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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Francesco Hayez

Rinaldo and Armida, 1812-13, Francesco Hayez
--Romantic, yes, to the point of erotic, but definitely not French.
Francesco Hayez Self-portrait, 1861
When someone uses the word "romantic" the vast majority of people bring to mind hearts and flowers, cute little cupids, pretty ladies, perhaps even pretty gentlemen. Even artist and those having some background in art at some level, if they call up images of the Romantic era in art, invariably think first and foremost, perhaps even exclusively, the images of French artists from that period--Delacroix, Gericault, Cabanel, Delaroche, Prud'hon, and maybe one or two others, though some of those might wince a little at being squeezed into such a tight stylistic mold. Unfortunately, in most artists' minds, it would seem that the Romantic movement in art landed in Paris during the mid-19th century and took up exclusive residence there, never mind the fact that there have been Italian, Spanish, German, even English Romantic artists, though for the English, it was something of a stretch. Perhaps they lived too far from the sunny Mediterranean.
Ulysses at the court of Alcinous, 1814, Francesco Hayez.
Roman, if not Romantic in the usual sense.
Portrait of Count Baglioni,
Francesco, Hayez, the Romantic
portrait among the clutter.
Francesco Hayez (pronounced a-JETS) was Italian, born in Venice in 1791, about as close to the Mediterranean as you can get, unless you consider Venice as being on the Adriatic Sea. Though his father was French, his mother was from Murano (a Venetian island). And the fact that Francesco was the youngest of five sons means they were both at least somewhat romantic at times (I couldn't resist that). Something of a child prodigy, the boy went through a variety of local painters (even apprenticed to an art restorer) before landing in the Venice Academy of Fine Art in 1806. There he earned a scholarship to the Academy San Luca in Rome where he studied for a year. From there, Hayez move on to Naples where he began his painting career with a major commission for mythological Ulysses at the court of Alcinous, (above) dating from 1814. In discussing Romantic art, we often fail to recall that Rome is in Italy, thus Italian art has first claim on the name.

Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, 1867, Francesco Hayez--history, religion, violence, heroism, death destruction--Romanticism minus the hearts and flowers.
Ballerina Carlotta Chabert as Venus,
1830, Francesco Hayez
--a mythological portrait.
Romantic art was far more that love, pretty damsels in distress (often slightly, or completely, nude), imaginary landscapes, color over lines, and deteriorating classical architecture. Like its Classical predecessors and Academic descendants, it often embraced history painting, portraits of prettified ladies (left) and heroic men (also sometimes prettified, above, right), violence, action, eroticism, even humor. Hayez's Rinaldo and Armida, 1812-13 (top) embodies many of these traits. Hayez's Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, (above) painted more than fifty years later, is the flip-side of the Romantic era we don't often consider, perhaps because it's far more Italian than French. Almost by definition, Yet, whatever its nationality, Romanticism is fantasy art. Men fantasize as much as women, but about different things. During the Romantic era, however, men painted more than women, thus Romantic art, while often dwelling on women and erotic fantasies, such as Hayez's The New Favorite (Harem Scene) from 1855 (bottom), also broadens the genre to include many other male fantasies besides sex.

The New Favorite, 1866, Francesco Hayez, is an old Romantic favorite.


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