Francesco Hayez was born into a poor Venetian family in 1791 and soon was sent to live with his uncle, Giovanni Binasco, a Genoese patron and lover of the arts. In that environment Francesco became acquainted with painting and began studying with Francesco Magiotti and Teodoro Matteini. After he won a competition in 1809 to study in Rome he moved to the capital, having been entrusted to Antonio Canova by Leopoldo Cicognara (the president of the Venetian academy). Thanks to the protection of the influential sculptor, in 1812 Hayez won the painting competition of the Accademia di Brera on the theme of Laocoön, and began to make a name for himself in Roman artistic milieus, especially among the classicists and purists as his early important works would show. These include the Rinaldo and Armida (1813) that he sent to the Accademia di Venezia as his final project after three years in Rome, and Ulysses at the Court of Alcinous (1814-1816) that had been commissioned by Joachim Murat and sent to Napoleon’s court. With the Triumphant Athlete (1816) Hayez won the competition of the Accademia di San Luca, defeating the purist Ingres. In 1817 he returned to Venice and also worked in Padua and Milan where he was warmly received into the local cultural milieus. In Milan he “inherited” the neoclassical culture of Appiani and Bossi and created an academic manner of great skill and noble pathos. His large painting of 1820, Pietro Rossi Prisoner of the Della Scala that met with great success at the exhibition of the Accademia di Brera would become the manifesto of historical romanticism. All his great paintings form this period, such as Sicilian Vespers, (1821-1822), Peter the Hermit Preaching the Crusade (1829) and The Refugees of Parga (1813) were dedicated to historical themes which, in reality, alluded to facts and aspirations of the Risorgimento in a sentimental and passionate dimension. Following his own rigorous formal ideals Hayez also dealt with some amorous or pathetic-religious subjects that were significant of the tastes of a certain frivolous yet influential group of patrons: The Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet (1823), The Penitent Magdalene (1832), Lot and His Daughters (1833) and Bathsheba at her Bath (1834) were paintings that created scandals because of their explicitly sensual allusions. Thanks to the good relationships he had nurtured with the Austrian government, in 1837 he painted the large fresco for the royal palace depicting the Allegory of the Political Order of Ferdinand I. A friend of figures such as Manzoni, Rosmini and Rossini, Hayez has left us a large number of their portraits – and of the great Lombard families. These portraits are characterized by balance and aristocratic decorum that keep the subject’s psychology and emotions under control In 1850 he began teaching at the Accademia dI Brera and in 1852 exhibited the Meditation at Verona, a moving commemoration of the Five Days – Cinque Giornate. In 1859 Hayez presented The Kiss at the exhibition held at Brera for the entrance of Vittorio Emanuele and Napoleon III. This is perhaps his most famous and popular painting; a second version was sent to the 1867 exposition in Paris. Disappointment with the Risorgimento led him to gradually abandon historical and commemorative painting. His last two monumental works date from 1867, Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and Marin Faliero. They were shown at Brera as his artistic legacy destined for the academies of Venice and Milan where they are still conserved today. His last masterpiece, Vase of Flowers in the Window of a Harem, dates from the year before his death which occurred in Milan on 21 December 1882.
Rinaldo and Armida
Hayez was barely twenty when he painted this Rinaldo and Armida to renew his scholarship in Rome. Inspired by Tasso’s Jerusalem Liberated. It was successful and remained on display during the early months of 1813 at the Accademia Nazionale in Palazzo Venezia and was subsequently sent to the Academy in Venice. This painting may well be the apex of his neoclassical production, encouraged and supported as he was by Antonio Canova. The history of the painting is recounted in the Memorie, mainly his relationship with the two models and, in particular, the beautiful nineteen year-old girl who posed for Armida. She had aroused feelings of respect and devotion in Hayez who was usually prey to amorous “troubles.”. Both the purist style and iconography from Tasso seem inspired by the German Nazarene paintings that were beginning to be noticed in Rome as Hayez himself recounts in the Memorie. On the other hand, the luminous, sensual, nude figure of Armida recalls Canova’s Pauline Bonaparte as Venus (1805-1808). The scene, set in a warm Tizianesque atmosphere, opens on a mysterious landscape, much like an English romantic garden. This, together with the virtuoso reflections of images on the water and the shield that seem to echo Susanna and the Elders by Tintoretto (Vienna), comprise the most fascinating and extraordinary elements of the painting.
This painting arrived at the Accademia di Brera because it was submitted by the painter himself as an entry for the competition held by the academy in 1812. The theme was: “Laocoön, son of Priam and priest of Apollo, victim - with his children - of the revenge of Minerva, who sent two big serpents from to strangle him to death in their coils.” Hayez won the competition, in a tie with Antonio De Antoni, a protégé of Andrea Appiana. The theme was much discussed in neoclassical artistic literature, but in this case it excluded derivation from the famous sculptural group (now in the Vatican, but then still in Paris) because the solution would have been too obvious In fact, Hayez renounced the heroic and plastic isolation of the protagonists – Laocoön and his children – and instead placed them in a broad setting with other characters who move with a steady, choral rhythm to emphasize the event’s collective and civil tension. The central group, however, is the most important and seems to be derived from Domenchino and Poussin, updated in the manner of the English artist, John Flaxman as well as classical sculptures and Canova’s statuary. The great neoclassical sculptor, Antonio Canova was a teacher and influential protector for Hayez, especially during his early years in Rome, 1809-817. The heroic pose of his Laocoön is no doubt inspired by Canova’s group Hercules and Lichas (1795-1815) the way the youth holding the bull recalls the pose of the Boxer (Damoxenos, Vatican).
Ulysses at the Court of Alcinous
This large painting was a prestigious commission from Joachim Murat, as part of his campaign to promote contemporary neoclassical art. After his death it was delivered to the restored Bourbon king, Ferdinando I and placed at Capodimonte. Hayez was introduced to Murat by his two supporters, Antonio Canova and Leopolda Cicognana (friend of the sculptor and president of the Accademia di Venezia) who was in close contact with the Neapolitan court and many other prestigious public and private patrons Together they were responsible for the young artist’s success throughout the country. It is definitely the most complex painting from Hayez’s years in Rome. We see the influence of Tommaso Minardi – Funerary Monument to Giovanni Volpato (1804-1807), of Canova in the two figures on the left and Flaxman’s engravings in the complex arrangements. The influence of the old masters he became familiar with while in Rome is also evident: Raphael, from the Rooms in the Vatican, with an almost literal citation of Diogenes from the School of Athens, in the young man seated on the steps on the right, Domenichini through the Scenes from the Life of Saint Cecilia, and Poussin in the monumental background architecture with the figures seemingly locked between the immense Doric columns. There are two other paintings of the same subject by Hayez, with obvious variations in the composition, one was shown at the Venice academy in 1813 and the other, is the preparatory sketch (datable between 1814 and 1815) for the Naples canvas.
The Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet
The tragic story of Shakespeare’s lovers, which became the symbol of romantic feeling, owes its huge popular success to Hayez. In fact, Romeo and Juliet provided the inspiration for other works (three paintings in 1825 and two in 1830) up to the transposition of the theme, in 1859 , into the Kiss series. The 1823 painting became a cult object for the romantic nineteenth century, thanks also to the many reproductions and engraved, miniature, enamel and cameo renderings encouraged by the famous and discriminating collector, Giovanni Battista Sommariva who had commissioned the original. Many elements of the painting aroused admiration: the faithful portrayal of the setting, the formal references to Titian’s Adulteress, the sumptuous rendering of the costumes as well as – naturally – the poetically romantic feeling that pervades the entire composition. The decisive legitimization of historic paintings with a literary background took place, however, in 1830 when Defendente Sacchi consecrated the painting, both on the thematic and formal levels, as an exemplum of the new, anti-mythological painting with a “modern” background. It was shown at Brera in 1823 together with another small painting (since lost) commissioned by the count of Schoborn-Wiesentheid, based on an earlier source (Luigi da Porto’s novella), depicting The Wedding of Romeo and Juliet. In fact, the painting is prized for the realistic details of the “Flemish” interior and the natural look and pose of the female figure – a portrait of Carolina Zucchi, Hayez’s mistress who sat for him for other paintings.
Venus Playing with Two Doves (Portrait of the Ballerina Carlotta Chabert)
This painting, done in Trento, at the home of the patron Count Girolamo Malfatti, who was the subject’s lover, aroused much lively debate between romantics and classicists when it was exhibited at Brera in 1830. The scandal was triggered by the choice of Venus as the subject. According to orthodox mythology, she deserved a more idealized rendering of her nude body rather than the raw realism that also emphasized the model’s anatomical flaws. The romantic group that supported the painting, defended it by citing Titian who would often portray his Venus with the features of real courtesans of his day. The extraordinary naturalistic rendering of the large female nude still conveys that polemic energy of the image of an almost embarrassing carnality, that marks a significant break with the marble-like conventionality of the classic model as pursued by Hayez’s contemporaries such as his friend Pelagio Palagi. Here, the classical and Canovian model is transposed into the romantic key of the comparison of the model’s true appearance and Titian, and fully satisfying – notwithstanding the conservative’s accusations – the taste of the growing number of independent collectors. The plasticity of the body with its almost abstract brightness recalls the beauty of Ingres’ odalisques and perhaps for this reason it was greatly praised by Margherita Sarfatti, promoter of the Novecento group, who in 1925 mentioned this Hayez painting in an essay as “more moving and less cold than the other canvases.”Iconography
The Penitent Magdalene
The explicit formal reference for this beautiful and sensual painting is Canova’s Penitent Magdalene (1790). Canova’s piece was very popular during the romantic period and Hayez “used” it in an other painting of the same subject that he did for Baron Ciani in 1825. The picture shown here was presented at Brera in 1833 and had been commissioned by Count Giuseppe Crivelli, a member of the well-known Milanese liberal family. He already had two small Hayez paintings “Bathing Nymphs” that had been exhibited in 1831. The unusual realism of this Magdalene, that was evidently prized by the patron aroused moralistic reactions on the part of contemporary critics who emphasized the lack of modesty and sense of profanation deriving from such explicit and disturbing nudity. While the landscape background is totally decorative and conventional, the nude Magdalene who is presented in all her “scandalous” sensuality seems to throb with real life in the soft natural pose, in the amazing cascade of hair and the fixed, melancholy gaze that seems to have been captured from life. The essential and direct arrangement of the subject would become an increasingly constant feature of Hayez’s work – and he was a great interpreter of female beauty. His European consecration as the leader of the romantic school in Italy came about through paintings such as this that were controversial, disputed, and offered up to the free judgment of the public, to be followed by true rivalry among collectors to possess them.Iconography
Lot and His Daughters
This masterpiece from Hayez’s mature years belongs to that part of the artist’s opus in which a traditional biblical theme was presented in a manner that intensified the already implicit erotic and sensual aspects of the episode to please the client. This painting, which only recently resurfaced in a private collection, had created a stir because of the subject’s thorny nature and its formal lavishness when it was first exhibited at Brera in 1883, under a commission from Giovanni Melli of Milan. Later, Domenico Bonatti did an engraving of it, and Hayez painted another version in 1835. As in its quasi-companion piece, Bathsheba at Her Bath, here too the three nude figures are enhanced by the rugged and exotic landscape and by the clean, clear style. The white figure of the reclining daughter attains a level of psychological expressivity, which, along with other fine details, was emphasized by Ambrosoli’s review that appeared in Eco at the time of the 1833 exposition: “…the group of three figures is perfectly composed: the nude is painted with unusual skill: the contrast between the old body of the father, and young, delicate, flesh of the daughters creates a beautiful effect: the skin, limbs, complexion are, in brief, praised by all…”
Bathsheba at her bath
The biblical iconography is barely recognizable via the small, sfumato figure of King David hiding in the rushes at the upper edge, and the Egyptian garments of the handmaid, which actually accentuate the exotic nature of the scene. The theme of Bathsheba at her bath, that was understandably a favorite with the patrons did very well for Hayez (he painted it four times) and other artists of the period because it combined different genres: the nude, the historic-religious painting and the erotic, liberated style of the bather. The entire composition revolves around the smooth, nude body of Bathsheba, sculpted by light that falls from above leaving only the landscape and some details of the figures in shadow. The precise and refined graphic division is matched by generally softened and cold colors, except for the bright red of the maids’ costumes. Bathsheba’s ideal beauty, that echoes the seventeenth century classicism of Reni and Domenichino, seems to herald the purism that Hayez would favor in later years. It is not a coincidence that this signed and dated painting was transposed into a graphic version by Bartolomeo Soster, the theoretician of purism.
Caterina Cornaro Deposed from the Throne of Cyprus
The political and civil disappointments of the eighteen-forties made Hayez the popular interpreter of the myth of Venice. Here it is presented in a tragic, theatrical vein through the literary and romantic references to the story of the unlucky queen of Cyprus who was dethroned and confined to the castle at Asolo. It was made popular by Scribe’s tragedy and was then set to music, in 1841 by Fromental Halevy, in 1842-1843 by Donizetti and in 1846 by Pacini. Hayez’s painting, commissioned by Antonio Frizzoni (of the well-known family of collectors and cognoscenti from Bergamo) echoes the typical effect of a theatrical coup de scène that is synthesized here in the poses and gestures of the figures and the way light is distributed. Giorgio Cornaro, standing in front of the queen, his relative, with an impassive expression opens the window to show poor Caterina that the Venetian flag is flying over the island’s fortress. With her unsteady pose the queen expresses consternation, disappointment and dignified anger. The scene is totally concentrated on this dialogue of gazes and gestures and on the light which, with the violence of a spotlight, invests the queen’s lavish, eastern-type lavish dress. Within the context of Hayez’s production, this painting is a moment of thematic and stylistic transition from the large paintings of Venetian history dedicated to the Foscari (1842-1844), Vettor Pisani (1840), and Marin Faliero (1844) and those of costume and legend, such as Accusa segreta (1847-1848) and Il Consiglio della Vendetta (1851). Furthermore, the subject lent itself readily to the fusion between the historic genre and orientalist themes.
Jacob and Esau
This painting, which was presented at Brera in 1844 actually had a long title that offered a detailed description of the entire scene – “Jacob meeting with Esau bows to him seven times and shows him the flock and camels he had sent as a gift and introduces his wife and children.” Painted for Camillo Brozzoni, one of the era’s most important collectors, the piece is of extremely high quality. It is linked to a very original interpretation of the German purists’ language (that Hayez learned during a trip to Munich in 1837) and is interpreted through the recovery of eighteenth century Venetian formal traditions, such as Sebastiano Ricci and Tiepolo whose inspiration is clearly evident. The composition, that did not arouse great enthusiasm at the time because of a lack of historical verisimilitude and a presumed conceptual “weakness” does have a particularly rigorous structural essentiality in the colors, graphics and spatial-volume relationships among the figures against the formal simplicity of the landscape. Jacob’s wife is central, as still and immobile as an ancient statue and her white clothing and pearly complexion illuminate the entire scene.
This painting, along with an earlier (1850) version, marks a turning point in Hayez’s art that was ideologically influenced by the tragic political events of 1848 which the artist has personally experienced in Milan. Having abandoned the historical genre proper, in the ‘forties Hayez had already developed his own, very personal romantic repertory by transferring a political and civic value to an iconographic series generally defined as Melancholy. It was closely linked to the pensive Biblical heroines, Rebecca and Tamar and the seductive Bathers or the Odalisques, already symbolic of existential malaise. About ten years later, following the Risorgimento’s disappointments of 1848, the “melancholy” of contemporary awareness was transformed into the Meditations. In the first version, exhibited at Brera, entitled Meditation on the Old and New Testament, the patriotic theme of the defeated Italy’s grief was veiled by a religious guise. In this, the second version of Meditation, dated 1851 and painted for the Veronese count, Giacomo Franco, a collector of contemporary, liberally inspired art, the political message is interpreted more clearly through the objects in the sensual female’s hands: the mock Bible with the words Storia d’Italia [History of Italy] that we also see in the 1850 version) and a stark cross symbolizing the Risorgimento martyrdom with the red lettering: “22.214.171.124.22 marzo/1848”, the dates of the Cinque Giornate – the Five Days of Milan. The emotional charge of the particularly intense and expressive figure is cooled by pearly, lunar colors that create an interesting play of chiaroscuro.
This version of Hayez’s famous painting that was executed for Count Alfonso Maria Visconti di Saliceto and greeted with great success in Brera in 1859 is probably the copy sent to the 1867 Universal Exposition in Paris where it earned the admiration of Rossini who immediately congratulated his artist friend. This Parisian version which, at first glance, differs from the other only in the detail of the white garment on the steps, actually has an interesting detail that gives the painting a political significance. The lining of the young man’s cape is not brown, but rather a bright green. Together with the white of the garment on the steps, the red tights and woman’s blue dress the colors create a clear reference to the flags of two nations: France and Italy whose alliance led to the creation of the new Italian state. It is because of this that the new version of the painting with its formal and chromatic variations was sent to Paris where it met with great success. Even the first version of The Kiss, though simpler and less detailed, had a hidden political meaning related to when it was presented, 9 September 1859, three months from when Vittorio Emanuele and his ally, Napoleon III entered Milan. The Kiss, was a romantic, poetic and sensual gesture, but it was also a symbol of political harmony, alliance, peace and unity. The setting, a mysterious Medieval castle, and the characterization of the costumes are closely linked to the artist’s taste for historical painting and, together with the sense of sensual transport of the two figures, would comprise the basic elements for subsequent cinematographic references, the most famous of which, undoubtedly is the embrace in Visconti’s film Senso.