1. The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula (1610)
It is believed to be one of the last works by Caravaggio. The Italian artist made it for Marcantonio Doria from Genoa. He was an art collector, and besides Caravaggio’s works, he owned pieces by prominent Renaissance artists like Raphael and Leonardo. Caravaggio was one of the most successful artists at the time. The painting was intended for Doria’s stepdaughter as she entered the religious order like Saint Ursula. According to the legend, Ursula was a devout princess from Cologne. Her kindness and beauty were well-known in distant lands as a pagan prince threatened her father to unleash war unless she marries him. To save her father and avoid marriage, she asked for a three years postponement and thousands of pious maidens to make a pilgrimage to Rome. This was a promise she made to an angel who also warned her of martyr’s death. On their way back, maidens were attacked by Huns, and all the women were enslaved or murdered. The picture depicts the moment of Saint Ursula’s death when a pagan king Hun pointed a narrow at her as she refused to marry him.
2. The Denial of Saint Peter (1610)
This is another late painting by Caravaggio. Three fingers pointed at Peter symbolize his three accusations and three denials of Christ. As Christ predicted, Saint Peter will be forced to deny him three times. But later Peter regretted it bitterly and confessed it. Even at the moment of denial depicted by Caravaggio, Peter’s denial was not sincere, as we can see tears in his eyes. Peter’s emotions were very important for the artist as his face is one of the focal centers of the composition. The composition is further complicated as a servant girl expected to look either at Peter or a soldier seems to look elsewhere. She seems not to believe in her own words. The work had a large influence on artists like Jose de Ribera and Lionello Spada.
3. The Adoration of the Magi (1753)
This picture is considered to be a sketch by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo for an altarpiece in Germany. This was one of the numerous pictures of this event from middle Ages to modern times. One of the most famous rococo artists, he decorated his pieces with much detail delicacy and grace prevailed in the composition. The style was especially popular in Germany. To feel the difference, it is useful to compare the piece by Tiepolo with the painting by Hieronymus Bosh or Gerard David. Poses and perspectives are simple. Maria gently holding a child and the Magi bowing respectfully. On Tiepolo’s painting, Mary and Joseph are looking like noble persons accepting guests rather than poor pious family. Despite the surroundings that are obviously poor, and the context of the picture means of expression prevail over the content.
4. Tobias and the Angel (1620)
This is painting Giovanni Batista Caracciolo. He was a famous follower of Caravaggio and the artist’s influence is quite noticeable in this piece. Being a Caravaggio’s contemporary, Caracciolo was one of the first to adopt his sculptural poses and the typical composition of light and shadow. Like Caravaggio, Caracciolo painted either for religious subjects of for private persons, and religious themes prevailed in his art. The picture describes events of the book of Tobit, a story from the Old Testament. Tobias is the young man traveling with disguised angel Raphael, who was meant to be his friend and mentor. One day, Tobias was almost devoured by the monstrous fish. When he defeated it, Raphael asked him to cut off its heart, gall, and liver as they were the holy medicine. The picture depicts this moment with dynamics and bright emotions.
5. A Cat Stealing Fish (the late 1660s)
This is a still life by Giuseppe Recco, a famous Neapolitan still life painter. The cat is caught at the moment of eating an octopus. Although the picture follows strictly Neapolitan still life tradition of the time, Recco’s mastery of depicting dazzling areas and uneven surfaces distinguished his works from all the others. Still life tradition in Naples of the time was a part of the Italian baroque, an art tradition of late Renaissance. Although Italy had much less political influence than other big European countries (like France and Spain), it continued to be an important cultural center, as well as Rome was still a spiritual center of Western Civilization. Baroque itself origins from Italy. Most previous paintings were influenced by this tradition. Contrasts, dynamic, emotions, grandeur, and pomp were the key features of the tradition. In still lives, all objects are painted with rich detail, fruits and flowers, meat, grapes, vine were the depicted most often. Unlike the majority of the baroque still lives, this picture is not intended to show wealth and abundance, but rather an artist’s talent to demonstrate the moment in time.
6. Venus and Adonis (Cigoli: 1559-1613)
This is one of the few surviving works by an Italian architect of early Baroque Lodovico Cardi (Cigoli). As Adonis suffer from fatal wounds, loving Venus leaned over him in tears. The artist wanted to show the pain and despair of the beautiful couple. It is notable that their surroundings are peaceful and innocent (a child cradle and a swan). The work demonstrates high attention to details and color. These features, along with poses and expression, denote mannerism, a transition period in European art between Renaissance and Baroque.