MUCH spoiled by the cracking of the paint and probably by the restorer, is the long wall-panelling in the Loggia Palladiana, by Tiepolo, called the Brazen Serpent. It is probably not wholly by Gianbattista, but may have been from his studio where his son and other assistants helped him with his large decorative work.
The subject gives opportunity for the display of wonderful knowledge of the human figure, and in the twisted, bent, doubled-up, and contorted limbs, arms, and bodies of these anguished Israelites Tiepolo proves his mastery incontrovertibly. The suitability of its subject for pictorial decoration might be as much questioned as that of the Mas-sacre of the Innocents, about which Ruskin could find nothing too bad to say.
In Loggia Palladiana, as well as in the first corridor and in Room 19, Feti has examples of his works. By far the best of these is the one called Melancholy, which is in the Loggia. This is the figure of a woman similar to one by him in the Louvre, and it is painted with real expression and feeling.
Domenico Feti was a Roman, born in 1589 and dying at Venice in 1624. He was a pupil of Ludovico Cardi, and is enrolled among the natu ralisti, though he studied perhaps most of all the works of Giulio Romano. He painted Biblical and mythological scenes as well as portraits, and his oil-paintings are decidedly better than his frescoes. He is mostly represented by small genre pictures, but some of his portraits are spirited and lifelike.
By Placido Fabris are eleven pictures, all in the Loggia. Of these, Amour and Psyche is one of the least attractive. It depicts Psyche nude to her hips, lying back on a rock within a grotto, her eyes lifted to Amour, who is poised just above her head, an arrow in one hand, the other touching her curly hair with its finger-tips. They are very ordinary types, and might better have posed as chorus for a comic opera. Skill in modelling and graceful handling of draperies do not save the picture from being hopelessly decadent.
Far different is the Portrait of the Dead Canova. Here is no straining for effect, no sinking into the merely pretty, no catering to the lowered taste of the times. It shows only the head of the dead sculptor lying back in profile on the pillows, the eyes half-closed, the long Roman nose and iron jaw attenuated by age and illness. It is painted broadly, simply, and with a rigid insistence upon truth that in its very barrenness of presentation possesses an infinite pathos.
But it is in such a portrait as that of Captain Gaspar Craglietto where Fabris is seen at his best. It is the likeness of an elderly man, facing three-quarters to the right, while his eyes are turned to the left. He wears- a high stock, has thin, , ‘bite, curling hair, with neither beard nor moustache to help cover up that pleasant but determined mouth with its long upper lip. The keenness of regard in those wide-open eyes is indicative of the abounding life expressed in the whole countenance. Every-where, in the firm planes of the flesh, in the sharp, decided lines of the contour, it is that impression of life, vitality, actuality, that Fabris has succeeded in expressing to a remarkable extent. The smoothness of the modelling and the exquisite handling of the brush help rather than hinder this impression.
The Flemish painter of dogs, birds, and all kinds of game, who ranks hardly second to Snyders, has only one picture in the Academy, which, though a characteristic, is far from being a celebrated piece. Scarcely any one could portray dead game as could Jan Fyt. His brush was so supple, so light, so minute, and at the same time so broad in its execution, that he was particularly happy in his rendering of fur and feathers. He was born in Antwerp nearly thirty years after Snyders, but he outlived him only four years, dying in 1651. His dogs are as wonderful creations as are those by the older man, and his pictures of hunts are as full of life and fire. The Dead Game piece by him in the Loggia Palladiana is not up to his capabilities, but the dead hare and partridge and the dog looking in at the spoils give some idea of his flexible brush in the treatment of feathers and fur.
Shown at more nearly his true worth is Hondecoeter with his two canvases in the Loggia. One of these represents the victorious survivor of a cock-fight. These battles of the barnyard were favourite themes with him, and he has painted many bitter onslaughts where feathers were flying, where beak and spur, claws and wings, were as deadly weapons as gun or bayonet. Here the encounter is over. His enemy is vanquished, and the great white rooster stands with feet planted wide apart, his ruffled but uninjured wings slightly spread, his white breast swelling with the glory of victory, his eye blazing gratification, his beak open, proclaiming far and wide the news of his might and power. At his feet at the left is his opponent, his eye already glazing in death. On a rock at the right is a white hen, her whole mien one of frenzy, whether in joy or grief at her lord’s triumph, who shall say?
The other canvas is a quieter scene, showing a handsome white hen in a yard with four chickens, and slightly back a rooster standing on a rock with all the assurance and ease of the lord of the manor. At the left is a peacock. Hondecoeter’s tendency to black shadows is seen in both of these, but on the whole they show his consummate mastery in portraying the forms, the characteristics, and the habits of the poultry-yard.
Melchior d’Hondecoeter was a pupil of his father, Gijsbert, a little known painter, and later on of J. B. Weenix, who was his uncle. He was born in Brabant in 1636, but moved early to Amsterdam and died there in 1695. Hondecoeter is the Van Dyck of the poultry-yard. His cocks, hens, ducks, geese, and pigeons have the dignity, the suavity, the ease of high breeding, the brilliant robes, and the perfect aplomb of Van Dyck’s portraits of royalty. No one else has ever so truthfully, so vigorously, so intimately portrayed the domestic feathered tribe. His brush was light and sure, and his knowledge of bird and poultry anatomy was prodigious. He never failed, either, to indicate with unerring touches the individual characteristics of his model. His presentation of the lordly pride and unquenchable self-assurance of Mein Herr, the ” Cock of the Walk,” was glee-fully appreciative of the mightiness of him depicted. But no touch of caricature, no hint of the human point of view, ever entered to spoil the absolute naturalness of his portrait. Hondecoeter painted not only the ordinary denizens of the barn-yard, but swans, parrots, peacocks, and other foreign birds as well. Generally speaking, his colour may be called extremely brilliant and clear. In the shadows, however, he frequently shows a heavy darkness, and at times this dun-coloured note strays even into his lights.
It is for historical rather than artistic reasons that Le Brun’s painting of the Magdalen deserves attention. When, after the downfall of Napoleon, France was ordered to disgorge the art treasures which her conquering armies had brought in triumph from the Italy they had pillaged, she used every possible means to disregard the command. All sorts of expedients were attempted to prevent the return of the priceless art gems. Various pictures and statues entirely disappeared, and of others it was stoutly maintained that they did not belong to the nations claiming them. In most cases, however, she was forced to give up her spoils. In one signal instance, nevertheless, she scored victoriously. Veronese’s great Cena, which Napoleon had sent home from Venice, was declared by the authorities of the Louvre to be in such frail condition that another removal would unquestionably wreck it for ever. And so persistently did she urge this, backed up by the unmistakable in-juries which its journey from Venice had wrought upon it, that finally she won the day. The Cena stayed in Paris, and for it in exchange France sent to Venice this flamboyant Magdalen, by her own son of a degenerate art, Le Brun. Considering the fact that some of the highest authorities on the ethics of war and conquest believe that France had a right to keep a certain part of her ceded treasures, one can hardly help smiling in sympathy with the adroitness of the Gallic wit in this case. At the same time the Academy of Venice is no place for such a work as this poor sample of the art of Louis XIV.
It represents the interior of a rich festival-hall of classic lines of architecture, in the centre of which, on a couch beside a table elaborately spread, lies Jesus, dressed in a red robe and blue mantle, his profile turned to the right, his hand extended to the Magdalen, who is kneeling before him with her hands joined in prayer. Her dress is blue, over which is a mantle of yellow. At the left is a merry company in Oriental costumes. Above, from the ceiling, is suspended a green drapery, and in the background near a wall is seen a young page preparing an incense. Nothing in this picture is simple, natural, or direct. The overloaded draperies, forced gestures, red tones, crowded composition, and whole theatric grandiose aspect are characteristic of the man who was fit exponent of the follies, grandeur, and interminable posings of the Grand Monarque. Ruskin’s scathing comparison of the two pictures is really not overdrawn. ” The Cena of Paolo Veronese being worth, I should say, roughly, about ten good millions of sterling ducats, or twenty ironclads; and the Le Brun worth, if it were put to its proper use, precisely what its canvas may now be worth to make a packing-case of.”
Very mediocre works are mostly in the corridors, among them canvases by Palma Giovane, Domenico Tintoretto, Feti, Bordone, and Padovanino.
Francesco Beccaruzzi, who was a pupil of Pordenone, has in the first corridor a picture which has been considered by Ridolfi as his masterpiece. This is St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata. It is a large composition with life-size figures. In the foreground are the six saints, Ludovic, Damian, Catherine, Jerome, Paul, and Anthony, bearing their emblems. St. Francis is removed somewhat from this group, and kneels on a hillock in the middle distance, near some trees. Beyond is a wide-stretched landscape. From the sky above rays of light are spreading out, descending to the lifted hands of the kneeling saint. Cherubim and the crucifix can be seen in the centre of this heavenly glory. The compositional qualities of this picture are excellent, and some of the heads are finely delineated, St. Catherine being especially lovely. The picture was painted for an altar-piece in the Church of the Franciscans at Conegliano.
Perhaps as satisfactory as any of these generally very unsatisfactory pictures in these halls are several canvases by Padovanino of children. They show a side of his art in which he was unusually successful. Before him Italian painters had seldom succeeded in painting childhood. They could depict baby angels or putti at the foot of the Ma-donna’s throne, but when it came to simple, every-day children, they generally failed. Their tiny boys and girls look mostly like diminutive men and women. Padovanino has been called a mere imitator of Titian and Veronese. In his pictures of children, at least, if nowhere else, he shows real originality. And perhaps his greatest claim to artistic immortality is the fact that he was practically the first Italian to paint childhood successfully.