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In the Light of Naples: The Art of Francesco de Mura

By Suzanne Cohen

On September 17th, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum in Winter Park, Fla., will unveil the first-ever show of Francesco de Mura’s work. De Mura (1696-1782), was one of the greatest painters of the Golden Age from the so-called Neapolitan School. After the presentation in Florida, the exhibition will travel to the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Jan. 20-April 2, 2017) and the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College (April 21-July 2, 2017).

Francesco de Mura, Allegory of Charity or Allegory of Maternal Love, 1743–44, oil on canvas, 54 15/16” x 53.” The Art Institute of Chicago, Preston O. Morton Memorial Fund.

Francesco de Mura, Allegory of Charity or Allegory of Maternal Love, 1743–44, oil on canvas, 54 15/16” x 53.” The Art Institute of Chicago, Preston O. Morton Memorial Fund.

The exhibition was curated by Arthur Blumenthal, director emeritus of the Cornell and the author of its accompanying catalogue, which features essays by leading de Mura scholars. “De Mura’s art demonstrates a sensitivity and spiritual restraint very different from the previous generation of Baroque artists,” Blumenthal said. “Through this show, we’ll finally be giving this richly deserving artist his due.”

“‘In the Light of Naples’” fits eminently well within our mission,” said Ena Heller, the Bruce A. Beal director of the Cornell. “As a college art museum, we are particularly interested in looking at the continuum of art history and how to teach it. I am grateful to Dr. Blumenthal for fitting the pieces of the de Mura puzzle back together for the art of 18th century in Naples and, in general, for Italian Baroque art.”

Francesco de Mura, The Visitation, ca. 1752, oil on canvas, 37” × 46.” Cornell Fine Arts Museum, gift of George H. Sullivan in memory of his parents.

Francesco de Mura, The Visitation, ca. 1752, oil on canvas, 37” × 46.” Cornell Fine Arts Museum, gift of George H. Sullivan in memory of his parents.

In Naples, de Mura’s refined and elegant compositions, with their exqui­site light and color, heralded the late Baroque style called Rococo, while his later classicist style led to the simplicity and sculptural quality of Neoclassicism. “In the Light of Naples” reveals the power of his work through more than 40 paintings and drawings, including oil sketches of his great frescoes and many of his key paintings. The exhibition, the product of a decade of research, features religious and classical subjects, and portraits. The works are on loan from 30 major American and European museums and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Minneapolis Institute of Art and Museo di Capodimonte in Naples. The show not only explores the art of de Mura and his contemporaries, but also traces the role of Pio Monte della Misericordia, a charitable institution to which the artist bequeathed 192 artworks, four of which will be in the exhibition. Former Sopranos star and art collector Federico Castelluccio loaned four pieces to this show.

Francesco de Mura, The Trinity, ca. 1763, oil on canvas, 30” × 25.” Collection of Federico Castelluccio.

Francesco de Mura, The Trinity, ca. 1763, oil on canvas, 30” × 25.” Collection of Federico Castelluccio.

The indisputable leader in his day of the Neapolitan School and the favorite of the Bourbon King Charles VII (r. 1735-59), de Mura was the chief painter of deco­rative cycles to emerge from the studio of Francesco Solimena (1657-1747), the great Baroque artist. Outstanding works in the exhibit include large oil studies for the frescoes of Adoration of the Magi (1732) in the apse of the church of the Nunziatella and oil paintings related to the fresco The Assumption of the Virgin (1751) on the ceiling of the same church. Nearly a third of de Mura’s works were destroyed in the American and British bombing of Naples during World War II, including, most tragically, his series of frescoes at the abbey of Monte Cassino; fortunately, the Cornell show will include beautiful oil sketches of these lost works. Featured from the collection of the Cornell Museum are de Mura’s Visitation (ca.1750), the raison d’être for the project, and Solimena’s St. Francis Xavier Baptizing Indians (ca.1685), which was purchased specifically for this show.

Francesco de Mura, Portrait of Cardinal Antonio Sersale, May 20, 1756, oil on canvas, 34” × 28.” Collection of Myron Laskin, Jr., on extended loan to the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Francesco de Mura, Portrait of Cardinal Antonio Sersale, May 20, 1756, oil on canvas, 34” × 28.” Collection of Myron Laskin, Jr., on extended loan to the Milwaukee Art Museum.

“In the Light of Naples” will be on view from September 17 through December 18, 2016 at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park, Fla. | www.rollins.edu/cfam.

Suzanne Cohen is an arts writer based in Orlando, Fla.