Paris. The still life in the Grande Galerie du Louvre: it took a bit of Neapolitan madness for this minor genre to rub shoulders with the great history paintings that make up the official narrative of Italian art seen from France. And what still lifes! On the left, a tangle of marine animals the size of a crucifixion where a water turtle is dying with teary eyes, like a Christ in pain. To the right, a mountain of ripe fruit on the verge of putrefaction, bright citrus and waterlogged grapes. Between these two canvases, signed Giuseppe Recco for the first, Abraham Brueghel and Giuseppe Ruoppolo for the second, a large Madonna by Luca Giordano: three works from the Capodimonte collection which are part of the dramaturgy and mystique of Neapolitan painting. “The thing that struck me the most at the Louvre was the misunderstanding of southern Baroque, of this violent and poetic identity”, observes Sylvain Bellenger, the director of the Museum of Capodimonte, in Naples, seventy works of which are invited to Paris for the summer.
The hanging of the Capodimonte works in the Grand Gallery does not stem only from the invitation of a friendly museum which is closing for two years for renovations. It is thought of as a critical reflection on two collections, and in particular the one that plays at home: what is the Italian painting fund of the Louvre? what is he saying? what is he omitting? what are its shortcomings? Because, yes, the Louvre “doesn’t have everything”. Masaccio, for example, is absent from his picture rails: the Capodimonte temporarily fills this gap with one of the finest works by the first Italian to use geometric perspective.
“A new vision of Italy”
The two collections prove to be complementary: that of the Louvre presents an idealized vision of Italian art, a collection of its finest examples in order to embody in Paris the spirit of the genius of the Renaissance. The Farnese collection, which forms the Capodimonte collection, has an encyclopaedic ambition, and can uninterruptedly tell the story of transalpine art from the 12th century to contemporary art. The two museums intend to take advantage of this confrontation to feed the reflection on their major projects, in progress or to come. The Louvre is thus planning for 2024 a new complete hanging of the Grande Galerie, for which Sébastien Allard, director of the Department of Paintings, promises a “new vision of Italy”. The Naples museum is engaged in a vast restructuring, the work of which began in January of this year: its director is delighted with this change of scenery of the Neapolitan works, which gives avenues for the future hanging: “The bringing together of the paintings is in itself an event: here the force of the composition of [Giovanni] Bellini is revealed! », enthuses Sylvain Bellenger in front of The Transfigurationone of the finest canvases by the Venetian master, and in the Farnese collection. “Moving the works here makes us think about subjects for the future Capodimonte,such as the use of period frames”, adds the French director – on the way out nonetheless.
The interest of this confrontation is, for the two institutions, well understood, but for the amateur or the simple tourist, what does it bring? First of all, it should be noted that the scenography is clear, thanks to large hangings presenting concise texts, labels and suspensions of red frames allowing the works from the Bay of Naples to be identified at a glance. The progression of the Grande Galerie gains in exhaustiveness: Masaccio, therefore, in the preamble, then works from the Quattrocento drawing towards Flemish Gothic, a masterpiece by Guido Reni, before the dramatized violence specific to Neapolitan art, embodied by Luca Giordano, Mattia Preti or Francesco Guarino. If they pass over a few fairly obvious mirror effects between the two collections, the visitor will be able to appreciate new and relevant connections from the point of view of art history: putting the dark Flogging of Caravaggio (Capodimonte) next to the very Mannerist Incredulityof Saint Thomas signed Francesco Salviati (Louvre) thus makes it possible to understand that there is also mannerism in Caravaggesque Baroque.
The invitation continues upstairs with two small rooms, one of which, devoted to the history of the collection, presents its treasures, including the “Cassette Farnese” and the book The Fall of the Giants by Filippo Taglioni. The other room has drawn on the Capodimonte’s graphic collection for a didactic subject around cardboard and the reproducibility of works. Two additions that would have deserved, given the quality of the works, to be highlighted within a larger space.