25th May - 29th August 2010
Peter Paul Rubens
(1577 - 1640)
War and battle have always had a place in art – from prehistoric cave paintings to the most current conflicts of the 21st century. For centuries rulers of states had their military encounters visually glorified, choosing not only their own military encounters, but more often famous historical and mythological battles. Critical depictions of war, with very few exceptions, only occurred from the mid-19th century. The subject matter demands monumentality and most of the painted, woven and sculpted works are impressive in size with the intention to overwhelm and awe the viewer.
This exhibition showed a selection of works from the 16th and 17th centuries in the much more intimate medium of drawing. The sheets on display allowed the viewer to examine the beginnings of the monumental designs which were created by artists for their powerful patrons.
The works in the exhibition ranged from explorative studies of details to finished presentation drawings for the patrons, exemplifying some of the challenges that artists had to face with these multi-figured compositions. Among them were the famous Designs for a Cross Bow by Leonardo da Vinci, who was employed not only as an artist but more importantly as an outstanding war engineer, and a large drawing after Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ Battle between the Greeks and the Amazons, an extraordinary composition of swirling bodies in combat. Another drawing in Rubens’ own hand of the war god Mars showed how the master collected and preserved his inspiration in drawings; whereas a sheet by the Lombard artist and follower of Leonardo, Giovanni Ambrogio Figino, illustrated the search for the ideal form and was covered with designs for a warrior on horseback. A series of finished drawings by the Italian artist Niccolò Circignani offered an insight into the compositions for the wall decorations of the Palazzo della Corgna in Castiglione del Lago (Umbria) – the frescos painted in 1574 can still be seen there today.