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Exhibition guide

Sections 5 to 7

Josef Theodor Hansen (Randers, 1848 - 1912), Courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, 1891. Collection particulière. Photo Galerie Jean-François Heim, Bâle.
© Josef Theodor Hansen (Randers, 1848 - 1912), Courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, 1891. Collection particulière. Photo Galerie Jean-François Heim, Bâle.

Palace courts - Urban courtyards - The courtyard, history's theatre

V - Palace courts, scenography and splendour

In the Netherlands of the late sixteenth century developed a new genre: architectural painting. Its leader was architect and engineer Hans Vredeman de Vries, and his son Paul would extend his influence. Their palace courtyards with vast colonnades might have been imaginary, but the perspective based on a single vanishing point was scientific. These spectacular works enjoyed remarkable success in the courts of central and northern Europe.
Italy shone in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the quadratura, or illusionistic architectural pieces applied to ceilings or behind stage curtains, and the capriccio, invented edifices drawing on various components, sometimes adapted to French tastes.
Throughout the 1800s artists recorded the rehabilitation of heritage sites and the birth of tourism in France and Italy (Pau, Venice, Florence).
As for the Orientalists, they explored every aspect of that supreme monument of Arabo-Andalusian architecture, the Alhambra, and its celebrated courtyards.


VI - Urban courtyards, city surprises and metamorphoses

Similar to writers and poets, painters were the witnesses and – sometimes nostalgic – chroniclers of the changes affecting the cities in the modern era.
Some of their works displayed in this exhibition portray famous Parisian edifices under construction or renovation. Others propose a wintry, even ghostly view of the French capital.
To find a softer, more welcoming metropolis painters travelled to more exotic climes. The scenes of one such destination, Rome, evoke an urban labyrinth of the utmost picturesqueness.
As for the Orientalists, they ventured into the backyards of the bustling bazaars and caravanserais of Cairo, Istanbul and Trebizond. Universal themes such as the butcher's yard and its carcasses find expression on both shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
While in the 1930s, an unclassifiable artist such as Usellini looked at the city through the eyes of a child, focusing on the dreamlike and the fantastic rather than reality.

© François Bonvin, The Pig, 1874.
Musée des Beaux-arts de la Ville de Reims. Photo C. Devleeschauwer.

VII - The courtyard, history's theatre

Scenographic by nature, the courtyard lends itself well to the staging of history and propaganda. This is clearly the case for all the episodes set in palace grounds and peopled with remarkable figures, such as this one with Queen Christina of Sweden at Fontainebleau. Art in the late nineteenth century did nevertheless celebrate other types of important persons, such as the famous psychiatrist Philippe Pinel freeing the mental patients of the Salpêtrière Hospital, or the revolutionary Louise Michel haranguing her fellow prisoners.
At the opposite end of the scale, in Magnasco's visionary composition the courtyard is a place where the anonymous suffer. Often history painters chose it as a setting for their subject in the context of legends (Charlemagne's court), myths (the palace of Minos) and biblical tales (the modern sacred art of Maurice Denis). Ultimately, all the depictions of courtyards tell, whether great or small, universal or anecdotal, a human story.

© Pierre Antoine Augustin Vafflard,
Emma and Eginhard or The Stratagems of Love, 1804.
Évreux, musée d'Art, Histoire et Archéologie

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