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Site last updated
26 June, 2013
Alessandro Magnasco
I suppose there isn't an artist alive today that, at one time or another, hasn't been thought of as somewhat peculiar in some way (some of us in many ways). I guess it goes with the territory, as they say. We may think funny, or act funny, talk funny, or some of us, even look funny. In some cases, all of the above may be appropriate. The list of famous artists who fall into one or more of the above categories is practically endless. On a weirdness scale of 1 to 10, a traditional family man like Edgar Degas might be a ONE while Vincent van Gogh would probably be counted a ten (as in "all of the above"). Most of us would probably fit neatly somewhere in the area of 1 to 5. However, though not particularly well known, a certain Italian painter born in 1667 would probably score at least an eleven!

His name was Alessandro Magnasco. Not much is known about the man other than the fact that he was born in Genoa and spent most of his life in Milan. In his early life he was quite conventional, really. He tried to appeal to a rather cultured elite with a narrative choice of subject matter painted with expressive, bold, even violent brushwork in which he deliberately left tiny flecks of unpainted white canvas showing between his strokes, thus creating a rather glittering effect. However, upon moving to Milan as a young man, he came under the influence of 17th-century Lombard style with strong ties to realism. As a result, his style changed completely to accommodate these influences.

But going beyond that, he rejected the typical superficial subject matter of the day (known as the Grand Manner) in favour of the lowly. Although some of this type of painting was just beginning to be done in the North, Magnasco was undoubtedly the first to embrace lower-class genre painting in the Baroque South. His favourite subjects were paupers, rogue highwaymen, gypsies, and other vagabond types never before thought to be fit subjects for the painter's art. In addition, he also took an interest in religious painting, not Madonnas or crucifixions, but the worship services of exotic groups such as Quakers, Trappist monks, Capuchin Friars, and the inner workings of Jewish synagogues. And in each case, whether painting robbers, rakes, rogues, or religious zealots, he did so not as a stranger in their midst, but from the inside of each sect, passing himself off as a card-carrying member of whatever group struck his artistic fancy. One would assume that he'd likely be as good an actor as painter.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
2 June 1999

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