The exhibition Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio at the Musée du Louvre at Paris from February 20 – May 22, 2017, is a very special event not only for scholars and students, but also for art lovers.
This is a show that presents the work of Valentin de Boulogne (1571-1610) an outstanding artist in seventeenth century Europe, who was a French follower of Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), whose works speak through the visible to speak of the invisible.
It is important at first to acknowledge Caravaggio’s great gifts if we wish to understand why The Met in New York has given the exhibition by one of his followers Valentin de Boulogne the title ‘beyond Caravaggio’. It’s all about Caravaggio being the ‘game changer’ in the history of art.
This meant that in the years following his death, painters finally pursued naturalistic painting.
Little known except perhaps among his colleagues and like-minded people who admired his point of reference – Caravaggio, Valentin de Boulogne died at 41, which means there are only 60 paintings by him in existence.
Showing great foresight, Diplomat Cardinal Mazarin and King Louis XIV (1638-1715) were early collectors of his works.
Dramatic with a pervasive sense of melancholy, scenes of merriment with music making, drinking and fortune telling or telling a tale of an unfolding drama, Boulogne meditated on the transience of the pleasures of life.
It’s sad to reflect that a night out on the town tavern hopping meant he contracted a fever that ended his life all too soon.
In just a short time Boulogne the son of a painter and stained glass worker, who was no doubt surrounded by art during his childhood, became a master in his own right, although he did not really live to see or know that had happened.
Boulogne is known to have cavorted in the company of ‘Dutch and Flemish Artists, including ‘Cornelis van Poelenburgh (1586-1667) and the Caravaggesque Dirck van Baburen (c. 1590-1624), who formed the Bentvueghels (“birds of a feather”) a society of Dutch and Flemish artists who wanted to counter the academic approach to artistic instruction of the Accademia di San Luca’.
That self same academic institution invited Boulogne to work with Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and organise a festival to celebrate the anniversary of its patron saint in 1626.
His narrative scenes include Christ Expelling the Merchants from the Temple (St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum), The Judgment of Solomon (Paris, Musée du Louvre), both c.1626.
Genre paintings, include his Fortune Teller and Concert with Eight Figures (both Paris, Musée du Louvre), both c. 1628, and what is thought to be his very last painting, the Gathering with a Fortune Teller (Vienna, Liechtenstein Collection).
The works of Boulogne became a reference point in their turn for the great realists of the nineteenth century, including Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) and Édouard Manet (1832-1883).
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance, is a statement attributed to ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322).
He would have known how astute his observations were if sixteen centuries later he had viewed the paintings of Caravaggio.
Caravaggio did not depict his men as being heroic, but of lowly origin as he recognized and acknowledged the misery, injustice and sorrow in the world.
He fostered a belief in the transcendent power of humility, resignation and faith.
Caravaggio presented Christ’s resurrection in literal terms, dispensing with the usual symbols of Kingship. His Jesus does not have a halo or any other outward sign of his divinity.
A master of realism Caravaggio was always concerned and conscious of people’s ‘human’ flaws and he found meaning, spirit and purpose in everything around him while revealing to us the intangibles that so often occlude the truth with a riveting and powerfully humanistic reality.
While they focus on a man’s body their interest primarily is in his spirit and soul. His extraordinary use of ‘light’ in his passionately rendered paintings, while presented in a new and exciting way in his time was always with regard to reverence and respect for the meaning of light traditionally in symbolism, which was to exalt or dignify.
A great flame follows a little spark…it says in the (Canto 1:1.34) Paradiso – of the Divine Comedy’ or as it was first known the Commedia by Renaissance literary giant Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), whose dissertation remains one of the pillars upon which European literary tradition was founded.
Completed just before his death in 1321 it quickly reached an appreciative audience. Many scholars are convinced Dante was endeavouring to paint a realistic picture of his own earthly life, while documenting the progress of societies attitude toward establishing and maintaining peace on earth.
The impact of his work, which had the tag ‘divine’, added to it some 200 years later, helping establish the Tuscan dialect as the ancestor of modern Italian
To produce an image of a God, who became a man, and the ‘light of the world’ was, and is still a tall order for any artist except perhaps for Caravaggio, whose symbolical use of a circle of light in his opus was meant to denote high dignity or power, to highlight ‘divine characteristics’ and the inspire the loftiest sorts of humanity.
Caravaggio redrafted the artistic landscape of Europe. The void left by his death was filled by Spaniard Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652) who in 1616 moved from Rome to Naples, where he spent the rest of his life; and Boulogne who spent the whole of his short career in Rome after 1614.
On viewing the works of Valentin de Boulogne you may also graduate to the view that his work too is indeed, unforgettable.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio
Musée du Louvre, Paris
February 20 – May 22, 2017
The Met Fifth Avenue
New York City
October 7, 2016–January 16, 2017
The exhibition is made possible by the Hata Stichting Foundation, the Placido Arango Fund, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Frank E. Richardson and Kimba M. Wood, Alice Cary Brown and W.L. Lyons Brown, and an Anonymous Foundation. It is supported by an Indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The exhibition is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Musée du Louvre. The catalogue is made possible by the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund.