The National Museum of Art of Romania

Discover the works in the European Art Gallery

Bramantino painted this altar piece sometime around 1512-1515, at the height of his career. The scene is set just outside the walls of city whose buildings are clearly visible. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful and comprehensive cityscape ever imagined by Bramantino. The artist seems to imply the ideal city is a most befitting backdrop for the Pietà, suggestive of the Redeemer’s incorruptible perfection.

Note the surreal, otherwordly quality of the painting in which Christ’s Lamentation and the architectural vista share the picture plane in almost equal proportions.

It was approximately at the same time that Lady Despina, wife of Wallachian ruler Neagoe Basarab, ordered a small icon representing the Descent from the Cross, a theme close to the Lamentation. Though different in both scale and approach, both paintings are highly original and prompt us to pause to understand the manner in which Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox artists visually illustrate contemporary ideas.

 

Artwork description
Bartolomeo Suardi
(Bergamo, c. 1465 – Milan, 1530)
Italian school
Oil on wood
102 x 80 cm
Inv. 7988/22
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 1st floor, room 1

The Bucharest panel represents Jan Brueghel the Elder’s biggest and most complex Flower Bouquet. The painting is conceived along the same lines as the panel made for Cardinal Federico Borromeo in 1606. Many contemporary collectors and art lovers ordered similar paintings, turning this new type of still-life into one of the most successful creations ever of Jan Brueghel’s studio. Several generations of painters active in his studio specialized in flower bouquets of every size and complexity.

This particular painting is a true visual enciclopaedia. It depicts dozens of flower and plant species and varieties which the artist had studied for months in the Brussels garden of Archduke Albrecht of Habsburg. Amidst this rich floral world hide around 20 insect species. Flowers blossom and fade away, catepillars turn into crysalids which turn into butterflies thus measuring the passage of time and suggesting life’s cycles. Upon contemplating the painting one becomes aware of the frailty and ephemeral nature of beauty and life as much as of the divine nature of art. Close to the vase rim a fly’s buzz breaks the silence and our pensive contemplation…

 

Artwork description
Jan Brueghel the Elder
(Bruxelles, 1568 - Antwerp, 1625)
Flemish school
Oil on wood
162 x 132 cm
Inv. 7988/22
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 2nd floor, room 8
Sign language video
Sign language video

The Seasons series brings together four small-size panels by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, were produced in the highly lucrative studio the artist had inherited from his famous father, Pieter Breugel the Elder. The series suggestively illustrates the passage of time and the cycle of life.

Spring sets the stage for the seasonal story as activities typically linked to March, April and May unfold before our eyes in successive picture planes. Numerous servants tend to an elaborate garden, sheare the sheep, cut back the vine and roses under the watchfull eyes of well-dressed masters. Before glimpsing into the distant landscape have a look at the merry-making villagers balancing all the hard work with a dance at the local inn.

Summer is all about harvest time. Fruit picking (mouth-watering red cherries are carried by the woman coming from the right of the image!) and wheat gathering are complemented by hay stacking: small pyramids dot the blueish background. Busy people show there is a job out there for every member of the community, male or female, young or old.

Artwork description
Pieter Brueghel the Younger
(Brussels, 1564 - Antwerp, 1638)
Flemish school

Spring
Oil on wood
43 x 59 cm
Inv. 69403/2283

Summer
Oil on wood
42,5 x 57,5 cm
Inv. 69404/2284

Autumn
Oil on wood
42,8 x 59 cm
Inv. 69402/2282

Winter
Oil on wood
42,8 x 57,4 cm
Inv. 69405/2285
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 2nd floor, room 7
Sign language video
Sign language video

Lucas Cranach the Elder painted at least fifteen versions of the theme, each of them slightly different from the other. The Bucharest painting is signed and dated 1520, being one of the earlier versions. Peaceful and perfectly balanced in her posture, Venus seems to discreetly argue that the relationship between Christian virtue and wordly love needs not neccesarily be a tensioned or guilty one. Or else why would the goddess of love wear a cross around her neck?

Venus stands in front of us in an elegant contraposto, her right leg perpendicular onto her left leg, a posture typical of so many of Cranach’s female characters. She wears nothing but a thin, transparent, almost invisible veil which descends from the top of her head to her hips. In the late 18th or early 19th century the painting’s owner must have considered her nudity offensive so he had her covered in a dark blue veil. The latter was removed during restoration in the late 1990s, leaving Venus no more provocative than Eve before her banishment from Paradise.

The winged Cupid stands to the left of Venus, supporting the bow with his right arm and foot. He mischeviously hides the arrow of love from his mother’s sight, but not from ours, thus making us wander: will he use it onto Venus or not?

 

Artwork description
Lucas Cranach the Elder
(Kronach, 1472 - Weimar, 1553) 
German school
Oil on wood
104 x 57 cm
Inv. 8107/141
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 1st floor, room 4

The Adoration of the Shepherds was part of the high altar of the Dona María de Aragón colegiate church in Madrid on which El Greco had worked between 1596 and 1600. The artist had conceived a monumental structure consisting of 6 paintings and 6 sculptures which visually embodied the idea of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the subject of many theological debates in contemporary Spain. The altar was dismantled in the early 19th century, the other five paintings being now with the Prado Museum.

The Adoration of the Shepherds The scene is set at night. The lower part of the painting features the secular while the upper half represents the Divine world, angels singing songs of praise to the Lord. El Greco focuses on the moment when shepherds kneal in front of the infant Jesus, venerating Him. The white lamb, the gift they brought Him, foretells Christ’s sacrifice.

Artwork description
Doménikos Theotokópoulos, called El Greco
(Crete, 1541 - Toledo, 1614)
Spanish school
Oil on canvas
364 x 137 cm
Inv. 8423/457
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 2nd floor, room 5
Sign language video
Sign language video

This is one of Guercino’s most profoundly Baroque paintings: the spectacular, highly dramatic movement is supported by the rhomboid composition scheme, the bold foreshortenings and the spiral movement of the bodies.

The painting brings together Saint Benedict and Saint Francis, two of the most important organisers of Western European monasticism.

Guercino features the two saints listening in awe to an angel playing the violin, thereby suggesting that, though seven hundred years apart, both monastic orders were of divine inspiration. In the early 17th century violin was hardly if ever associated with church music. However, it is possible that to those who ordered the painting for the Dondini chapel of the San Pietro church in Cento, the angel playing the violin held special significance.

Artwork description
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri called Il Guercino
(Cento, 1591- Bologna, 1666)
Italian school
Oil on canvas
263 x 184 cm
Inv. 8059/93
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 1st floor, room 3

In The Calling of Saint Matthew by Netherlandish painter Jan Sanders van Hemessen shows the moment Jesus imperatively calls Matthew to follow Him. As a result, the tax collector in Capernaum turns into one of the twelve apostles and author of the first Gospel.

Matthew sits in the corner opposite to Jesus. He wears a rich robe and a fancy headdress in fashion a hundred years earlier. By the mid-16th century this strange turban was specifically associated with moneylenders and bankers. The two young men busy counting money and filling in ledgers are totally unaware of the momentous event that goes on right under their eyes: in answer to Jesus’s call, Matthew removes his headdress, ready to give up all worldly possessions. While this foreground scene reflects contemporary life in Antwerp (some identified Matthew with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V), the Classical buildings behind speak of a Biblical time. Such blending in of the contemporary and the Biblical is suggestive of history repeating itself. By the middle of the 16th century Antwerp, a turning point in world trade, was relying heavily on the fortunes of merchants and bankers. Could this be what the two characters behind Matthew are discussing so vividly?

Artwork description
Jan Sanders van Hemessen
(Hemiksem, c. 1500 - ? c. 1575/1579)
Netherlandish school
Oil on wood
111 x 140,7 cm
Inv. 8096/130
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 2nd floor, room 6

The Return of the Prodigal Son illustrates a parable in Luke’s Gospel (15:11-32). Using the meeting between father and son in the foreground as a pretext, Licinio provides us with a vivid rendition of life in the Venetian aristocratic millieu around the middle of the 16th century. The villa sits in a lush surrounding landscape, which pushes the background up to a very high horizon.

The Return of the Prodigal Son Fashionably dressed courtiers, a weird flamingo bird striding the patio, a Nubian page closely watching the scene, servants trumpeting the good news from the villa terrace are just as many clues as to the high social status enjoyed by the family depicted.

Details of this ample narrative take up the entire picture plane, supported by powerful colour contrasts of red and green. Note also the blue employed by Licinio: this was one of the most expensive colours of the day, as it was manufactured from lapislazuli, a semi-precious stone brought by Venetian ships from the Middle East.

Artwork description
Bernardino Licinio
(1489-1565)
Italian school
Oil on canvas
186 x 236 cm
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 1st floor, room 2

Abraham Mignon specialized in scholarly compositions which recreate nature in a synthetic but highly artificial manner. Nature is a means to metaphorically suggest a universe rulled by Divine order. In fact this is the very message of this painting, one Mignon executed at the height of his mature years.

The painting features flowers and fruit only apparently scatered randomly on and around a tree stump, so as to create a feeling of ‘natural’ disorder. The center piece is placed against the backdrop of a dark grotto. A rat lurks in the hollow of the tree, ready to pray the nest of a goldfinch. Snails, a snake, a frog and a lizard swarm in the water while butterflies and bumblebees fly in the dark. An invisible torch lights up the right side of the picture where irises, poppies, peonies, anemones, snowballs, raspberry and chamomile emerge from the shadow.

A wealth of metaphores and Christian symbols record the many dangers that confront the faithful and his capacity to choose between good and evil. The bee, the caterpillar and the butterfly have associated Christian emblems, the lily is a symbol of the Virgin’s purity, the carnation flower stands for the Incarnation of Jesus while the rose represents chastity. These symbols are interspersed with other, more ‘narrative’ episodes: the snake crushed by a stone alludes to the triumph of the Church over the Devil while the bumblebee flying over thistle suggests the liberty to choose between virtue and lechery.

Artwork description
Abraham Mignon
(Frankfurt/ Main, 1640 - Wetzlar, 1679)
German school
Oil on canvas
100 x 78 cm
Inv. 106125/2881
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 1st floor, room 4

Haman before Esther illustrates a key episode in the history of the Jews during their Babilonian exile in the ‘Book of Esther’. Haman, vizier to King Artaxerxes of Persia, planned to kill all Jews to take over all their possessions. His plans were foiled by Esther, the Kings’s wife, herself a Jew. Purim, the greatest feast in the Mozaic calendar, celebrates the deliverance

The painting shows Haman kneeling before Esther and begging for forgiveness while the King points the sceptre towards him, thus sentencing him to death by hanging.

Artwork description
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn and studio
(Leiden, 1606 - Amsterdam, 1669)
Oil on canvas
236 x 186 cm
Inv.8187/221
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 2nd floor, room 8
Sign language video
Sign language video