"Caravaggio and Bernini" at Vienna Museum of Art History

The exhibition at the Vienna Museum of Art History advertise an immersion in the works of two titans of the Seicento — Caravaggio and Bernini, but it gives more than it promises.

Perhaps the subtitle of the exhibition “Baroque in Rome”…— describes its concept better than the main title. Since the headliners of this show — Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) and Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) — do not even make up a half of the pieces in the exhibition. Also, to judge the scale of the sculptor Bernini’s talent by his chamber works, one must engage both memory and imagination.

Most of the exhibits here are works by their contemporaries and followers: painters Artemisia Gentileschi, Guido Reni, Annibale Carracci, Nicolas Poussin and Mattia Preti and sculptures François Ducenois, Francesco Mocchi, Giuliano Finelli. Their works create appropriate context and help to see the well-known works of Caravaggio and Bernini in an unusual way.

Caravaggio’s works are famous for exaggerated sensitivity and naturalism, the demonstrative pleasure of suffering and gloomy moods. All these features are demonstrated here on his best paintings, such as The Madonna of the Rosary (1607)Boy Bitten by a Lizard (1593-1594) or The Crowning with Thorns (c. 1602/1604 or 1607).

As for Bernini, the main hits of this exhibition are Medusa and The Portrait of Thomas Baker. These are works where it is not necessary to understand, but just to admire the technical skills of the sculptor.

The curatorial decision of Gudrun Swoboda, which divided the halls into themes, requires from the viewer active participation. Reading the expositions’ sections’ titels at the exhibition (eg. Orrore & TerribilitàMotto & Azione) you can check your Italian. At the same time, you can decide with whom you are more inclined to agree: the curator, who grouped the works according to the types of feelings, or the critics, who have confessed their inability to distinguish between religious ecstasy and erotic.

Also, it is among the less known today’s works of followers and competitors — Algardi, Tsampieri, Bigo — that you can find something that will engage you at this exhibition more than the famous masterpieses.

So for me, the Spadarino’s work Christ showing wounds from the Perth Museum showed the greatest ability to hypnotize. This effect is more powerful the more it is unexpected.

This exhibition will be interesting for those who are attracted by complicated creative individuals and equally complex exhibition concepts.

Address: Burgring 5, 1010 Wien
The exhibition runs until January 19, 2020, daily from 9 am to 6 pm, Thursdays – Sunday until 9 pm.
Website of the exhibition

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