A number of artists featured in the special exhibition Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums are represented in the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum. This is the second in a series of blog posts that will highlight Milwaukee’s paintings during the run of the exhibition.
Imagine it is the early 18th century. You are an Italian noble and need to decorate your villa. Who do you hire to make some paintings for you?
For many, the answer would have been Andrea Locatelli (Italian, 1695-1741). He’s not a household name today, but during his lifetime, Locatelli was famous. The venerable Colonna family of Rome, who were great art patrons, owned 80 of his paintings!
The Milwaukee Art Museum has a lovely pair of paintings from Locatelli’s late career: Landscape with a River and Group of Figures Near A Roman Altar and Mountainous Landscape with Shepherds and Animals.
Hanging on the wall, the paintings would have looked like windows overlooking a view of the Italian countryside: lush trees framing Roman ruins, hills in the background, a river in the mist. It’s definitely Italy, but it’s an idealized Italy—you would not be able to recognize this particular location, because it doesn’t actually exist.
To the dramatic landscape, Locatelli has added small-scale figures. In the river landscape, some well-dressed travelers and country women stand around a half-nude figure of a man gesturing dramatically. In the mountainous landscape, shepherds and their dog make their way through the valley.
There is no elaborate narrative here. The figures are meant to add to the charm and human interest of the paintings, the same way that the ancient ruins do!
Overall, Locatelli’s paintings evoke the balanced elegance of the Italian Rococo. But they come from contentious beginnings.
In the 1600s, a group of northern European artists came to Rome and established successful careers. They brought with them the style of genre painting—ordinary people in everyday situations—which was so popular in their homeland. One artist, Pieter van Laer (Dutch, 1599-ca. 1642), was nicknamed il Bamboccio (large baby) due to his disproportionate body. The group of painters became known as the bamboccianti, and eventually any small-scale genre painting became known as bambocciate. Here’s an example by Karel Dujardina (Dutch, 1626-1678).
The Italian aristocracy and bourgeoisie couldn’t get enough of bambocciate. Italian artists, however, were highly critical of inclusion of common people from contemporary Italian life into art. They considered it ugly and in poor taste. The money to be made from these paintings, however, meant that Italian artists began to adopt the subject matter. Locatelli is an artist of a later generation who specialized in this type of painting.
But it is clear that genre is not the primary interest for Locatelli. He was also influenced by artists who worked in the classicizing landscape tradition, creating idealized landscapes peopled with attractive figures in order to form a beautiful painting. French painter Gaspard Dughet (1615-1675) is just one of the landscape painters that inspired Locatelli.
When our collection galleries reopen in 2015, you might see the Milwaukee Art Museum’s paintings by Andrea Locatelli. In the meantime, you can see a lovely example of Locatelli’s work in the feature exhibition Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums , on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum through January 4, 2015.