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FROM SACRO TO PROFANO. The Giorgio Baratti Art Collection from Milan

16 February–27 September 2020
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

The exhibition presenting an evocative selection of paintings and sculpture from the collection of Giorgio Baratti has been planned so that the visitor may discover two important themes that have for centuries dominated in European art: sacred (Sacro) and secular (Profano) art.

These terms define two parallel art worlds that have always coexisted alongside one another. Sometimes the two would converge, resulting in a fruitful dialogue. One such space was ‘sacred’ Christian art, intended for churches or for private devotion. The works depict scenes from the Old and New Testament, where glorifying images of Christ and the Mother of God, the Angels and the Saints were created, testifying to their ‘life, death and miracles’. Alongside this, ‘Profane’ art also developed, an emanation of the great patrimony of Antiquity, which from the 15th century inspired the revival of artistic genres presented in this exhibition, such as the ‘lay portrait’, the ‘mythological’ subject, the ‘still life’, the ‘landscape’ and the ‘architectural caprice’.

The exhibition follows a path that spans a stretch of time from the late 14th to the mid-18th century – from the Gothic, through the Renaissance and into the Baroque. Visitors are invited to discover the inexhaustible riches of the primarily Italian artistic patrimony – the basis of the European cultural identity that was moulded by the great inheritances of Antiquity and of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The exhibition offers at least temporary compensation for the European heritage treasures Lithuania has lost over the centuries, allowing visitors to admire this exceptional, common European inheritance.

I. The people and narratives of the Old Testament

The origin and diffusion of the iconography of episodes taken from the Hebrew scriptures is closely related primarily to the Christian art tradition. The religion itself, which inspired a great deal of narratives in Christian art, does not commonly acknowledge artistic images. For Christians, the Old Testament and its stories are important as they are the source of the New Testament, akin to an introduction to the four canonical Gospels, devoted to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in which the Old Testament finds its definitive fulfilment.

Thus the figures of Adam, of the patriarch Jacob and of the prophets Moses, Samuel and Eliseus, protagonists of some of the chamber and larger format paintings shown in the first section of this exhibition, are all prefigurations of Christ and of his Church. These works depicting stories from the Old Testament and their creators are represented by a number of the more important Italian schools of the 17th century.

II. The New Testament and the Story of Salvation

The iconographic repertory built upon evangelical episodes – directly or indirectly related to stories about the Life of Christ – proceeds in parallel with iconography inspired by the repertory of Old Testament narratives. The constant dialogue of stories from both parts of the Bible traverses the whole history of the Church and its artistic legacy. From the 3rd century we find scenes dealing with the mystery of the Incarnation, on which the entire Christian faith is based: the Annunciation, the Birth of Christ, the Baptism of Christ. The sources for these subjects are the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They were frequently supplemented with episodes taken from other texts not accepted by the Catholic Church, such as the apocryphal gospels. These were useful for enriching with details the paltry information about the infancy of Jesus and the life of the Virgin Mary.

The paintings in the exhibition offer a variegated sample of Italian religious painting depicting the salient stages in the earthly life of Christ, from his conception to his death and resurrection. Apart from a single 15th-century Flemish tapestry, and of a 16th-century painting of the Cretan Michele Damaskinòs, all the works represent the most famous Italian schools from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Their artists worked both for churches (the large altarpieces) and private houses (the easel paintings).

III. The Angels – God’s messengers

Both the Old and the New Testament bear witness to the existence of purely spiritual creatures who belong to the heavenly realm. Mediators between God and man, they were divided into three hierarchies, which the sacred scriptures call Angels. In the Old Testament, the Angels are messengers who render manifest God’s will in the world and his actions in human history. The New Testament sees as protagonist the three Archangels Michael, presented as the commander of the Heavenly hosts, Raphael, who cures physical and spiritual infirmities, and Gabriel who announces the divine birth to the Virgin Mary (episode on display in the paintings by Santi di Tito, Cavalier d’Arpino e Palma il Giovane).

In 1608, did the Catholic Church make official the ancient devotion to the Guardian Angels, confirming the existence of an angel assigned by God to each human being (see the painting of the Lombard School, close to Morazzone). In Christian iconography, little baby-like angels are also represented, whose origin can be found in the amorini (Cupids) of pagan antiquity, to whom the reliefs of Donatello and his collaborator refer; the same applies to the painting of Giambattista Crosato, exhibited in the Mythology section, while the Allegory of Vanity of Francesco Fontebasso presents children, as they have no wings. Also common is the iconographic motif of the winged angelic head, as you can see in the painting of Spadarino.

IV. Paintings of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ

Narrative cycles of painting and sculpture decorated sacred spaces, edifying the people through images relating to the Bible and the History of Salvation. Devotional images also appeared from the 5th century onwards. The Madonna and Child were extrapolated from the narrative context to serve as subjects for meditation and personal devotion. They were intended as aids to prayer, not only in sacred spaces but also in the intimacy of a domestic setting.

Among the earliest devotional images are those that associate the Virgin with her Son, exalting the mystery of the divine maternity of Mary.

The image of Christ began to be the object of great veneration in the churches of the East and West, where images fixed the physical features of the Saviour based on prototypes regarded as acheiropoieta, i.e. ‘not made by human hand’. These images express the mystery of God made man, who ‘hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows’; ‘and by his bruises we are healed’ (Isaias 53:4-5).

This section presents 14th–16th-century paintings and sculptures of this devotional art: paintings and sculptures from various Italian schools, including a painting by the Venetian-Cretan painter Nicolò Zafuri.

V. The Saints – Witnesses to Christ

Alongside the images of the Virgin Mary and of Jesus, the Christian communities of the early centuries felt the need to portray the Witnesses to faith in Christ, the holy martyrs. Like the first Apostles, they had conformed their lives to the following of the Redeemer and had not hesitated to shed their blood in order to remain faithful to Him who said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by me’ (John 14:6).

The veneration of the holy martyrs, to whom the faithful Christian entrusted his prayers in virtue of their power of intercession with God, was manifested in the production of images, promoted by the Church as exemplary models and a saintly cult to be followed.

The exhibition, through a rich selection of paintings and sculptures of the Italian, Dutch and French schools from the 15th to the 18th centuries, devotes ample space to the figure of St John the Baptist: the Precursor who announces to the Hebrew people the coming of the Messias and who baptises Jesus in the waters of the river Jordan. Other paintings in the hall are dedicated to the veneration of the early saintly women (Mary Magdalen, Christina and Lucy), and saints from the medieval period (Bruno and Margaret of Cortona), down to Carlo Borromeo, an emblematic figure of the Counter-Reformation in the 16th century, the period that forcefully reaffirmed the veneration of saints in the Church of Rome.

VI. Portraits of the clergy and lay people

After the decline of classical civilization, following the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD), the genre of the portrait as an individual representation disappeared from Western art, in favor of a more symbolic sacred language.

It is only in the Renaissance, with the exaltation of the centrality of man and his individuality, that the 'portrait' was born in its modern sense, thanks to the contribution of the Flemish and Italian pictorial schools. The pinnacle of Italian portraiture was reached between the 15th- 16th centuries with Raphael and Titian: the first, with the Portrait of Leo X (of which a derivation of Jacopino del Conte is on display), laid the foundations for the birth of the ‘official portrait’ of the Renaissance; the second was the inventor of the full-length portrait, which became the prototype for generations of artists.

The section opens with the Portrait of a gentleman in the guise of Saint Anthony Pierozzi painted by Santi di Tito: a sort of trait d'union with the previous one dedicated to the Saints, as the work testifies to the custom of the ‘disguise’ in use between the 16th-17th centuries. The portraits of high prelates, rulers, nobles and the bourgeois provide an insight into Italian society between the 15th and 17th centuries. The section closes with a painting of a historical subject (Cleopatra by Alessandro Rosi) and the ‘Head studies’ of the Bolognese Annibale Carracci and Guido Reni.

VII. Still lifes, portraits of inanimate objects

Still lifes are commonly artistic images that portray single or multiple flowers, fruits, vegetables, musical instruments, objects of daily life and interior details scattered on tables or shelves, or even freshly hunted fish or game that make a beautiful display in kitchens and pantries. Depictions of this type, usually devoid of human figures, were already quite common as decorations in the houses of the ancient Roman patricians. Disappearing with the eclipse of the ancient world, the insertion of still life pieces in paintings of sacred or profane subject, often associated with precise symbolic meanings, returned to use in the 14th and 15th centuries, in particular in Flemish painting, capable of reaching virtuous outcomes of optical truth in the material rendering of inanimate objects and living beings.                                                                                        

In Italy, the still life genre developed and peaked in popularity in the 17th century in Lombardy, Rome and Naples. This pictorial genre spread throughout Italy, giving rise to schools with peculiar specialist characteristics.

In this section there are works by representative artists of various Italian pictorial schools, including Panfilo Nuvolone, the pioneer of the genre in Lombardy at the beginning of the 17th century, and Evaristo Baschenis, one of the most famous still life painters in Europe of the time. There are also works by two French painters from the 17th-18th centuries, Meiffren Comte and Jean-Baptist Oudry.

VIII. Mythological subjects in Renaissance and Baroque art

The myths of the classical world tell fantastic and complex stories featuring the gods and heroes of the Greek and Roman world.

The revival of interest in ancient culture starting from the Renaissance, and the study of ancient literary sources, in Italy and other European countries, brought the intriguing narratives of myths to the fore with Renaissance and Baroque artists, which became particularly appreciated subjects by the rich and noble patrons of the time. Mythological subjects became the protagonists of paintings and sculptures, of series of tapestries and applied art. Such magnificent paintings and splendid artistic textiles depicting mythological scenes also adorned the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius in the 16th-17th centuries.

The works in this section of the exhibition, focused on multiple myths of the classical world, present the gods of antiquity characterized by somewhat human feelings such as jealousy, love and pride, through works of the highest quality, such as the Flaying of Marsyas of Bronzino or the paintings of Luca Giordano, the great painter of the Neapolitan Baroque.

IX. Landscapes and architectural caprices

Landscape painting as an autonomous genre (in which nature, presented in her idealised beauty and in her evocative power, becomes the undisputed protagonist of the composition) arose in Rome in the early seventeenth century.   The encounter between the sensibility of  painters who had come from northern Europe a century earlier  – attentive to the representation of the natural world and of atmospheric effects – and the landscape of the Roman campagna, still dotted with majestic ruins of the classical world, exalted by the warm Mediterranean light, is at the origin of this new pictorial genre. These paintings often incorporated secondary episodes of religious, mythological or other type (see in this exhibition the paintings by Pandolfo Reschi from Poland and Pier Francesco Mola from Ticino).

Following the example of their northern European colleagues, Italian painters began to attempt landscapes and seascapes, producing paintings in which classical architecture shown in sharp perspective, invented buildings and ancient ruins populated by figures appeared in all sorts of imaginative combinations. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century this kind of taste gave rise to a new sub-genre known as the ‘capriccio’ or ‘veduta ideata’. Notable examples of it in the exhibition are the paintings by Agostino Tassi and Filippo Gagliardi.

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Giorgio Baratti and the exhibition of his collection in Vilnius

Hailing from Tuscany, known for its rich cultural and artistic heritage, and a resident of Milan for the last several decades, established near the Pinacoteca di Brera Art Gallery and the La Scala Theatre, the collector, art expert and antique dealership owner Giorgio Baratti has accumulated an impressive collection of 14th–18th-century art treasures – paintings, sculptures and tapestries. The international exhibition organised by the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and the Galleria Baratti Antiquario (Italy), FROM SACRO TO PROFANO. The Giorgio Baratti Art Collection from Milan, continues in the theme of the exhibition of Florentine paintings held at the museum two years ago. This time however, a much broader cultural context is being presented – works by famous artists from different regions in Italy, where besides paintings visitors can also see very significant and impressive 14th–16th-century eminent sculptors’ works and early artistic textiles. Some of the works in the exhibition are also important in how they relate to Lithuania. The exhibition’s concept and structure was driven by the content of Giorgio Baratti’s art collection.

Exhibition patrons                                                                    
Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania H. E. Viktoras PRANCKIETIS
H. Em. Cardinal Sigitas TAMKEVIČIUS SJ

Organisers of the exhibition                                                                                                  
National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania (Vilnius, Lietuva)
Gallery Baratti Antiquario (Milan, Italy)

Partner of the exhibition                                                                                                  
Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Italy and
H.E. Ambassador Ričardas ŠLEPAVIČIUS

Exhibition curators
Daiva MITRULEVIČIŪTĖ
Dr Giovanni Matteo GUIDETTI

Exhibition concept and plan
Daiva MITRULEVIČIŪTĖ
Dr Giovanni Matteo GUIDETTI
Dr Vydas DOLINSKAS

Consultants
Dr Vydas DOLINSKAS
Gianmaria SCENINI

Exhibition coordinators 
Daiva MITRULEVIČIŪTĖ
Ileana MANISCALCO
Paolo CARCANO

Exhibition scientific coordinator
Dr Giovanni Matteo GUIDETTI

Exhibition logistics coordinators 
Marijus UZORKA
Italo CANTONI
Laura GABRIELAITYTĖ-KAZULĖNIENĖ

Restauration preparation and maintenance of the exhibits 
Mantvidas MIELIAUSKAS
Andrea CIPRIANI
Daniele ROSSI
Giovanni GIANNINI
Simone GIANNINI

Exhibition publishing coordinator 
Dr Živilė MIKAILIENĖ

Exhibition educational programme coordinators
Dr Nelija KOSTINIENĖ
Daiva TUINYLIENĖ
Ieva LUCKUTĖ

Exhibition information coordinators
Mindaugas PUIDOKAS
Ramunė VAIČIULYTĖ

Exhibition technical coordinators
Dalius AVIŽINIS
Rita LELEKAUSKAITĖ
Gintarė DŽIAUGYTĖ
Dovilė ČYPAITĖ
Toma ZARANKAITĖ-MARGIENĖ

Exhibition technical installation coordinators
Kęstutis KARLA
Eduardas KAUKLYS
Saulius MARTECKAS

Sponsors