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Culture news, 29.04.2002 16:59

Love Victorious in the Hermitage

Love Victorious As part of the Masterpieces from World Museums at the Hermitage program, the State Hermitage Museum and the Painting Gallery of the Berlin State Museums present the canvas Love Victorious of the outstanding Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573-1610).

This is an exchange for the Hermitage loan of Caravaggio's Lute Player for the exhibition ''Caravaggio and Giustiniani'' showed in 2001 in Rome and Berlin. Both canvases come from the collection of Giustiniani, one of the most famous collections in Italy. It was put together from the late 16th century by the two brothers, cardinal Benedetto and marquis Vincenzo.

Love Victorious was probably painted by Caravaggio in 1602 for Vincenzo Giustiniani who may have given the idea to the artist. The painting's title derives from G.P. Bellori, the famous 17th century author of artists' biographies. It is believed to be connected with Virgil's phrase, ''Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori''.

The Love holds in his hand arrows, one of his attributes. The young god is surrounded by various symbols of man's pursuits and triumphs over everything. Arts and sciences (musical and geometrical instruments and books), military virtues (armor) and authorities (crown and scepter) obey him.

However, the idea is deeper and more symbolic. It was understood already by the authors' contemporaries. The painter Orazio Gentileschi called Caravaggio's painting Earthly Love as opposed to Giovanni Baglione's Heavenly Love (Painting Gallery of the Berlin State Museums). The 19th century saw in Baglione's Heavenly Love and Caravaggio's Love Victorious and Lute Player a trilogy about love terrestrial and celestial. The 20th century was intrigued by the symbolism of Love Victorious.

Some saw in the musical instruments Venus's symbol, in the armor, Mars's emblem, and the whole as a unity of the supreme principle, both constructive and destructive.

The score by the Love's feet shows the letter ''V'' which may signify Giustiniani's name Vincenzo and suggest a remaking of Virgil's phrase, ''Omnia vincit Vincenzo''. Indeed, many symbols in Caravaggio's painting may be explained when we think of the marquis's virtues. Contemporaries praised Giustiniani's military prowess (armor), he studied astronomy (astral sphere), wrote about music, painting and sculpture (pen, manuscript or book, musical instruments) and put great efforts into the construction of his new house in Bassano di Sutri (geometrical instruments). Symbols of power (crown and scepter) may also be explained: the marquis was the heir to the former rulers of the island of Chios, recently occupied by Turks.

Deciphering of the painting as a combination of allegories ''Omnia vincit amor'' and ''Omnia vincit Vincenzo'' is now the most convincing one, though even it leaves many questions unanswered. Love Victorious still lends itself to differing interpretations. One of the innovations of Caravaggio's art was the abandonment of the previous epoch's apparent allegorism for polysemantic symbolism also found in the artist's contemporary poets reflecting the complexity of the artistic life of Rome at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries.

News source: the Hermitage

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