A predilection for theatre? Bread and circuses? You must cleave to 16th century Venetian style. Or so one imagines the workings of John Ringling’s mind. One of the five Ringling brothers who established and ran the famous Ringling circus (once upon a time, the only show in town, any town), John had a penchant for Venice, Venetian art, the overblown, heavy, gilded, posturing a fading, if fabulous, culture.
The Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota is home to John and his wife Mable’s private collection. It is heavily biased in favour of the Venetians, though there are substantial others as well.
Some of my favourites (all photos are mine):
The Interior of Pieterskerk in Leiden by Hendrik Cornelisz, 17th century: The Sacred and the profane and intimations of mortality. A dog pees on a pillar in the church; a man is being buried and a woman with a young child gestures towards a tomb. Perhaps a way for the painter to indicate that life is fleeting – and much of it is humbug anyway?
A portrait group of Parisienne celebrities by Alfred Stevens, a Belgian painter (1889). The painting is a section from the original panorama, which was 120 metres long, six metres high – the size of a football field.
The Lottery Drawing in Piazza Delle Erbe, Turin by Giovanni Michele Granieri. This oil on canvas, 1756, is as clear as a photograph of the time. An orphan (high up on the balcony) picks the winning lottery ticket, while market day is in full swing below. Pots, potatoes, flowers and chickens are being sold. It is life as everyone knows it – then and now.
The two Canalettos. Interesting to note yet again that Canaletto was ‘crassly commercial’, as we might say in the 21st century; ie he painted in sizes that tourists would find easy to carry home.
Paul Delamain’s ‘Two Algerian Girls Selling Melons’.
And one of the greatest reiterations – be careful what you wish for; don’t fear death. Here’s Carl Marr’s ‘The Mystery of Life’. The American painted what was originally called ‘The Wandering Jew’ as the story of a man condemned to live forever. He chances upon a young dead girl and grieves that she died prematurely, even as he envies her repose.