Turner in Turin

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Façade of S. Giovanni, the Cathedral at Turin, 1819. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856.
Source: The Tate Gallery / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

In the summer, one’s thoughts turn to travel – experiences in distant destinations, often captured in diaries and sketchbooks. But in the era of COVID-19, mobility is limited, and one must often resort to vicarious voyages.

Consider Joseph Mallord William Turner. He traveled to Italy twice, in 1819 and 1828-9. On both occasions he passed through Turin and made numerous sketches of the city and its surroundings in his sketchbooks now preserved in the Tate. Seven years ago I referred to his drawings of baroque buildings in Turin in a blog post focusing on John Singer Sargent, but could only link to them on the Tate website. In the meantime, the Tate has made images from its collection available under a CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 license. This means one is free to include images of Turner’s sketches in a blog post as long as proper attribution is made, and his drawings certainly merit a closer look with this generous license.

On both trips to Turin, Turner sketched the chief monuments of the historic city center – the Piazza Castello with Palazzo Madama (by Filippo Juvarra), the church of San Lorenzo (by Guarino Guarini), the Palazzo Reale, and the cathedral with its campanile (upper story by Juvarra) and the Chapel of the Holy Shroud (Guarini). He also looked farther afield to Superga and the Monte dei Cappuccini. Turner seems to have been particularly enamored of the Shroud Chapel, drawing it several times from various angles. During an age characterized by backlash against the baroque opulence of previous centuries, he delighted in the prickly silhouette of the reliquary chapel.

His fascination with the building over a decade recalls the description of the chapel written nearly a century earlier by another Englishman, Joseph Spence:

“like a pineapple on the autside”

“…that celebrated dome is a collection of angles (something like a pineapple on the autside and like nothing in the world on the inside).”
– Joseph Spence (1740)*

Like a pineapple, the exterior of the Shroud Chapel is exotic and otherworldly, an artifact of a place far away from the quotidian cares of life at home.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Campanile and Dome of Cathedral at Turin, 1819. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856.
Source: The Tate Gallery / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Piazza Castello, Turin, 1819. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856.
Source: The Tate Gallery / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Place du Palais Madame, Turin, 1828-9. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856.
Source: The Tate Gallery / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Note
*Joseph Spence, Letters from the Grand Tour, edited by Slava Klima (Montreal & London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1975), quoted in Valentina Assandria, Chiara Gauna, and Giuseppina Tetti, “L’architettura descritta: viaggiatori e guide a Torino tra Sei e Settecento,” in G. Dardanello, editor, Sperimentare l’architettura. Guarini, Juvarra, Alfieri, Borra e Vittone (Turin: Fondazione CRT, 2001): 325-345; here 337.

Images of the Plague in Rome, 1656

Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s Plague Broadsides

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In 1657, the Roman publisher Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi issued a series of three large prints depicting daily life in Rome during the plague epidemic of 1656. The prints are each composed of a series of vignettes depicted in four or five horizontal strips, almost like a graphic novel or comic book. The French artist Louis Rouhier probably designed the prints. Similar series were produced by other publishers in Rome that year and, a decade later, marking the plague in London in 1665.

Individual vignettes from the three de Rossi prints featured in the image gallery above recall our current condition with the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. People pore over the lists of the dead, hospitals are set up at churches throughout the city, carts or boats transport the sick or the dead, and trenches at the edge of town serve as mass graves. Those who are able flee the city. Measures for quarantining travelers at Porta del Popolo or “disinfecting” cash with vinegar remind us that basic tenets of public health have a long tradition, even if the importance of hand washing only became clear during the course of the nineteenth century.

De Rossi’s broadsides offer a graphic, sobering perspective on the recurring human ordeal of epidemics. Yet we can take solace in the fact that no pandemic lasts forever: this, too, shall pass.

Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi, Ordini diligenze e ripari fatti con universal beneficio dalla paterna Pietra di N. S. PP. Alesandro VII. et emin.mi SS. card.li della S. congr.me della sanita per liberare la citta di Roma dal contagio, 1657
Source: Rijksmuseum / public domain

Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi, Episodes in the plague in Rome of 1656, 1657
Source: Wellcome Collection / CC BY 4.0

Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi, Episodes from the outbreak of plague in Rome, 1656, 1657
Source: Wellcome Collection / CC BY 4.0

Further Reading

Ellen B. Wells, “Prints Commemorating the Rome, 1656 Plague Epidemic,” Annali dell’Istituto e Museo di storia della Scienza di Firenze 10:1 (1985): 15-21.

Defying the Baroque: Rome Turin Paris 1680 – 1750

Update June 2020: Exhibition Extended Through 20 September 2020

Exhibition at Venaria Reale, 13 March – 14 June 2020

Though not involved in the planning myself, I am pleased to note the upcoming exhibition Sfida al Barocco at Venaria Reale, near Turin, organized by my friends at the Fondazione 1563 per l’Arte e la Cultura, and curated by Michela di Macco and Giuseppe Dardanello.

As described on the museum website:

An extraordinary artistic journey towards modernity.

Over 200 masterpieces from the most prestigious museums and collections around the world [assembled] for an not-to-miss exhibition, set up in the grandiose spaces of the Juvarra’s Citroniera at Reggia di Veneria.

The defiance to the Baroque is launched by artists in the name of modernity with the experimentation with new forms and new communication languages developed between 1680 and 1750. A search that develops between Rome and Paris, the two poles of attraction of modern Europe, with which the Turin of those years entertains an intense dialogue of ideas and exchange of works and artists, which contribute to an epochal season of renewal of the arts on the international scene.

The ancient fables in theatrical history paintings, the sacred tales in altarpieces, the seduction and grace in sculptures and paintings, the planning of spectacular architectural models and the precious refinement of furnishings and ornaments (together with the splendid Savoy Bucentaur, to close the exhibition) accompany visitors along the exciting and amazing journey in search of a modern identity.

The Fondazione 1563 has produced an informative blog (in Italian) tracing the development of the exhibition, and chronicling some of the earlier exhibitions on baroque art and architecture held in Turin during the course of the twentieth century. The exhibition press release may be downloaded from the foundation’s website.

One can only hope that the current public health crisis in northern Italy eases in the next weeks so that the exhibition can open as planned. Fingers crossed for the team in Turin!

Holiday Cranberries

Cranberry, late 1800s-early 1900s. Firm of Peter Carl Fabergé (Russian, 1846-1920). Chalcedony, jade, rock crystal, gold; overall: 11.5 x 4.8 cm (4 1/2 x 1 7/8 in.).
Source: The Cleveland Museum of Art, The India Early Minshall Collection 1966.446 / CC0 1.0 public domain dedication

The Best Part of Thanksgiving and Christmas

Although ornate Fabergé eggs usually leave me cold, this sprig of cranberries made by the Fabergé firm is absolutely charming. Artfully devised from semi-precious stones and gold, they never wilt or shrivel. The deceptively simple piece immortalizes the humble berries.

This is just as it should be, since cranberry relish, cranberry sauce, cranberry juice, cranberry bread, and dried cranberries punctuating cookies or muffins are among my perennial favorites. Their cheery color and tangy flavor turn meals into celebrations. For me, they are a highlight of the year-end holidays.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and a festive holiday season filled with all the cranberries you can eat.

Building Trades in Seventeenth-Century Bologna

Francesco Curti, Virtù et arti essercitate in Bologna (Trades Practiced in Bologna), Plate 6 (Building Trades), mid-17th century.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), M.69.7.1g / public domain
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE

This print – one of a group of twenty depicting various trades – provides an excellent overview of the different kinds of workers found at an early modern construction site. Here, the specific context is mid-seventeenth-century Bologna, and the artist Francesco Curti illustrates around a dozen specific jobs, most conveniently labeled.

Misuratore and architetto: detail of above image

The range runs from the foppish architect – identified as “architetto” on the sheet of paper he holds – through the masons (“muratori”), painter (“imbianchitore”), stonecutter (“tagliapietre”), and unskilled manual laborer (“manouale”) apparently mixing mortar. Other figures include donkey drivers (“asinari”), a sawyer (“segantino”), a kiln operator (“fornasaro“), a plaster maker (“gessaruolo”), and a carpenter (“falegname”). Many of these vocational designations varied regionally – for instance, the “tagliapietre” was elsewhere known as a “scalpellino” – but the jobs performed were similar all across Italy.

The man standing to the left of the architect is most likely a misuratore, a building surveyor who measures the completed work for calculating the materials used and thus the costs. He holds his attribute, the measuring rod, but is not explicitly labeled with his occupation. Nonetheless, his role was central to the successful practical and financial administration of the building site.

The image gives an unusual glimpse into an active cantiere in Seicento Italy, and can serve as a valuable illustrated glossary for countless construction documents of the period.

* * *

Do note the related plate with artists – painter, sculptor, relief carver, and engraver – but also merchants, soldiers, artillery specialists, and a letter carrier!

Precious Stones: Fragments of the Chapel of the Holy Shroud

New Sculpture by Giulio Paolini

Last week, the Turin cultural sponsoring consortium Consulta per la Valorizzazione dei Beni Artistici e Culturali di Torino announced the upcoming work Pietre preziose that it commissioned from the artist Giulio Paolini. The sculpture, to be installed in the Giardini Reali behind the Palazzo Reale in Turin, will incorporate architectural fragments of Guarino Guarini’s Chapel of the Holy Shroud, which was severely damaged by fire in 1997. The sculpture will be unveiled on 26 October.

The Consulta prepared a preview video of the work (below) and issued a press release describing the project. To judge by the video, the work will consist of the architectural fragments of black Frabosa marble arranged on a stylized plan of the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, with additional new figural elements. The piece should be a highlight of the newly restored royal gardens, adjacent to the palace wing containing the chapel.

Additional reporting on the preview of Pietre preziose is available in La Stampa and La Repubblica. Currently, restoration of the Chapel of the Holy Shroud itself is scheduled for completion in 2018.

A Souvenir Shroud of Turin

Replica of the Shroud of Turin, possibly 19th century, Italian, painted cloth, H. 7 3/4″ x W. 21″ (19.7 x 53.3 cm)
Gift of Coudert Brothers, 1888
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 88.3.45

With Easter approaching, the annual sindonology season is upon us. This year’s curiosity comes from the vast, encyclopedic collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York: a miniature replica of the Shroud of Turin. While the original relic is around 4.5 meters long, this small version measures just over a half-meter in length.

According to the museum’s catalogue record, the replica is painted on the cloth and was acquired in 1888. The image of the Shroud – complete with the burn marks from the fire in Chambéry in 1532 – is surrounded with a floral border, an inscription, images of symbols and instruments of the passion at the corners, and two baskets of flowers at either side. The textile probably dates to the nineteenth century, and must have been intended as a devotional souvenir for pious pilgrims to the venerated relic.

The Metropolitan Museum also holds a photographic souvenir of the Shroud of Turin in its collection. The negative image of the face on the textile was taken by Giuseppe Enrie and dates to the 1931 ostension of the Shroud. The museum’s website offers an extremely informative catalogue entry on the photo and its context in Enrie’s career.

The video below gives a glimpse of the souvenirs available for contemporary pilgrims to the relic.


A souvenir stand at a recent ostension of the Shroud

Baroque Turin in Study Sketches

Piedmontese Baroque architecture – indeed any Baroque architecture – never figured widely in the drawings prepared by nineteenth-century architects on study tours of Italy. With the increasing availability of open access digitized image collections, one can search and compare thousands of such sketches and more formal studies in repositories such as Gallica, the architecture museums of the TU Munich or TU Berlin*, and the Massachusetts Digital Commonwealth collection. These sheets typically depict monuments of classical antiquity, the medieval period, or the Renaissance, but occasionally one finds examples recording Baroque buildings or urban ensembles.

A selection of such rare representations of Baroque Turin follows, including two cases of medieval / Baroque hybrid structures: Palazzo Madama, and Juvarra’s upper story and attic for the cathedral bell tower.**

Palazzo Barolo

Nohl Maximilian (1830-1863), Palazzo Barolo, Turin: Perspektivische Innenansicht. Bleistift auf Papier, 20,6 x 30,7 cm (inkl. Scanrand). Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität Berlin Inv. Nr. 13931.

Nohl Maximilian (1830-1863), Palazzo Barolo, Turin: Perspektivische Innenansicht. Bleistift auf Papier, 20,6 x 30,7 cm (inkl. Scanrand). Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität Berlin Inv. Nr. 13931. Public domain mark.

Palazzo Madama / Castello

Nohl Maximilian (1830-1863), Palazzo Madama, Turin: Ansicht. Bleistift auf Karton, 12,2 x 17 cm. Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität Berlin Inv. Nr. 13895.

Nohl Maximilian (1830-1863), Palazzo Madama, Turin: Ansicht. Bleistift auf Karton, 12,2 x 17 cm. Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität Berlin Inv. Nr. 13895. Public domain mark.

Stiehl Otto (1860-1940), Skizzen- und Fotoalbum 4: Palazzo delle due torri, Turin: Details. Bleistift auf Papier, (inkl. Scanrand). Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität Berlin Inv. Nr. 57189,008.

Stiehl Otto (1860-1940), Skizzen- und Fotoalbum 4: Palazzo delle due torri, Turin: Details. Bleistift auf Papier, (inkl. Scanrand). Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität Berlin Inv. Nr. 57189,008. Public domain mark.

Palazzo Civico / Piazza Palazzo di Città

m_digitam_0892584 Zanth TUM

Karl Ludwig Wilhelm von Zanth, “Mercato delle Erbe” in Turin
Source: Architekturmuseum der TU München, Signatur zant-1-27 , CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

[Turin_Palazzo_Civico]_Labrouste_Henri_btv1b85536903

Henri Labrouste, Plan de la Municipalité de turin [sic] et de la place du Marché qui la précède, from Voyage en Italie, 1825-1830
Source: Gallica /Bibliothèque nationale de France

Castello del Valentino

Labrouste BnF

Henri Labrouste, Le Valentin, près Turin, from Voyage en Italie, 1825-1830
Source: Gallica / Bibliothèque nationale de France

B1975.4.1931

Edward Lear, “From the long alley’s latticed shade”; Turin, (Italy.), after 1872. Not an architect, Lear prepared this drawing for his edition of the poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Source: Yale Center for British Art. Public domain.

Palazzo dell’Università

[Turin_Musée]_Labrouste_Henri_btv1b8553696k (2)

Henri Labrouste, Musée [entre les] Contrada del Po [et] Contrada della Zecca, from Voyage en Italie, 1825-1830
Source: Gallica / Bibliothèque nationale de France

Palazzo Trucchi di Levaldigi

[Turin_Palazzo]_Labrouste_Henri_btv1b85536955

Henri Labrouste, Palais [à l’angle de deux rues, dont la] Contrada di S. Carlo, from Voyage en Italie, 1825-1830
Source: Gallica / Bibliothèque nationale de France

Campanile del Duomo

Green, Campanile, Turin, Digital Commonweath

James C. Green, Campanile, Turin, c. 1891
Source: Boston Architectural College Library / Digital Commonwealth, CC BY 3.0

* * *

Notes:

* Kudos to the Architekturmuseum der TU Berlin for its recently implemented public domain policy and the convenient metadata attached to its image files.

** I have consciously omitted from this selection the numerous drawings of Turin available in the Joconde database by the French artists Prosper Barbot and Pierre-Adrien Pâris, and may return to them in the future.

You Gotta Have Art

Sign Petition to Save the Detroit Institute of Arts

The title of this old commercial for the Detroit Institute of Arts says it all: please sign this petition begun by Professor Jeffrey Hamburger of Harvard University and addressed to Mr. Kevyn Orr, Detroit emergency manager.  As a Detroit-area native and former DIA employee, this cause is very important to me.

Petition Text

Prevent sale of works from the Detroit Institute of Arts

Dear Mr. Orr,

We, the undersigned, write to express our profound dismay at the news that the city of Detroit is considering auctioning off the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts to meet the city’s obligations as part of the current bankruptcy proceedings. The Institute of Art’s collections are not only among the finest in the United States; they rank among the greatest in the world and contribute to the city’s international reputation. To sell them, in whole or in part, would seal the city’s shame, dispose of one of the most visible manifestations of its proud history, and inflict permanent, irreparable harm on the city as a center for culture, tourism and commerce. One doesn’t help a patient, even one who’s very sick, by cutting out his or her heart. We urge you to resist the pressures being brought to bear by creditors to resort to what would be an act of draconian cultural iconoclasm without parallel in modern times.

Yours sincerely,
Jeffrey Hamburger
Harvard University

Click here to add your name to the petition.