Alessandro Magnasco, Genoa 1667 - 1749

  • Alessandro Magnasco

    Genoa 1667 - 1749

Alessandro Magnasco was perhaps the most eccentric protagonist of the Italian late Baroque. Though he was born and died in Genoa, he spent much of his career in Milan, where he enjoyed the patronage of the intellectually sophisticated Lombard aristocracy, as well as spending a period in Florence working for Ferdinando de’ Medici and his culturally refined court. Magnasco specialized in fantastical and phantasmagorical subjects from storm-tossed landscapes and ruins to genre scenes set in convents, monasteries, and prisons, and he populated these scenes with small, elongated figures of monks, nuns, gypsies, mercenaries, witches, bandits, beggars, and inquisitors, all rendered in a singular style characterized by dramatic lighting effects, nervously flickering brushwork, and a penchant for macabre detail. Magnasco drew inspiration from a wide range of sources, from prints such as Jacques Callot’s Misères de la guerre and the low-life genre paintings of the Dutch and Flemish tradition, to Spanish picaresque novels and the literature of the pitocchi, which related the adventures of vagabonds, beggars, and gypsies in a manner at turns dramatic and grotesquely comical. His representations of those at the margins of society, from prisoners and to religious minorities, and his critical images of the Catholic clergy, betoken new Enlightenment ideas concerning corruption in the monastic orders, religious intolerance, and social prejudice and ignorance that had begun to permeate the Italian peninsula in this period.