Monday, May 15, 2017

Apocalypse Then

The Getty's "Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe" is billed as the first exhibition to present familiar view painters in the less familiar guise as interpreters of newsworthy events. The painters are Canaletto, Guardi, Panini, and company, and they record courtly spectacle and populist celebration. The show ends with a half-dozen paintings of fire, war, and eruptions socioeconomic and volcanic. With the exception of Pierre-Jacques Volaire (known for Mount Vesuvius souvenirs), these works are somewhat atypical for the artists.  

Two Hubert Robert paintings document the 1781 burning of the Opera House of the Palais-Royal. At top is a morning after view from the Musée Carnavalet, Paris. Elegant rubberneckers have turned the disaster into a Snapchat op. The lollipop trees, not palms, evoke the many artistic burnings of Los Angeles. A much larger night view from Houston (below) demonstrates how freely Rococo and sublime aesthetics mixed. 
At the exhibition's entrance is Francesco Guardi's late Fire at San Marcuolo, c. 1789-90. An oil spill set the Venetian canals ablaze, a uniquely terrifying calamity in a city of water. Guardi's flames, not immediately recognizable as such, take on the appearance of a supernatural event.
Prussian cannonballs pummeled Dresden's Church of the Holy Cross in the Seven Years' War. Baroque and Neoclassical architects debated how to restore it as the building crumbled. A large section collapsed in 1765, leading to the demolition captured by in Bernardo Bellotto's Demolition of the Ruins of the Kreuzkirche. Its fractal messiness one-ups Canaletto's Stonemason's Yard of 40 years earlier. 

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