From the fiefs of the Colonna family Caravaggio took refuge in Naples, in 1606. There he began to work again with his usual, astounding speed. Early in January 1607 he was paid for the immense altarpiece commissioned to him by the Pio Monte di Misericordia (where it may still be seen today). The painting shows the Seven Acts of Mercy. It is very complicated in its organization. Caravaggio actually had to add a series of figures (two angels and the Madonna and Child, the latter painted later) in the upper part of the painting, which make the composition of the picture the most complex, perhaps, in any of his works. Caravaggio did not paint exemplary episodes intended to stir the viewer to religious piety through the illustrative emphasis of gestures and feelings. Rather, he entrusted the educational effectiveness of his works to the evidence of things in themselves, in the conviction that nothing should be added above and beyond what is already contained in the intrinsic eloquence of the various poses.
The seven acts of mercy represented on the painting are the following. On the right appear the (1) burial of the dead and the episode of the so-called Carita Romana (Cimon's daughter giving her father suck in prison), which contains at once the two charitable acts of (2) visiting prisoners and (3) feeding the hungry. (4) Dressing the naked appears in the foreground, symbolized by St. Martin and the beggar. Next to this scene, the host and St. James of Compostela allude to the (5) offering of hospitality to pilgrims. (6) Relieving the thirsty is represented by Samson drinking from the ox jaw. The youth on the ground behind the beggar of St. Martin may also represent the merciful gesture of (7) caring for the sick.
We readily apprehend the artist's power of synthesis, which concentrates a conceptual content that is potentially quite dispersive, in the model behavior of a few figures. The large painting was widely copied and studied by seventeenth-century Neapolitan painters, who drew ideas and formal devices from it.
This is Dürer's first painted self portrait, dated 1493. It is the earliest known self portrait in European art produced as an independent painting (although earlier artists had sometimes portrayed themselves among figures in an altarpiece or fresco). A sketched self portrait, dated 1493 on the reverse, could well have been an early study for the oil painting. Dürer completed the oil painting towards the end of his travels as a journeyman, almost certainly in Strasbourg. It was originally on vellum, which would have made it relatively simple to transport, and this suggests that it might well have been sent back to Nuremberg.
Dürer inscribed at the top of the self portrait: `Things with me fare as ordained from above', a sign of his faith in God. The artist's youthful features are framed by his lanky, ginger hair, which is topped by a red tasselled cap. Beneath his grey cloak, fringed with red, he wears an elegant pleated shirt with pink ribbons. His strong nose, heart-shaped upper lip and long neck are emphasized in the painting. Using a mirror, Dürer obviously found it difficult to paint his hands and eyes, the two features which are always a challenge in a self portrait.
In his rough hands, Dürer holds a sprig of sea holly, a thistle-like plant. Its German name means `man's fidelity' and this, together with the fact that the plant was sometimes regarded as an aphrodisiac, has led to speculation that the self portrait was intended as a gift for his fiancée. While Dürer was away, his father had arranged for Agnes Frey to become his wife and they eventually married on 7 July 1494, two months after his return to Nuremberg. However, it is just as likely that the self portrait was a gift for his parents, whom he had not seen for nearly four years. One can imagine the surprise and pleasure they must have felt to receive this picture after their son's long absence. It would have been a reminder of his handsome features and further evidence of his blossoming talent.
The composition is activated by the strong contrast between the two figures. The firm stance of the statuesque maid acts as a counterweight to the lively mistress intent on writing her letter. The maid's gravity is emphasized by her central position in the composition. The left upright of the picture frame anchors her in place while the regular folds of her clothing sustain the effect down to the floor. In contrast, the mistress inclines dynamically on her left forearm. Her compositional placement thrusts her against the compressed space on the right side of the canvas. Strong light outlines the writing arm against the shaded wall, reflecting in angular planes from the blouse that contrast abruptly with the regimented folds of the maid's costume. The mistress is painted in precise, meticulous strokes as opposed to the broad handling of the brush used to depict the maid.
This is the fifth scene on the single panel predella of the San Marco Altarpiece.
According to legend, St Eligius shod a horse that was possessed by devils. He cut one of the horses legs off, and after completing his work reattached it while making the sign of the Cross. The Devil, portrayed as a woman with horns, is watching the holy smith. A groom is having considerable difficulty controlling the impetuous horse.
From 1870 Degas increasingly painted ballet subjects. In these paintings he explored the subject's potential through variations on the theme. In The Dance Class he has grouped some twenty girls and one or two mothers too, watching or comforting their daughters. Dominating the scene (and painted in as an afterthought) is instructor Jules Perrot, with the huge stick he used to beat out a rhythm. This trial session under the famed teacher is taking place in the rehearsal rooms of the old opera house in Rue Peletier, which has long since burned down.