Absolutism and Enlightenment: European Masterpieces from the Met, New York

 

The second chapter in ‘European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York’ (12 June until 17 October 2021) ‘Absolutism and Enlightenment’ takes us through the Italian Baroque, Dutch Golden Age, French Rococo and Neoclassical movements. These 30 works, together with those in ‘Devotion and Renaissance’ and ‘Revolution and Art for the People’, tell stories of Europe across 500 years, and the pivotal role art plays in reflecting and reshaping history.

Heightened emotion and theatricality were predominant characteristics of the Baroque movement, which began in Rome in the 1600s and spread through Europe until the mid-1700s. Scenes of domesticity, celebration and commerce ― known as genre painting ― emerged during the Dutch Golden Age at this time, as painters responded to the religious rupture of the Protestant Reformation and new wealth brought about through trade with the Americas and Asia. 

By the end of the 1600s, English, Spanish and French kings had challenged the authority of the Pope—some claiming their sovereign right to rule was divinely ordained. Increasingly, artists were employed by European kings and queens, with the court gradually displacing the Church as the primary source of artistic patronage. The highly decorative style known as Rococo, and its characteristic pastel shades and elaborate ornamentation were well-suited to subjects of love, music and leisure.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the spread of Enlightenment ideas began to threaten the king’s absolute power. Tensions came to a head with the French Revolution of 1789, when the French monarchy was violently overthrown.

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List of works in ‘Absolutism and Enlightenment’

Peter Paul Rubens
Flanders 1577–1640
The Holy Family with Saints Francis and Anne and the Infant Saint John the Baptist early or mid 1630s (illustrated)
Oil on canvas
176.5 x 209.6cm
Gift of James Henry Smith, 1902 / 02.24

The Holy Family is centred on the devoted figure of Mary and two playful, fleshy children — the young Jesus and Saint John the Baptist. The composition is dramatised through the presence of Saint Francis leaning forward towards the group. The contrast of deep browns and rich reds heightens an atmosphere of familial warmth and subdued golden light.

Celebrated during his lifetime, Peter Paul Rubens was extremely prolific, undertaking commissions for the courts of France, Spain and England from his base in the commercial and cultural hub of Antwerp, a major port city. He was also a businessman, scholar, collector, courtier and diplomat.

‘The Holy Family with Saints Francis and Anne and the Infant Saint John the Baptist’ early or mid 1630s

Peter Paul Rubens The Holy Family with Saints Francis and Anne and the Infant Saint John the Baptist early or mid 1630s

Guido Cagnacci
Italy 1601–63
The Death of Cleopatra c.1645–55
Oil on canvas
95 x 75cm
Purchase, Diane Burke Gift, Gift of J Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, Friends of European Paintings Gifts, Gwynne Andrews Fund, Lila Acheson Wallace, Charles and Jessie Price, and Álvaro Saieh Bendeck Gifts, Gift and Bequest of George Blumenthal and Fletcher Fund, by exchange, and Michel David-Weill Gift, 2016 / 2016.63

Velázquez (Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez)
Spain 1599–1660
Portrait of a Man c.1635
Oil on canvas
68.6 x 55.2cm
The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 / 49.7.42

Velázquez and his studio
(1623–60)
Don Gaspar de Guzmán (1587–1645), Count-Duke of Olivares c.1636 or later
Oil on canvas
127.6 x 104.1cm
Fletcher Fund, 1952 / 52.125

Salvator Rosa
Italy 1615–73
Self-Portrait c.1647
Oil on canvas
99.1 x 79.4cm
Bequest of Mary L Harrison, 1921 / 21.105

Pieter Claesz
The Netherlands 1596/97–1660
Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill 1628
Oil on wood
24.1 x 35.9cm
Rogers Fund, 1949 / 49.107

Bartolomé Estebán Murillo
Spain 1617–82
Virgin and Child c.1670s
Oil on canvas
165.7 x 109.2cm
Rogers Fund, 1943 / 43.13

Annibale Carracci
Italy 1560–1609
Two Children Teasing a Cat c.1587–88
Oil on canvas
66 x 88.9cm
Purchase, Gwynne Andrews Fund, and Bequests of Collis P Huntington and Ogden Mills, by exchange, 1994 / 1994.142

Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi)
Italy 1571–1610

The Musicians 1597 (illustrated in video highlight by Keith Christiansen, John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
Oil on canvas
92.1 x 118.4cm
Rogers Fund, 1952 / 52.81

Georges de La Tour
France 1593–1653

The Fortune-Teller c.1630s (illustrated in video highlight by Keith Christiansen, John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
Oil on canvas
101.9 x 123.5cm
Rogers Fund, 1960 / 60.30

Simon Vouet
France 1590–1649

Woman Playing a Guitar c.1618 (illustrated in video highlight by Keith Christiansen, John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
Oil on canvas
106.5 x 75.8cm
Purchase, 2017 Benefit Fund; Lila Acheson Wallace Gift; Mary Trumbull Adams and Victor Wilbour Memorial Funds; Friends of European Paintings and Henry and Lucy Moses Fund Inc. Gifts; Gift of Julia A Berwind, by exchange; Charles and Jessie Price, Otto Naumann, Mr and Mrs Richard L Chilton Jr, and Sally and Howard Lepow Gifts; Charles B Curtis Fund; and Theodocia and Joseph Arkus Gift, 2017 / 2017.242

‘The Fortune-Teller’ c.1630s & ‘Woman Playing a Guitar’ c.1618

Keith Christiansen highlights Caravaggio’s The Musicians 1597, Georges de La Tour’s The Fortune-Teller c.1630s and Simon Vouet’s Woman Playing a Guitar c.1618

Jean Siméon Chardin
France 1699–1779
Soap Bubbles c.1733–34
Oil on canvas
61 x 63.2cm
Wentworth Fund, 1949 / 49.24

Nicolas Poussin
France 1594–1665
Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man 1655
Oil on canvas
125.7 x 165.1cm
Marquand Fund, 1924 / 24.45.2

Nicholas Poussin creates a sense of timeless balance and order, even when describing moments of high emotion. In the centre of this composition, the apostles Peter and John are shown healing a man outside the temple. The work is monumental and carefully framed, its rush of perspective leading our eye past the stairs and milling crowd to vivid skies beyond, which are a hallmark of the artist’s work.

Poussin was born in France but Rome was his preferred home, and this painting pays homage to masterpieces of that city. The outstretched hands and near touch of the famed fingers of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, for example, are echoed here in the hands of the lame man and Saint Peter.

Poussin’s composition achieves an overall balance through the repetition of colours in paired variations: blue and red, green with mauve, and blue and yellow recur like a melody set within the larger geometries of his classical vision.

‘Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man’ 1655

Nicolas Poussin Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man 1655

Claude Lorrain (Claude Gellée)
France c.1604/05–82
Sunrise c.1646–47
Oil on canvas
102.9 x 134cm
Fletcher Fund, 1947 / 47.12

Jacob van Ruisdael
The Netherlands 1628/29–82
Grainfields mid or late 1660s
Oil on canvas
47 x 57.2cm
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931 / 32.100.14

Johannes Vermeer
The Netherlands 1632–75

Allegory of the Catholic Faith c.1670–72 (illustrated in video highlight by Adam Eaker, Assistant Curator of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
Oil on canvas
114.3 x 88.9cm
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931 / 32.100.18

Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn)
The Netherlands 1606–69

Flora c.1654 (illustrated in video highlight by Adam Eaker, Assistant Curator, Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
Oil on canvas
100 x 91.8cm
Gift of Archer M Huntington, in memory of his father, Collis Potter Huntington, 1926 / 26.101.10

‘Flora’ c.1654 & ‘Allegory of the Catholic Faith’ c.1670–72

Adam Eaker highlights Johannes Vermeer’s Allegory of the Catholic Faith c.1670–72 and Rembrandt’s Flora c.1654

Meyndert Hobbema
The Netherlands 1638–1709
Woodland Road c.1670
Oil on canvas
94.6 x 129.5cm
Bequest of Mary Stillman Harkness, 1950 / 50.145.22

Aelbert Cuyp
The Netherlands 1620–91
Equestrian Portrait of Cornelis (1639–1680) and Michiel Pompe van Meerdervoort (1638–1653) with Their Tutor and Coachman c.1652–53
Oil on canvas
109.9 x 156.2cm
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931 / 32.100.20

Pieter de Hooch
The Netherlands 1629–84
Paying the Hostess c.1670
Oil on canvas
94.6 x 111.1cm
Gift of Stuart Borchard and Evelyn B Metzger, 1958 / 58.144

Gabriël Metsu
The Netherlands 1629–67
A Musical Party 1659
Oil on canvas
62.2 x 54.3cm
Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G Marquand, 1890 / 91.26.11

Jan Steen
The Netherlands 1626–79
Merry Company on a Terrace c.1670
Oil on canvas
141 x 131.4cm
Fletcher Fund, 1958 / 58.89

Jean-Baptiste Greuze
France 1725–1805
Broken Eggs 1756
Oil on canvas
73 x 94cm
Bequest of William K Vanderbilt, 1920 / 20.155.8

Antoine Watteau
France 1684–1721
Mezzetin c.1718–20
Oil on canvas
55.2 x 43.2cm
Munsey Fund, 1934 / 34.138

François Boucher
France 1703–70
The Toilette of Venus 1751
Oil on canvas
108.3 x 85.1cm
Bequest of William K Vanderbilt, 1920 / 20.155.9

Jean Honoré Fragonard
France 1732–1806
The Two Sisters c.1769–70
Oil on canvas
71.8 x 55.9cm
Gift of Julia A Berwind, 1953 / 53.61.5

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
France 1755–1842
Comtesse de la Châtre (Marie Charlotte Louise Perrette Aglaé Bontemps, 1762–1848) 1789
Oil on canvas
114.3 x 87.6cm
Gift of Jessie Woolworth Donahue, 1954 / 54.182

Marie Denise Villers
France 1774–1821
Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d’Ognes (died 1868) 1801 (illustrated)
Oil on canvas
161.3 x 128.6cm
Mr and Mrs Isaac D Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D Fletcher, 1917 / 17.120.204

This enigmatic portrait was created shortly after the French Revolution, during a brief period when women could train as artists and enter their work in the official Salon. The subject may have been Marie Denise Villers’s classmate in one of the women-only studios in the Louvre, Paris, which was first established as a public museum in 1793.

The young woman looks at us directly. Her dress of simple white Indian cotton was the height of fashion, and her hair is arranged in loose ringlets, in a style known as neo-Greek. In the distance, through the broken window, a young couple are captured in conversation.

‘Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d’Ognes (died 1868)’ 1801

Marie Denise Villers Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d’Ognes (died 1868) 1801

Sir Joshua Reynolds
England 1723–92
Lady Smith (Charlotte Delaval) and Her Children (George Henry, Louisa, and Charlotte) 1787
Oil on canvas
140.7 x 112.1cm
Bequest of Collis P Huntington, 1900 / 25.110.10

Francesco Guardi
Italy 1712–93
Venice from the Bacino di San Marco c.1765–75
Oil on canvas
121.9 x 152.4cm
Bequest of Adele L Lehman, in memory of Arthur Lehman, 1965 / 65.181.8


Buy the ‘European Masterpieces’ publication

Make the most of your experience. Keep as a souvenir the exhibition publication European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, available to purchase online through the QAGOMA Store or at the exhibition pop-up shop during the show. The full-colour 240pp hardback is available in two special cover editions, choose your favourite work — either Caravaggio‘s The Musicians 1597 or Marie Denise Villers with Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d’Ognes 1801 (illustrated). Alternatively, select the publication of choice when purchasing your admission tickets online.


The Australian-exclusive exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 12 June until 17 October 2021 is organised by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in collaboration with the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art and Art Exhibitions Australia.

The order of artworks in ‘Absolutism and Enlightenment’ by Katharine Baetjer, Curator Emerita, Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
All works are Collection: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Dimensions are given in centimetres (cm), height preceding width.

Featured image detail: Georges de La Tour The Fortune-Teller c.1630s
#QAGOMA #TheMetGOMA

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