Geniuses and Masterpieces VI.

Caravaggio's David

29 September 2006 - 29 October 2006

At the final chamber exhibition of the Geniuses and Masterpieces series, we submit a special expression of beauty to the visitor. The works on view at the show of Caravaggio (1571–1610), and his follower, as well as Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), might provide an answer to the question of in what sense we might consider paintings that depict the frightful, the repulsive or the gruesome as beautiful.

Caravaggio's David, one of the most famous works of Rome's Galleria Borghese, shocks the viewer with its brutally naturalist depiction of the horror of death, with the severed head of Goliath. The David and Goliath of one of Caravaggio's anonymous followers, lent by the Caylus Anticuario Collection in Madrid, softens with idealisation and classicising beautification the unsparingly true to nature portrayal of the story. Lucas Cranach the Elder's Salome from our own collection, on the other hand, bears such a close resemblance to the much later Fame Fatale in Symbolism, that it is customary to regard it as the antecedent of this type of image. The German Renaissance artist, with ironic reserve, places at the focus of the work the extraordinarily effective power of the woman over the man, and his defencelessness in the face of the erotic power of attraction. A good number of painters have recomposed in the spirit of the same thought, among them the German-Venetian Jan Lys (1597-1631), also appearing in the exhibition with his story of the Old Testament, Judith and Holofernes. Alongside Liss's rich painting of sweeping momentum and satirical overtones, Artemisia Gentileschi's (1593–1652) painting, of Sisera and the figure of Jael, whom she has punished with a ghastly death, will also be on view.

With the exhibited works, we would like to render palpable how the diverse and often concurrent aesthetic principles of the 16th and 17th century influenced the presentation of frightening, bloody scenes, and how we can judge the depiction of martyrdom, murder and cruelty, from a historical, art historical or psychological point of view.

Curator of the exhibition: Vilmos Tátrai