Rape, adoration and 17th Century Italian flair

Story by Jack Foley

THE first exhibition of Genoese painting ever to be held in Britain can now be viewed at The National Gallery until June 16, featuring 17th Century works of intense artistic creativity, many of which were to feature in the cultured Italian city's churches and palaces.

Entitled Baroque Painting in Genoa, highlights of the exhibition include Rubens’ ‘Equestrian Portrait of Giovan Carlo Doria’, an impressive image of one of Genoa’s most significant artistic patrons; Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione’s ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ altarpiece from the church of San Luca, and Valerio Castello’s dynamic ‘Rape of Proserpine’ (pictured above).

There are also works by Van Dyck, who spent several years in Genoa in the 1620s before settling in England, Orazio Gentileschi, and the Franciscan painter, Bernardo Strozzi, as well as a magnificent carved picture frame by the virtuoso sculptor Filippo Parodi.

Baroque is a term which is used of a certain style of art in the 17th century, but it is also used more loosely to define the 17th century as a historical period. Originally the word Baroque, which derives from the Portuguese word for an irregularly shaped pearl, was a derogatory term referring to an art that was perceived as excessive and self-indulgent. This negative connotation has largely disappeared and Baroque is understood as a style which is grandiose, flamboyant and dynamic.

In the 17th century, Genoa enjoyed a great flourishing of the arts. It attracted influential and famous artists from all over Europe and produced a group of superb local painters. Genoa was one of the richest and most cosmopolitan cities of northern Italy, the centre of an extensive trading and banking network. Enormous wealth was invested in the creation of impressive town palaces with spectacularly decorated interiors.

One of Genoa’s most important workshops was that of Domenico Piola (1627 - 1703), which was known as ‘Casa Piola’; his sons and son-in-law, Gregorio De Ferrari (1647 - 1726) also played a part in it. As well as producing a considerable number of frescoes, paintings, altarpieces and furnishings, the Casa Piola was also a combination of museum and collection, containing originals and copies of works by the great masters.

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN. (Sunley Room). Admission free
Exhibition opening hours: Daily 10am - 6pm, (Wednesdays until 9pm); Closed Good Friday (29 March)