&rsquos wig and frames his fleeting expression. Houdon conveys the marquis&rsquos intellect through the tensed features around his mouth and the sideways glance of his eyes, which glint with uncanny realism as small reserves of marble highlight the darker recesses of his pupils.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741&ndash1828)
The Dead Thrush (La Grive Morte), 1782
8 7/8 x 5 7/8 x 2 5/8 in. (22.5 x 14.9 x 6.5 cm)
The Horvitz Collection, Boston

Houdon applies his powers of lifelike representation to this portrayal of a lifeless songbird hanging by its feet from a nail with a delicate ribbon. The artist amplifies the trompe l&rsquooeil conceit of the work through the drooping wing of the thrush, whose stiff feathers, differentiated from the down of its body, extend beyond the frame in a masterful expression of high-relief carving. The work suggests Houdon&rsquos engagement with the legend of Zeuxis, the ancient Greek artist whose convincing depiction of grapes attracted hungry birds, as well as the sculptor&rsquos ambition to rival the illusionistic possibilities of painting.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738&ndash1814)
Jean-Baptiste Lepaute (1727&ndash1802)
The Dance of Time: Three Nymphs Supporting a Clock, 1788
Terracotta, gilt brass, glass
40 3/4 in. (103.5 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York Purchased through the Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey

On view in the Portico Gallery July&ndashOctober 2014
On view in the Fragonard Room beginning October 2014

Clodion&rsquos base for a glass-enclosed clock by the renowned horologist Lepaute provides a daring variation on the theme of animated caryatids (female figures providing architectural support) that he explored nearly two decades earlier in his Three Graces. With outstretched limbs, the nymphs flout their role as buttresses for the pillar they surround. The circular momentum of their joyous dance, suggested by their billowing draperies, proceeds in unison with the rhythm of the clock&rsquos pendulum and the horizontal rotation of its dial. Together, Clodion&rsquos figures and Lepaute&rsquos timepiece epitomize the beauty, modernity, and classicism that defined the art of the Enlightenment.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738&ndash1814)
Zephyrus and Flora, 1799
20 3/4 in. (52.7 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York Henry Clay Frick Bequest

Clodion demonstrates his mastery of the small-scale terracotta statuette in this joyful representation of the god of the west wind, a herald of spring, tenderly embracing the goddess of flowers as he crowns her with a wreath of roses. Identifying attributes &mdash from Zephyrus&rsquos breeze-blown drapery to the putti scattering flowers near Flora &mdash enhance the spiraling energy of the composition. Although Clodion draws his subject from the antique, the figure group possesses the weightless elegance characteristic of his late style.