Friday, October 4, 2013

Painting of the Day: Young Man Playing the Violin, c. 1750

Young Man with Violin
From the "Scaramouche Parlour" at Belvedere House
Andien De Clermont, c. 1750
The Victoria & Albert Museum

If you were a wealthy land owner in Britain in the Eighteenth Century (rather as it is now—anywhere), you wanted the people around you to know just how rich and prosperous you were. Your house, your carriage, your horses, your clothes, your jewels—these were all status symbols. But, the real indicator of wealth was your ability to decorate your house. The more you could spend on your interiors, the better you looked. And, the real icing on the decorating cake was the paintings you displayed in your home. Portraits—sure, they were great. But, the best thing of all was to commission a painting of your family in your home. And, even better—a mural, right there on the wall, forever.

Of course, even mural painting was subject to levels or pretension. If you could get a foreign painter—you were the top dog! Painters from France, Italy and the Netherlands were brought into the stately homes of England to adorn the walls with scenes from mythology, allegorical motifs, fantastic designs and bucolic views—most of which would incorporate the visages of the homeowner and his family.

Here we see one such mural which was carefully removed from its original location. Thankfully, the murals were painted on canvas which had been applied to the walls, conveniently allowing them to be removed two centuries later. This is one of a series of 16 panels which were commissioned by Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore, in 1742 to decorate the “Scaramouche Parlour” in his house, Belvedere, in Kent. Each of the panels depicted scenes from the Italian Commedia dell'Arte and showcase the knock-about comedy’s most famous characters: Capitano, Arlecchino, Pulcinella (who, as we know, inspired the English Punch), Pedrolino (later Pierrot) and Colombine. 

The mural group is the work of Andien de Clermont (active 1716-1783), a French artist who arrived in Britain in 1716. Clermont was, certainly, the most avant-garde and highly-inventive decorative artist working in Britain during the Rococo period.

This mural sets the scene for the antics of Pulcinella and his friends. An unnamed young man is depicted playing the violin. He stands in profile in the foreground of a landscape with a grand building showing in the background. To his right are two dancing figures. The whole is en-framed by foliage border.

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