Saturday, 30 October 2021

nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

A prolific and popular salon painter in his own time—though figural portraits of classical subjects fell out of fashion until a revival in the 1980s, William-Adolphe Bourguereau of La Rochelle born this day in 1825 (†1905) counts as his most famous work in his 1879 La Naissance de VรฉnusThis painting does not actually depict the birth of the goddess by her transported to Cyprus as a fully mature figure in a sea shell—first gained attention and notoriety after winning the 1850 grand prize in the Prix de Rome, submitting two entries for that year’s competition, triumphant with a rather pedestrian depiction of the rescue of Zenobia, half-drowned, by a group of shepherds. The more evocative alternate submission was the pictured Dante and his guide Virgil (where have you brought me?) in an encounter from Canto XXX of the Divine Comedy in the Circle of the Imposters (Falsifiers—perjurers, counterfeiters, etc.) with an alchemist called Capocchio forever condemned to be gnashed by a Florentine knight named Gianni Schicchi de’ Cavalcanti who forged the will of a wealthy merchant to leave a horse for him, whose punishment seems a little extreme. Aside from being immortalised in the epic and this painting, Giacomo Puccini produced an eponymous light-hearted opera in 1918.