Getty purchases Gentileschi’s radiant ‘Danaë,’ now owns 2 of 3 paintings in a set
Two down, one to go.
That’s a bit of wishful thinking, but the J. Paul Getty Museum’s acquisition Thursday of Orazio Gentileschi’s magnificent Baroque masterpiece “Danaë” excites the imagination.
The painting is the first in a set of three commissioned from the Rome-based, Pisa-born artist in 1621 by Giovanni Antonio Sauli for his lavish palazzo in Genoa, the booming seaport on Italy’s northwest coast. The second, “Lot and His Daughters,” has been in the Getty’s collection since 1998, where it will now be happily reunited with “Danaë.”
Tantalizingly, the third picture in the celebrated set — which together sealed Gentileschi’s reputation as a major Baroque artist — remains in an unidentified New York private collection. There’s no telling what might happen down the road (my crystal ball is broken), but one can dream.
The purchase required an outlay of $30.5 million during a brief but nerve-racking bidding session at Sotheby’s auction house in New York, but rivals did drop out rather quickly. Much of the big-ticket auction action these days goes to Modern and contemporary art, so those deep pockets were sidelined. And, institutionally, few museums have the Getty’s resources, while voluptuous female nudes don’t go over well in Qatar and Abu Dhabi, where big art museums are being built from scratch with vast oil wealth.
All of that no doubt worked in the Getty’s favor. And ours.
J. Paul Getty Museum’s acquisition of Orazio Gentileschi’s magnificent Baroque masterpiece ‘Danaë’ excites the imagination.
— Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times Art Critic
The Sauli commission is, indeed, quite bawdy, although the sex is wrapped in the scholarly moral erudition so common to Baroque art. The pictures tell three stories — one pagan, one Old Testament-related and one New Testament — and they move through history from sin to conflicted debauchery to redemption.
Given a patriarchal society, where men rule church and state, women’s sexuality and its evolving relationship to godliness are of course being described (and proscribed) by those with a Y chromosome. The men, while congratulating themselves on the progress society has made, get to look at sexy pictures.
“Danaë,” the pagan delight, is the most dramatic of the three — a full-throated stylistic homage to the inventive genius of Caravaggio, eight years Gentileschi’s junior and a close friend in Rome. In Caravaggio’s wake, Gentileschi replaced his Mannerist stylization with stark naturalism.
Against a rich, dark background, life-size figures are pushed forward and brightly illuminated, like players on a theatrical stage. The picture is all exquisite surfaces, heightening sensuality.
When the Mariinsky Ballet performed “Cinderella” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oct. 8, even the wondrous Diana Vishneva as Cinderella couldn’t bring unity to the movement, but she danced with flawless, fearless authority. Read more >>(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins leaves a rehearsal of his play “Appropriate,” opening Oct. 4 at the Mark Taper Forum, to eat first with a reporter, then later with his agent and some unspecified Hollywood people, who presumably hope to lure him away from the field and city where he has experienced meteoric success in the last five years. Read more >>(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Soprano Abigail Fischer performs Oct. 7 in the opera “Songs from the Uproar” at REDCAT in Los Angeles.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Moisés Kaufman’s muscular revival of “Bent,” which played at the Mark Taper Forum, opening on July 26, renders what many had written off as a parochial drama about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany into a gripping tale of love, courage and identity. Read review >>(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Malaviki Sarukkai performing at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on July 19, 2015. Sarukkai is the best-known exponent of South Indian classical dance.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Bramwell Tovey conducts the L.A. Phil with pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Hollywood Bowl on July 14, 2015.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Argentine dancer Herman Cornejo performs in the West Coast premiere of “Tango y Yo” as part of the Latin portion of BalletNow.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Jake Shears plays Greta in Martin Sherman’s play “Bent” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles through Aug. 23, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dancers rehearse a one-night-only performance choregraphed by Raiford Rogers, one of L.A.’s most-noted choreographers. This year the dance will be to a new original score by Czech composer Zbynek Mateju.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Mia Sinclair Jenness, left, Mabel Tyler and Gabby Gutierrez alternate playing the title role in the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre. The three are shown during a day at Santa Monica Pier on June 16, 2015.(Christina House / For The Times)
American Contemporary Ballet Company members Zsolt Banki and Cleo Magill perform a dance routine originally done by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This performance was presented as part of “Music + Dance: L.A.” on Friday, June 19, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Miguel, a Grammy-winning guitarist, producer, singer and lyricist, is photographed in San Pedro on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. His new album “Wildheart,” explores L.A.’s “weird mix of hope and desperation.”(Christina House / For The Times)
Los Angeles-born artist Mark Bradford is photographed in front of “The Next Hot Line.” This piece is part of his show “Scorched Earth,” installed at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, June 11, 2015.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles Opera concluded its season with “The Marriage of Figaro,” with Roberto Tagliavini as Figaro and Pretty Yende as Susanna, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
“Trinket,” a monumental installation by Newark-born, Chicago-based artist William Pope.L, features an American flag that is 16 feet tall and 45 feet long. The work is on display at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA through June 28.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Alex Knox, from left, Carolyn Ratteray, Lynn Milgrim and Paige Lindsey White in “Pygmalion” in spring 2015 at the Pasadena Playhouse.(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)
On March 17, Google celebrated the addition of more than 5,000 images to its Google Street Art project with a launch party at the Container Yard in downtown Los Angeles.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Ric Salinas, left, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya, of the three-man Latino theater group Culture Clash, brought their “Chavez Ravine: An L.A. Revival” to the Kirk Douglas Theatre to mark the group’s 30th anniversary. The play ran from Feb. 4 through March 1.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
The composition forms a dynamic, off-kilter X, with one line formed by Cupid’s torso, Danaë’s elegantly raised arm and welcoming right hand and the virtually orgasmic shower of gold that represents Jupiter, god of the sky. He has transformed himself in order to sneak into the locked bedchamber and ravish her.
The other, contrasting line of the X-composition is created by Danaë’s naked, alabaster body, plus the radiant play of light that illuminates the voluptuous scene. Her fate is implied in the satin bedcovers tangled around her and unfurling across the cloudlike bed: They are as golden as Jupiter’s miraculous shower cascading from above onto the luminous nude body.
Rather than a scalding satire on corruption, like Dutch painter Hendrik Goltzius’ brilliant, Mannerist take on the story in his 1603 masterpiece at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gentileschi weds stylish aesthetics with almost pure eroticism. A visitor to Sauli’s palazzo would likely know that Perseus, the offspring of the sexual encounter between Danaë and Jupiter, would bring eventual sorrow, accidentally killing her father. Looking at the picture, though, that inevitable tragedy seems remote.
The second painting in the set is the most conceptually shocking, although visually the most chaste. “Lot and His Daughters” huddle for refuge at the mouth of a cave as God destroys Sodom, unseen in the distance but suggested by a darkening sky. With the world collapsing around them, the young women decide they will get their father drunk and sleep with him in order to repopulate the land.
Gentileschi’s primary color scheme of red, yellow and blue underscores the basics — an ancient, pre-Christian incest story recounted in Genesis. A blouse slipped off a shoulder here, a drunken man’s head nestled in a woman’s lap there — the taboo encounter has found a way to be indirectly told.
Scholars have long argued the story’s meaning, but one thing is certain: In Gentileschi’s cycle, women are regarded as descendants of Eve, whose transgression in the Garden of Eden caused nothing but trouble. The ravished (Danaë) has become the ravisher (Lot’s daughters).
Which brings us to the final, “missing” canvas of the three: “Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy.” A hermit living a life of meditation in the wilderness, atoning for her wanton past, she’s the Christian sinner redeemed by repentance.
In Gentileschi’s composition, Mary’s body reclines next to a skull against a stone slab, reminiscent of a tomb. Her posture is an ecstatic swoon — head tossed back, mouth open and glassy eyes rolling back.
Divine love has traveled a difficult path from the pagan depiction of “Danaë.” Carnal union is finally replaced with spiritual communion — for Mary Magdalene, at least, if not necessarily for the painting’s bemused audience.
The trio of paintings was included in “Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi,” a revelatory, well-received 2002 exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art of paintings by the father and his gifted painter-daughter. (The show was also seen in Rome and St. Louis.) After that success, the three Sauli canvases traveled on their own to the Getty, two for a brief stay.
Now, at least two of them will stay put. The Getty hopes to have “Danaë” installed with “Lot and His Daughters” by the end of February. Prepare to swoon.
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.