(literally: Old Castle) is an early Renaissance fortress built alongside River Adige in Verona. In many ways, it's a twin to Milan's Castello Sforzesca. Construction on both red brick castles began within four years of each other in the late 14th century. Both were built for the reigning family of that time - in Castevecchio's case, the Scaligeri. Like Castello Sforzesca, it was originally intended as a fortress, became barracks and training grounds for various foreign legions over the next few centuries, and today, it houses a museum.
Castelvecchio is home to a spectacular collection of northern Italian art, spanning from the Middle Ages to about the late 18th century. As you wander through the ancient fortress, pieces are organized chronologically, so you really get a feel for the evolution of Italian painting over roughly 1,000 years. The sculptures and paintings are displayed in a more liberal fashion than most museums - pieces are hung on the wall of course, but they are also suspended from the ceiling or stand alone in the middle of the room. The ability to stand centimeters from a fragment of fresco circa the 5th century made for a great experience in the museum... although I couldn't help but feel a bit wary of the many guards' constant eyes on my back as I snapped away with my camera.
Though photography was
permitted, flash was not allowed - so I apologize for the terrible quality of the photos. That said, here is a selection of some of my favorite pieces in the collection.
"Christ with Peter and Paul", Pelegrinus, 730. Something that always puzzles me about the evolution of art in Italy - particularly sculpture - is how the portrayal of human bodies and faces can go from the classical perfection of ancient Rome to the cartoonish style shown here. For comparative purposes, here's Emperor Antonius Pius from about 86 AD - over 600 years before
Jesus and his buddies up there. He looks a bit more realistic, in my opinion.
Unknown subject, unknown artist, circa 8th c.
Christ on the cross, unknown artist, circa 8th c.
"Battle of the Horsemen," Veronese painter, 14th c.
"Saints Gregory and Bartholomew," Tuscan painter, 14th c.
Unfinished portion of the "Coronation of the Virgin " fresco in the tomb of Aventino Fracastoro, unknown artist, 14th c.
"Thirty Stories of the Bible," from the convent of Saint Caterina, Veronese painter, 14th c. This comic-book style arrangement was a common form of storytelling in the Middle Ages.
"Presentation of Christ," Veronese artist, 14th c. You may have noticed that artists responsible for most medieval works are nameless and unknown. At best, only the city of origin and a date can be estimated. Compare this to Renaissance art and you'll see a stark difference. Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and Raphael were household names and cities took immense pride in what they created. From a historical standpoint, it's a testament to how the importance of art and its role in society has evolved over time. Tough luck for the medieval painters though, whose works are largely uncredited.
"Polyptych of Boi," attributed to Altichiero, 1369. The prefix 'poly' means many, and 'tich' is the Latin term for wall, thus, polyptych means 'many walls.' Polyptychs are simply paintings made up of many panels. Most polyptychs served as altarpieces which were decorated on both sides, so when the altarpiece closed, an entirely different scene was shown. Though not a part of the Castelvecchio collection, the "Ghent Altarpiece" by Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck is a beautiful example of this. It's also the source of relentless studying in my attempt to memorize each panel's subject matter for an exam. At the time, of course, I thought to myself, "When will I ever
use this information again!?" But look, I've accurately identified a polyptych! Dad, that tuition money was worth it after all.
View when opened...
"Madonna and Child," unknown artist, 1345 AD
"Crucifix," Jacopo Bellini, 1464. Bellini is not as glamorous or well-known as his famous Renaissance counterparts, but he was responsible for bringing the early Renaissance style of painting from its birthplace in Florence to northern Italy.
"Saint John the Baptist and Saint Michael, Archangel," from the workshop of Zavattari, 1456.
"The Legend of Orpheus," German painter, 16th c. Orpheus was an ancient Greek musician and poet who had a legendary ability to charm all living things with his music. In this particular portrayal of his musical finesse by a German painter, the human form has made a bit of progress compared to some of the previous examples. Yet, the animals and landscape still have an unnatural feel to them. The artist has also made a valiant attempt at perspective, but the overall affect is still somewhat strange to our modern eye.
"Ancona Fracanzani," (translation?) Giovanni Badile, 1373. Mary, why so dour?
"Augustus and Sybil," Giovanni Maria Falconetto, 1501.
"Deposition of Christ," Liberale da Verona (literal translation: a liberal from Verona, but in this case it's the artist's actual name), 1479. Deposition of Christ
is an image that you can find everywhere in medieval and Renaissance art. It's a common religious theme - the removal of Christ from the cross - and has been portrayed by countless artists. Popular 'themes' such as this make it easy to compare techniques between two paintings of the same subject matter from different time periods.
"Sphere of the Trinity," Francesco Morone, 16th c.
Unknown title, unknown artist, unknown date - because I forgot to record it. Probably late 16th century.
"Salome," Unknown artist, mid 16th century. No, Salome
does not refer to a man's decapitated head being likened to salami. Rather, Salome is the name of King Herod's daughter, and the unfortunate head belonged to St. John the Baptist. As the story goes, St. John was imprisoned by Herod after chastising him for divorcing his wife. On Herod's birthday, his daughter Salome performed a dance for him, which he liked so much he promised her anything she wanted. Naturally, she asked for St. John's head on a platter. This is another biblical image that's duplicated often; this is probably the sixth or seventh time I've seen it around. Yet I had never heard this story before coming here, seeing paintings of it everywhere, and finally looking into it. I'm no fan of the bible, but I'm not sure how a decapitated St. John could have escaped the general scope of my religious knowledge. I mean come on, the man's head is just casually on a plate!
"Deposition," Paolo Caliari, late 16th century. Another example of the deposition image, but painted nearly a hundred years after the first one I showed:
Same image - subtle differences. Faces in the latter painting look more realistic, more mournful. Christ's body is more detailed and more muscular, showing that advances in basic anatomical knowledge had been made. The background is shown more realistically as well; the subjects and the landscape are almost on the same plane in the first painting, whereas the subjects are clearly the focal point and the landscape is clearly in the background in the second.
"Christ Shown to the People," Paolo Farinati, early 17th century. It's fairly evident that this painting is much better than the first few I've shown. (Technically
speaking, at least. Let's not get into that silly argument about what defines works of art as "better" or "worse.") You can see the tension in Christ's body and can get a good sense of feeling and movement. The idea of perspective is carried out well to give the viewer the feeling that they are in
the painting rather than just looking
at the painting, like in this previous example from nearly 300 years prior.
When we think of our modern world, we often find ourselves wondering, "What did people do before cars? Or cellphones?" Sometimes I
wonder, "What did people do before perspective?
" Really, what were people's reactions when they saw their faces portrayed with buggy eyes and abnormally large foreheads? How did the ability to properly duplicate a human face on canvas (or in stone) evolve? How were techniques like perspective and angles and shadowing discovered?
While I don't have the answers to those questions, I do
know that very few people find them as fascinating as I do. So, if you've stuck with me to the end of this post, I thank you.
Labels: architecture, art, castles, culture, history, Italy, medieval, museums, tourism, Verona