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January 2, 2020

Backgrounder: Art in Genoa, 1600–1750

The visual arts in Genoa at the beginning of the 17th century included a revolutionary approach to representation that was influenced by followers of Caravaggio and Peter Paul Rubens. The coexistence and equal importance of native and foreign ideas that had been characteristic of Genoese art since the 14th century allowed for an unprecedented range of stylistic possibilities. Though often intersecting in the city’s churches, palaces, and collections, these diverse styles remained distinctly separate.

Among the artistic choices of the early 17th century, a late mannerism that combined stylization and feeling had the most influence. Beginning in the second decade of the 17th century, artists began to synthesize local, foreign, conservative, and advanced elements into various combinations and contexts. Well-established mannerist design was fused with intense naturalistic observation and charged emotion. Elaborate perspectival schemes became populated with busy and robust narratives. Genre subjects were personalized and elevated through virtuoso handling. Collaboration with Flemish craftsmen resulted in luxury silver goods of unsurpassed intricacy and quality. In their multiple forms, parallel meanings, and equally valid claims to Genoese identity as well as patronage—and in their resemblance to the culture of a modern city––these syntheses marked the emergence and established the terms of a distinctive baroque art.

Around the beginning of the 18th century, art in Genoa underwent significant changes. The increasingly studied interpretation of high baroque that Genoese artists had experienced in Rome as well as activity by leading figures of other schools brought an exaggeration of the naturalistic and visionary aspects found in the Genoese style. An interest in portraiture, inspired by the French court, reemerged as well as an interest in landscape painting; both depicted more conventional types and ideal beauty. The previous extravagance in painting devolved to interior design and the decorative arts, and to provincial situations and traditionally lower art forms, such as wood sculpture and ephemeral decoration. By the mid-18th century, these transformations marked the end of the most consistent and distinctive period of Genoese art.

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