Exhibition on “Baroque’s Underworld. Rome of Vices, Misery and Excesses”

Project location: ITALY, Rome
Project start date: September 2013 - Project end date: June 2015
Project number: 2013-031
Beneficiary: Académie de France à Rome - Villa Medici


The French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici is one of the European leading cultural institutions, and an unique laboratory for scientific and artistic research, hosting many international fellows in residence, and supporting patrimonial and contemporary art with a rich and diverse year-round cultural programming (cinema, exhibitions, music, literature, theatre…).
Villa Medici is an institution devoted not least to organising exhibitions, symposiums or seminars about culture, arts, humanities and their story, in particular in the French and Italian contexts (“Il sacco di Roma (1527)” in 2012, “Poussin e Mosè. Dal disegno all'arazzo” in 2011, “Granet. Roma e Parigi, la natura romantica” in 2009…).
As its Status conceived it as an ideal center for French-Italian cultural interactions, the Villa Medici plays a decisive part in the European and roman cultural life.
Families, locals and younger audiences as well as Italians, French and international tourists in Rome are among the Villa Medici’s regular visitors. The French Academy in Rome - Villa Medici, by the diversity of its programming, speaks to a wide range of visitors and diverse sensibilities.

Numerous exhibitions have shown the luxurious and virtuosa Rome of the Seicento, heiress of classical Antiquity, serving the triumphant power of the popes. But the fresco must be more complex. This exhibition’s ambition is to show, for the first time, the other side of the coin of this magnificent Rome of the early XVIIth century: not anymore the Rome of “idealistic beauty”, but the one painted “from life”. Because this other Rome – the “crude and common” one, the one of vices, misery and excesses – was the source of an unseen and stunning artistic production, as much for its diversity as for its paradoxes and inventions.
Very different painters like Valentin de Boulogne and Jan Miel, Sébastien Bourdon and Leonaert Bramer, Bartolomeo Manfredi and Johann Liss and even Claude Lorrain and Diego Velàzquez defied the visual codes and standards of beauty. All of them have celebrated and reinvented the universe of Rome’s dregs: the nightlife and its dangers, the Carnival and its debauchery, the taverns-high places for human tribulations, the beggars’ camps; a ludicrous and poetical, trivial and violent, human and melancholic world at the same time. As a visual counterpoint to the picaresque literature and the Commedia dell’arte, this is a phenomenon that cannot be either reduced to the production of the painters of debauchery, or understood through the Caravaggisti’s pittura al natural.
It should be considered in a wider context: the one of an international artistic community settled at the foot of Villa Medici, in the areas of Santa Maria del Popolo, Sant’Andrea delle Fratte and San Lorenzo in Lucina. Many of these artists are part of the Bentvueghels, the “band of birds”, a free association of Nordic artists, associated to Bacchus as a tutelary figure and famous for its orgies and Bacchanalian rites of initiation. Saddled with evocative nicknames: the lover, the free man, the puppet, etc., its members are both the disrupted guests of Roman taverns and the authors of their own imaging.
Being successively playful echoes of the artists’ contemporary lives, crude farces, sophisticated celebration of the pleasures of the senses; combining technical virtuosity, erotic comments, moral and satirical intentions as well as philosophical and poetic ones, these works try to surprise or even provoke the spectator, to invite him, in fine, to a metaphysical meditation on the fickleness of fortune and the fragility of human life.
The exhibition will present about eighty works (paintings, drawings, engravings) created in Rome during the first half of the XVIIth century by Italian, French, Dutch, Flemish, German and Spanish artists. It will be the opportunity of bringing together loans from prestigious European public institutions – The London National Gallery, the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, the Rijksmuseum, the Musée du Louvre, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica (Palazzo Barberini), the Musei Capitolini… – and works from private collections, and studying them as a corpus for the first time.

This project, which received a grant from the Nando Peretti Foundation, represents the opportunity of renewing and revive its tradition of patrimonial and historical exhibitions, with a very original and unseen scientific topic. This project is developed as a starting point for new studies and should arouse young researchers’ interest. The Villa Medici is collaborating with researchers and curators of European institutions and international scientific communities around this stimulating object, and have already committed essays in different languages for the exhibition catalogue.
It will certainly be a major moment of the cultural scheduling of these last years and years to come, on which occasion the Villa Medici will be opened to and addressing to various audiences. Around the exhibition will be conceived a wider cultural offer : readings, performances, concerts and castings, lectures and symposia on the thematics dealt with by the exhibition.
According to the new public program conducted by the French Academy, educational and creative activities specially designed for children and young audiences will be organized with classes of Rome and the periphery of the city.
An exceptional media coverage of this program is provided to the media in Italy and France. The exhibition will also be shown at the Petit Palais in Paris in 2015.

. April – December 2012: research and conception of the exhibition (travels to study and choose the works)
. February – December 2013: organization of the exhibition and loan requests; conception of the scientific and cultural program around the exhibition; writing of the catalogue
. January – August 2014 : production of the exhibition and the catalogue
. October 6th 2014 to January 11th 2015 : Rome, Académie de France à Rome – Villa Médicis
. February 3th 2015 to May 3th 2015 : Paris, Petit Palais – Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris

This research program represents an opportunity to develop new scientific relations and links in the history of art and humanities community around this original scientific project, through the constituting of scientific advisory committee of the exhibition, the research and contacts with foreign museums and collections, the writing of the catalogue and the organization of conferences or symposia during the exhibition.
The originality of the exhibition is a chance to welcome even more public at Villa Medici, including a new audience thanks to the educational activities.

think global, act local
you are here: Home  > Projects:  Cultural/Artistic or Europe  (or Both)  > 2013-031  > Project Description