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Italy for the ages
litalie-pour-les-siecles-des-siecles - ARTACTIF
August 2022 | Temps de lecture : 20 min | 0 commentaire(s)

About the exhibition "Via Roma. Painters and photographers of the Neue Pinakothek in Munich", on view at the Granet Museum in Aix-en-Provence until 2 October.

The power of attraction of the country of Dante, Tintoretto and Caravaggio is no longer in question. The masterpieces of ancient statuary, Raphael's frescoes in the Farnesina, Michelangelo's figures in the Sistine... When he arrived in Rome on November 1, 1786, Goethe was so amazed to find all the works of art that he had never tired of seeing at home through engravings, that he settled here from September 1786 to April 1788. His book "Journey to Rome" was published in 1816, and more than twelve hundred German-speaking artists stayed here between 1815 and 1848, at the time of the Napoleonic wars and the reorganisation of the German and Austrian states, in this Eternal City which attracted artists and collectors from all over Europe.

For Rome has been the supreme reference for Western art for centuries. It is true. But in addition to coming to admire the famous works of art of Antiquity and the Renaissance, and to perfect their knowledge of art history, German artists also came to Italy to find what they did not have at home, even in the prestigious art capitals such as Berlin or Vienna: the vegetation and light of the South. Thus was born a German School of Italian landscape painting, of which a fine selection of paintings can be admired this summer and until 2 October at the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence in the exhibition "Via Roma. Painters and Photographers of the Neue Pinakothek-Munich". The noble genre of the classical landscape is brilliantly represented here, and the exhibition is very pleasant, much more accessible than it might seem at first glance.

In the 19th century, German landscape painters settled around the Via Sistina, while the man who was to become King Ludwig I of Bavaria made the Villa Malta, which he had acquired as a patron and collector, an essential meeting place for artists and intellectuals who had become Romans by adoption. The Nazarenes, a group of German painters born of a reaction against the Classicism advocated by Winckelmann and against the academic teaching of Füger, professor at the Vienna Academy, a group led by Johann Friedrich Overbeck, found in particular in the paintings of Raphael, Fra Angelico or Perugino something to fuel their mystical fervour, as they were so keen to give art new religious and patriotic foundations.

Among the forty or so paintings on display at the Musée Granet, thanks to Bavaria's largest museum, which agreed to exceptional loans during the period it was closed for renovation - landscapes, historical scenes, intimist scenes, genre scenes and paintings of the Nazarenes - many belonged to Louis I. And the nationalities are finally mixing to some extent, which was not the case at the time. The works from the Munich collections are in fact in cheerful dialogue with those of François-Marius Granet (1775-1849), a neoclassical painter who was born and died in Aix-en-Provence but who, like Ingres, also lived in Rome at the beginning of the 19th century before being appointed curator of the Louvre Museum in 1826. Although his research in the field of landscape painting is quite different, revealing an astonishing taste for an underground genre, his oil paintings reveal a modernism before its time, as his Roman work includes numerous representations of prisons, catacombs and caves.

It is fascinating to admire in the Aix museum all these different perspectives, these different artists' views on the Eternal City in particular, and on Italy in general. So many inexhaustible sources of inspiration, and fascinating far beyond borders and cultures. In his article for the summer issue of Connaissance des arts, Jérôme Coignard sets his sights on "Paysage héroïque", a painting done around 1812-1813 by Johann Christian Eberlein, to illustrate the classical rules in vogue at the time: a distant shot with mountains and hills silhouetted against the sky, a middle shot to give the illusion of depth, and a foreground to situate the action. The same is true of the "Winegrowers' Festival near Olevano", a painting by Joseph Anton Koch in 1812, with the added bonus of saltarelle dancers and picturesque costumes.

The first part of the exhibition, which is divided into four sections on the ground floor of the Musée Granet, is dedicated to paintings of idyllic landscapes that the Romantic sensibility sprinkled with "manifestations of a grandiose and formidable nature", as the journalist from Connaissance des Arts explains, evoking in particular Carl Blechen, one of the most brilliant representatives of this German School, which was poised between classicism and romanticism. Carl Blechen understood the benefits of oil painting by painting directly from nature, imitating the French who were already roaming the countryside with their tubes of paint and canvases, while the Germans were more accustomed to walking around with a sketchbook and a lead to sketch what they would then paint in their studio.

Ernst Willer's Civitella and, even more so, Caesar Metz's Landscape of the Roman Countryside show a new, more attentive view of nature, in the quality of light and the great effects of the sky. They give a really good account of the development of studies painted in the open air, which allow for more spontaneity and make the landscape a subject that is sufficient in itself. As Chateaubriand wrote as early as 1795: "cabinet studies, copies on copies, will never replace work from nature". One of the most passionate defenders of this German school was Caspar David Friedrich.

As you can see, this first part of the exhibition, in the form of an art gallery full of paintings, presents the richness and diversity of the styles of the painters of the period, from neo-classicism to romanticism to the beginnings of realism. The exhibition continues on the second floor with the presentation of eighty photographs from the exceptional collection of Munich film producer Dietmar Siegert, taken in and around Rome between the 1850s and the 1870s. Emblematic places such as the famous squares of Rome, the Villa Medici, the Quirinal, the Roman Forum, the Colosseum or the Arch of Titus, views of the Tiber and the passages of the Vatican, Tivoli, but also arches, porches and courtyards, monasteries or scenes of daily life testify to the work of a dozen photographers. These include the Italian Giacomo Caneva, but also the Englishman James Anderson and the Scotsman Robert MacPherson. Here again, the dialogue is obvious with the thirty or so graphic works by François-Marius Granet, washes and watercolours, from the Aix museum's collection. All roads in this exhibition lead to Rome.

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