Annibale Carracci: The Butcher's Shop
This painting is perhaps the most spectacular in the collection at Christ Church, and is of great historical significance: this was the first time that an artist treated a modest genre-subject, in this case the interior of a Butcher’s Shop, on a monumental scale (190 x 272 cm).
Its idiosyncrasy still presents art historians with a number of riddles regarding its meaning. One possible explanation is that the figures of the butchers depicted in the paintings are portraits of the artist and of his brother Agostino (Carracci) and cousin Ludovico (Carracci), also painters.
The Carracci family were reformers of Italian art at the end of the sixteenth century, advocating a return to classicism while rejecting the still prevalent Mannerist style. It is possible that this work is an allegory of these aims, which involved drawing from the live model, or viva carne, which means both "living flesh" and "red meat" in Italian. However, some have detected religious implications in the scene – so the figure of the butcher weighing the flesh is reminiscent of the figure of St Michael weighing the souls in depictions of the Last Judgment and the slaughter of a lamb, so prominently placed in the foreground of the painting, might allude to Christ, as the lamb of God. Quite apart from the interest of the subject matter, the way Annibale Carracci uses the paint, his bold paint-strokes, especially in the carcass, shows the change in painting and paves the way for the Impressionists more than 250 years later.
Filippino Lippi: The Wounded Centaur
Filipino Lippi, a close friend and collaborator of Botticelli, belonged to a generation of Florentine painters who established a new way of painting.
The subject matter of this painting seems to derive from the Roman writer Ovid (Fasti, Book V) in which he tells the story of the centaur Chiron, who fatally wounded himself while inspecting the arrows of Hercules tainted by the poison of the Hydra.
This painting offers a variant of that story in that the centaur is presumably examining the quiver of Cupid, seen reclining beneath the rocks behind, and Lippi may have intended to depict an allegory on the dangers of playing with love. The classical subject matter and anatomically correct torso of the centaur are consistent with the Renaissance ideals of late fifteenth-century Florence. Another important feature is the landscape in which the scene is set. It still plays a narrative role, depicting the ‘home’ of centaurs, but the capacity to become an independent genre in art is already implied. The geological formation of the cave and the reflections in the water reveal the growing interest of the artists of the time in nature.
Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto: Martyrdom of St. Lawrence
Probably painted in the late 1570s, this dramatic canvas may have been inspired by Titian's paintings of the same subject in the Jesuit Church of Venice and the Escorial, Madrid.
St Lawrence was an third-century Christian martyr who was condemned to be roasted on a gridiron for refusing to hand over the riches of the Church to the Roman authorities. The painting is a good example of Tintoretto's masterful use of chiaroscuro and oblique diagonals to create a dynamic composition. This painting, as well as The Butcher’s Shop, demonstrate the somewhat ‘macabre’ taste of its former owner, the military man and collector who left his collection to Christ Church, General Guise.