MOMENTS IN HISTORY


Revolution & Renewal

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From a companion of Spartacus in the slave uprising that shook the Roman Republic in the 1st century B.C. to the people who fought against Emperor Barbarossa's hegemony in Italy at the Siege of Tortona in 1155, and from Martin Luther's formidable campaign against the Catholic Church to King Charles I's doomed struggle against the English Parliament.  

The artworks in this section offer us glimpses into episodes that have changed the course of history, both for their protagonists and for the generations that followed. 


NB: For the full visual experience we recommend viewing the exhibition on desktop. Click on the images to find out more.   

The final battle that saw the assumed defeat of Spartacus in 71 BC took place on the present territory of Senerchia on the right bank of the river Sele in the area that includes the border with Oliveto Citra up to those of Calabritto, near the village of Quaglietta, in the High Sele Valley, which at that time was part of Lucania. In this area, since 1899, there have been finds of armour and swords of the Roman era.

Plutarch, Appian and Florus all claim that Spartacus died during the battle, but Appian also reports that his body was never found.

Six thousand survivors of the revolt captured by the legions of Crassus were crucified, lining the Appian Way from Rome to Capua.

The present drawing represents a study for a detail of The Siege of Tortona or The Thirst of the people of Tortona, a massive canvas commissioned by the newly-established Italian government and presented at the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

The Siege of Tortona in 1155 was the first major military engagement resulting from Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa's ambition to enforce Imperial hegemony in Italy.

The historical and romanticised battle scenes Gastaldi depicted in works such as The Siege of Tortona (1867), were undoubtedly intended as a metaphor for the contemporary struggles of the Italian Unification movement, against what
was considered the foreign invader. For when Gastaldi executed these works, the nation of Italy was engaged in the Second and Third Wars of Independence.

'Ecce Homo', 'Behold the man' (John 19: 5) those words were spoken by Pontius Pilate, governor of the Roman province of Judaea, when he presented Jesus of Nazareth, wearing the Crown of Thorns and clad in a purple robe after the scourging, to the mob, headed by Caiaphas, the High Priest, thus making clear that he finds no fault in Jesus. 

Whereas Pontius Pilate is represented as a bearded man wearing a turban, on the right, the usual soldier or henchman has been replaced by a man sporting a beret on a mop of curly hair, who looks as if he had been transplanted from a Renaissance portrait. In fact, a contemporary observer would have identified the figure as Martin Luther on the spot.

The circumstance that Luther appears here playing a principal role in New Testament events is closely linked to the veneration of the Reformer that had already set in during the sixteenth century and led to Luther's quite often being portrayed with a halo or even as a saint.

Hence the present Ecce Homo panel represents not only a precious devotional object but also a profession of religious affiliation.

Charles I (1600 - 1649) antagonistic style, who was arguably the most divisive monarch in British history, culminated in unpopular autocratic policies - including imposing strict religious reforms and raising money without parliamentary consent - eventually alienated many in the nobility and army and, thus, became a catalyst for England's last and very brutal civil war. This concluded in his defeat and prosecution by his own subjects for high treason, with a fatal sentence of execution by beheading.

Whilst Charles I provoked many politically, his private passion for the cultural arts proved his greatest legacy; many, if not most, of the paintings that form the core of the world-renowned Royal Collection were bought, or even commissioned, by him during his rule. 

This picture was owned by Charles I.  It captures the likeness of one of the most powerful statesmen at the very heart of King Charles I's court - Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford whose leadership of a calamitous campaign against the rebelling Scots in 1639, contributed to the eventual eruption of Civil War in England.

This commanding portrait was executed in England, towards the end of van Dyck's illustrious career, and represents the culmination of all that van Dyck had learnt from Rubens, and from his Venetian predecessors, notably Titian.

Louis de La Rochejaquelein, a leading counter-revolutionary from the Vendée region, died in battle only thirteen days before the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. Carefully following his widow's instructions, Guérin painted his portrait, which now hangs in the Salle des Généraux Vendéens at the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire de Cholet. This is a preparatory study.

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