Europe 1300 - 1800
- Restoring ancient sculpture in Baroque Rome
- Bernini, Pluto and Proserpina
- Bernini, David
- Bernini, David
- Bernini, David
- Bernini, Apollo and Daphne
- Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Baldacchino
- Bernini, Bust of Medusa
- Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
- Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
- Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
- Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Cathedra Petri (Chair of St. Peter)
- Bernini, Saint Peter's Square
- Bernini, Sant'Andrea al Quirinale
- Geometry and motion in Borromini's San Carlo
- Carracci, Christ Appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way
- Caravaggio, Narcissus at the Source
- Caravaggio, Calling of Saint Matthew
- Caravaggio, Calling of St. Matthew
- Caravaggio, The Conversion of St. Paul (or The Conversion of Saul)
- Caravaggio, Crucifixion of Saint Peter
- Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus
- Caravaggio, Deposition
- Caravaggio, Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness
- Caravaggio, The Flagellation of Christ
- Caravaggio, Death of the Virgin
- Caravaggio and Caravaggisti in 17th-Century Europe
- Reni, Aurora
- Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes
- Gentileschi, Judith and Holofernes
- Gentileschi, Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes
- Gentileschi, Conversion of the Magdalene
- Elisabetta Sirani, Portia Wounding her Thigh
- Guercino, Saint Luke Displaying a Painting of the Virgin
- Il Gesù, including Triumph of the Name of Jesus ceiling fresco
- Pozzo, Saint Ignatius Chapel, Il Gesù
- Pozzo, Glorification of Saint Ignatius, Sant'Ignazio
- The altar tabernacle, Pauline Chapel, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome
- Pierre Le Gros the Younger, Stanislas Kostka on his Deathbed
- Baroque art in Italy
Guido Reni, Aurora, 1613-14, ceiling fresco (Casino dell'Aurora, Rome)
Paintings on ceilings
The period known as the Baroque (the 1600s) produced many new and innovative pictorial modes of expression and none more so than the painted ceiling. Patrons and artists began turning their eyes upward, and came up with inventive ways of decorating ceilings with a variety of motifs—from the classical gods and goddesses to the apotheosis of saints and the glorification of family lineage. Who says paintings are just for walls!
A painting for a summer house
One of the most beautiful and elegant of these ceilings is Guido Reni’s Aurora, painted in 1614 for the Roman Cardinal Scipione Borghese for the ceiling of his small summer house known as the Casino dell’Aurora. This casino (not the gambling sort) was part of the Cardinal’s larger palace residence located on the Quirinal Hill in Rome. The fresco represents Aurora (left), goddess of the dawn, bringing forth a new day as she leads the way for Apollo (below), god of light (among many other things), who follows behind in his golden quadriga (a four-horse chariot). That Aurora is bringing the dawn is evident through the change in the sky we see between the two gods: a darkish silvery gray before Aurora that turns into a bright, golden light filled sky before Apollo.
Aurora, goddess of the dawn, bringing forth a new day (detail), Guido Reni, Aurora, 1613-14, ceiling fresco (Casino dell'Aurora, Rome)
Below the edges of the clouds is a distant landscape slowly being illuminated by the dawn, with small sailboats barely visible out on the sea beyond. Aurora’s gauzy drapery flutters around her figure as she seems to be preparing to drop the sprays of flowers she carries in her hands onto the landscape below.
Apollo, clothed only in a light purple wrap, is enveloped in a warm, golden halo of light. Hovering between Aurora and Apollo is a torch bearing putto (a winged child similar in appearance to Cupid, but not Cupid), identified as Phosphorus, an ancient personification of the Morning Star (detail, below). Elegant female figures, known as Hours, dance alongside the chariot, representing the passage of time, with their diaphanous draperies blown gently by the wind.
Apollo in his chariot surrounded by female figures - The Hours (detail), Guido Reni, Aurora, 1613-14, ceiling fresco (Casino dell'Aurora, Rome)
The figures are represented in an ideal manner as their physiognomies and physiques are flawless and perfect in their beauty. They are timeless and ageless, never to be marred by old age and decrepitude. Moreover, Reni’s soft pastel color palette lends an idyllic, mythic quality to the scene.
Borghese Dancers, c. 2nd- 3rd centuries, marble, 72 x 188 cm (Louvre)
Torch-bearing putto (detail), Guido Reni, Aurora, 1613-14, ceiling fresco (Casino dell'Aurora, Rome)
As the Aurora is an exemplar of Baroque classicism, a style within the Baroque period that purposefully recalls art from ancient Greece and Rome, it is not surprising to find that Reni’s fresco makes many references to actual works of art from Classical Antiquity. For example, the figures of the Hours bear close resemblance to the female figures in a Roman relief known today as the Borghese Dancers (above), which was originally part of Cardinal Borghese’s collection of antiquities. Similarly, the figure of Phosphorus may have been influenced by a tondo (circular form) on the east side of the ancient Roman Arch of Constantine, which represents Sol, the sun god, similarly being led by a torch bearing putto (below).
Tondo with Sun God, c. 315 C.E., marble frieze (Arch of Constantine, Rome)
Quadro riportato—painting taken elsewhere
Let us now consider the experience of viewing the Aurora in the Casino dell’Aurora. The fresco is a singular scene, isolated in the center of the ceiling, surrounded by a physical (not simply painted) frame of molded stucco that is decorated with gold leaf (a process known as gilding). Reni’s use of a frame around his fresco is a pictorial device known as quadro riportato, or “painting taken elsewhere.” The idea was to the trick the viewer into thinking that an easel painting, a framed painting we would normally expect to find hanging on a wall, had actually been placed on the ceiling (keep in mind that Aurora is a fresco, painted right on the ceiling).
Reni was not the first to do this, as there was already another famous ceiling in Rome that also used quadro riportato—the Farnese Gallery Ceiling painted by Annibale Carracci (above). In the case of the Farnese ceiling, however, the frames are not physical frames, but were painted illusions—a technique known as trompe l’oeil (literally to “trick the eye”). Thus, in comparison, we might say that Reni’s use of an actual frame was a very direct interpretation of quadro riportato!
Annibale Carracci, Farnese Gallery Ceiling, 1597-1608, fresco (Palazzo Farnese, Rome)
Guercino, Aurora, c. 1621, fresco (Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome)
In addition to the “framing” of paintings on ceilings, artists used another illusionistic technique of visually breaking the ceiling so the image appears to be in the sky above, not inside the room. An example of this is another painting with the subject of Aurora, this one by the artist Guercino (above). Painted just a few years after Reni’s Aurora, Guercino extended the architecture of the room onto the vaulted ceiling and then “opened” it up so the viewer would see Aurora and her entourage racing by in the sky above. The painted illusionistic architecture, known as quadrattura, was also a popular illusionistic pictorial device used in several other Roman ceilings in the seventeenth century (including Pozzo's Glorification of Saint Ignatius—a ceiling fresco in the church of Sant'Ignazio in Rome).
Giorgio Vasanzio and Carlo Maderno, Casino dell'Aurora Pallavicini, the façade, 1611–16 (Rome)
The classical past
In the end, Guido Reni’s fresco, classicizing in both style and subject, with its golden stucco frame, was a perfect choice for the Casino dell’Aurora. Set in the gardens of Cardinal Borghese’s estate, the summer house was specifically intended to allude to, if not actually recreate, elements of the Classical past. Its façade was (and still is) decorated with ancient Roman sarcophagi and reliefs further enhancing its intended atmosphere. Perhaps we can imagine Cardinal Borghese looking up at Aurora bringing in the new day as he escaped the hot Roman summer sun in his own personal version of arcadia.
Essay by Dr. Shannon Pritchard
Want to join the conversation?
- Is there any reason known why a catholic cardinal would commission such a pagan work?(5 votes)
- Don't be thrown by the subject matter, it would only be pagan if the patron had faith in what was by then a long dead religion. This patron was no pagan but saw the ancient world, as we do now—a brilliant cultural history that he had inherited.(8 votes)
- Nice essay but there is a sense in which it actually contradicts with key elements about the baroque art that both Dr. Harris and Dr. Zucker have been emphasizing in previous videos and essays. I quote from the above, for example:
"The figures are represented in an ideal manner as their physiognomies and physiques are flawless and perfect in their beauty. They are timeless and ageless, never to be marred by old age and decrepitude. Moreover, Reni’s soft pastel color palette lends an idyllic, mythic quality to the scene."
Well, all these elements seem to be in stark contrast with what Beth and Steven kept saying about the non-idealized figures in baroque (see, e.g., the Caravaggio videos), the freezing of a specific moment in time, down to earth characters, etc. Is there any way that these opposed views can be reconciled which I may be missing?
I guess, another way to put the question, could be "why is THIS piece of art baroque?". If I suddenly came across it somewhere I would probably think it as a Renaissance piece, due to its idealized atmosphere. Does finally the term "baroque" boil down to the time period the piece of art was created? A painting is baroque if and only if it's made in the 1600s? Or there are more elements essential and present in EACH baroque piece?(6 votes)
- Excellent question! The Baroque is actually much more complex than our introductory definition allows. Included as well is a strong classical strain as seen in the work of Reni, Poussin, and others. So glad you noticed!(5 votes)
- I don't really understand why someone would write that it was in Baroque that "Patrons and artists began turning their eyes upward" when even a century earlier - at the beginning of the 16th century - Michelangelo painted the frescos in the Sistine Chapel on it's ceiling. I know that he was an artist of the High Renaissance but still. It's not right to say that it was the artists of Baroque who started painting on ceilings.(1 vote)