The Cincinnati Art Museum held its monthly “Art After Dark” event March 30. During these events, the museum is opened for extended hours and offers special viewings of the exhibits. There is always at least one highlighted exhibit, and attendees are welcome to refreshments and drink specials. This month, the Cincinnati Art Museum chose to feature “Cagnacci: Painting Beauty and Death.”
Guido Cagnacci was an Italian painter whose work flourished during the Baroque period. He was born in 1601 and spent much of his life in northeastern Italy. The center of the exhibit is Cagnacci’s oil canvas, titled “Death of Cleopatra.” He specialized in single-figure paintings made for private collectors, including the three canvases on display.
“They were made to engage with their viewers on several levels,” reads a press release for the exhibit. “Cagnacci presented biblical and historical figures as moral or spiritual exemplars or as cautionary tales, while their ambiguous expressions and settings, the rich colors of their clothes, the dramatic lighting and especially the realism with which the artist painted their bodies, would have offered their owners intrigue and sensual pleasure as well as edification.”
Cagnacci is considered one of the most eccentric painters of seventeenth-century Italy and the Baroque period. He was infamous for recurring themes of life and death in his works — most of which are religious in subject and famed for their eroticism.
“[Cagnacci] imbued legendary sovereigns of the past, Cleopatra, ruler of Egypt, and David, future King of Israel, with surprising humanity in light of the violence and brutality of their acts,” the press release reads. “His dramatic painting style and unconventional choice of subjects paralleled a seemingly turbulent life that more than once erupted in scandal.”
Cleopatra, Lucretia and Mary Magdalene were among the main focuses of his work. Though Cagnacci is not a well-known artist, Italy has hosted two major exhibitions dedicated to his work. The first occurred at Museo della Città in Rimini in 1993. Another recent exhibition was held in 2008 at the Musei San Domenico in Forlì.
Cagnacci trained in Bologna and Rome — two key artistic centers at the time — but spent most of his career producing works for towns like Rimini, Forlì and Faenza. He also produced artistic works for villages such as Saludecio, Montegridolfo and even his birthplace — Santarcangelo di Romagna.
Cagnacci’s work is “a sensuous beauty,” said Cesare Gnudi, an Italian historian. “[It’s] an exuberant life that expands into a spectacular vision, a magniﬁcent and joyful ballet; a world that delights itself in an enchanted game of brilliant colors, of dazzling lights, of sounds, and at the same time discovers a reality that is closer and more earthly, a new, much abbreviated, relationship with nature: all of these, we have seen, are typical seventeenth-century notes but expressed in such singular form that it can be easily said that they add a new accent to the history of Italian painting.”
Cagnacci’s work will be on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum through July 22.