Baroque Underworld, Paris
Baroque Underworld, Paris

The clandestine, shady world of the Italian capital is evoked in some 70 paintings; it is an unexplored aspect of the astonishing production of 17th century Roman artists ranging from Manfredi to Nicolas Régnier.

The exhibition was presented at the Villa Medici in Rome in the autumn of 2014. For the Petit Palais, it has been bolstered by some new, prestigious loans. This Roman netherworld, in which vice, poverty and every kind of excess flourished, has never been presented in France before.
Thanks to some exceptional loans from private collections and international museums (including the National Gallery, London; the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; the National Gallery of Ireland; the Louvre; the Galleria Borghese; the Palazzo Barberini; the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), visitors will be treated to works by school of Caravaggio painters of the first order, and works by the Bamboccianti and the principal Italianate landscape painters. Work by painters from all over Europe will be displayed: French artists include Valentin de Boulogne, Simon Vouet, Nicolas Tournier, and Claude Lorrain; artists from Northern Europe include Pieter Van Laer, Gerrit van Honthorst, and Jan Miel; and from the South painters such as Bartolomeo Manfredi, Lanfranco, Salvator Rosa and Jusepe de Ribera. What they all have in common is an artistic production in which they preferred to depict a naturalistic vision of ordinary life in Rome, rather than a hymn of praise to idealised beauty. They frequented the more sleazy areas and taverns of the city late at night, finding an inexhaustible source of inspiration in this crude world of poverty and violence, drinking and gambling. Many of the artists, particularly those from Northern Europe, belonged to a secret society called the ‘Bentvueghels’ (Dutch for ‘Birds of a Feather’) with Bacchus, god of wine and artistic inspiration, as their patron. It was a bohemian life, which the artists also occasionally depicted in paintings tinged with melancholy – works of great sublimity drawn from the lower depths.
Thanks to spectacular scenography by Italian opera director and scenographer Pier Luigi Pizzi, the exhibition evokes all the duality of Rome of that period – both the violence of the underworld and the splendour of the papal palaces.
There is an app to help get the most out of the exhibition; it includes an interview between Annick Lemoine and Pier Luigi Pizzi, commentaries on a selection of paintings, and a treasure hunt.

Francesca Cappelletti, academic curator, professor at the University of Ferrara
Annick Lemoine, academic curator, Chargée de mission for art history at the French Academy in Rome - Villa Médicis, University of Rennes II lecturer.
Christophe Leribault, Director of the Petit Palais

 Exhibition devised and organised with the French Academy in Rome - Villa Médicis and the Petit Palais .


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