The Agnes offers a Roman holiday

Art exhibit showcases Renaissance painters from historic city  

A Garden with an Artist Drawing from Antiquities by Johannes Lingelbach 
Photo: 

Located in the Bader Gallery room, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s newest addition is called Rome, Capital of Painting.

The exhibit features paintings by prominent artists from the 17th century, including Sebastien Bourdon, Michael Sweets, and Moses van Uyttenbroeck. It’s a love letter to Rome, celebrating its historically significant artistic contributions and achievements.  

Attendees viewing the exhibit might expect to see paintings of Roman landscapes, depictions of epic wars and royalty, and some religious paintings of cherubs, saints, and popes. While the paintings do lean heavily on religious influence, there’s more to the exhibit.

The room was full of compelling depictions of a range of subjects, from saints and peasants to religious and mythological figures. These portraits are realistic depictions of people interacting in intricate ways. 

In the painting Jacob wrestling with an angel, by van Uyttenbroeck, the subject is painted with his arms wrapped around the angel, grappling with him. While they’re fighting, they stand by a body of water, and fishermen and cattle are shown in muted colours in the background.

The peaceful scenery contrasts the confrontation in the forefront, and Jacob’s red robe adds to this conflict between the idyllic countryside and religious struggle. 

Though it features a prominent religious figure and an angel, it doesn’t look like a classic religious image.  It’s a shocking struggle that hints at the internal conflict that can accompany religious devotion.

In Moses Striking Water from the Rock, by Bourdon, the scene is intensely detailed and includes 12 figures, interacting with each other in small groups. It’s also a more predictable image of religious figures than in Jacob wrestling with an angel, featuring less violent imagery to represent the subject’s faith.

Looking closely at the paintings, you can see cracks in the paint and the broader strokes of colour. 

The scenes look life-like from afar, but they have a blurry effect that adds to the implied activity in each dynamic scene. Moses is turning to address the crowd of followers, and Jacob is preparing to attack the angel.   

Close up, it’s hard to see any small details or discernable small brush strokes. The piece’s parts blend together seamlessly. 

While centuries old, each piece in the exhibition is an impressive example of insurmountable talent. 

It’s a celebration of “The Capital of Painting’s” greatest artistic accomplishments.  The complexity and intrigue of each painting adds to the superior perception of Roman art that the exhibit is commenting on. 

Displayed in large print on the wall, is a lengthy description of what “Rome, Capital of Painting,” is meant to accomplish. The exhibit is a tribute to a city that holds a unique, inarguable place in European painting.

Celebrating traditional Roman and religious history is a vital part of enjoying the timeless pieces on display at the Agnes.

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