(i) The Baroque Picture Collection

The Baroque Picture Collection

Goold was a pioneer in his collecting of Baroque art. A study of this kind will contribute to our understanding of the critical reception of Italian painting in the colonies. In comparison to European collections, Goold’s collection of paintings is only rivaled in precocity and quality by the acquisition of the National Gallery of Ireland, of a group of fifteen paintings from the Roman dealer Alessandro Aducci in 1856. The purchase is described by Michael Wynne, as a ‘remarkable and courageous decision’, in his catalogue Later Italian Paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland: The Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Dublin, 1987. Aducci, like Goold, was buying from the collection of Cardinal Joseph Fesch (1763-1839). Three quarters of the Fesch collection was of Italian works of art, almost exclusively religious, and equally divided between all periods from the fourteenth until the nineteenth century. Goold and the National Gallery of Ireland bought only later Baroque painting from the Fesch collection.

Jacques Stella, ‘Jesus in the Temple found by his parents’, 1642,
oil on canvas, Melbourne: St Patrick’s Cathedral.
© Catholic Archdiocese Melbourne

This project will explore the Irish taste for the sacred theatre and rhetoric of the Counter Reformation, which Goold wrote about in his numerous letters to Italian and Irish friends, mentioned by Martin in his research articles (1986 and 1988), but never analysed or published. To focus on a single example, Goold’s acquisition of Jacques Stella’s Jesus in the Temple found by his Parents, in the Baptistery of St Patrick’s Cathedral, has been ignored. Recent research, to be published in an article by CI Jaynie Anderson, ‘Jacques Stella in Melbourne’ in the Burlington Magazine, April 2016, will identify it as the most important picture that Stella ever painted. In critical importance it could only be eclipsed by later acquisitions \by the National Gallery of Victoria, such as Tiepolo’s Banquet of Anthony and Cleopatra, acquired as a de- accessioned painting amidst great controversy from the Hermitage in 1933 (see J. Anderson, Tiepolo’s Cleopatra (2003, pp. 175-195) or by Poussin’s Crossing of the Red Sea, acquired for the Gallery by Kenneth Clark in 1949. Goold was almost a century ahead of Australian museum acquisition policy in his Baroque taste. Although the considerable importation of European painting into colonial Victoria remains largely unstudied, Goold appears to be the most important collector of them all. The significance of these collections made by Irish Catholics predates by at least half a century a theoretical understanding of the Baroque elsewhere. From the advent of Neoclassicism in the late eighteenth century, until the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Baroque remained unpopular, until the Swiss formalist, Heinrich Wölfflin published in 1888 a set of conceptual stylistic antinomies that compared the styles of Renaissance and Baroque art. (A new translation of The Principles of Art History, was published by the Getty Research Institute in 2015). By concentrating on the formal differences of style between the Renaissance and Baroque, and by ignoring the intense religious content of Baroque imagery, Wölfflin made the Baroque acceptable as a subject of study for art historians but not for public taste or for museums. The first author to write about the collecting of Baroque Italian art as a worthwhile activity was Adolpho Venturi (La R. Galleria Estense in Modena, 1882). In Protestant countries like Great Britain, museums like the National Gallery of London barely collected Baroque Italian art until the collection of another Anglo-Irishman Denis Mahon was bequeathed, in 1999, finally arriving after his death in 2013.

Jacques Stella, ‘Jesus in the Temple found by his parents’, 1642, oil on canvas, Melbourne: St Patrick’s Cathedral. © Catholic Archdiocese Melbourne

In a letter of 14 August 1807, Cardinal Fesch asks his nephew Napoleon Bonaparte for an immense amount of money that he needed for the gallery he was building in Paris for his religious art collection. Among the many reasons he gave for its construction, was that it was educational, and that it was ‘in this house that our missionaries who are leaving for Asia will be instructed about art. These men will dominate far away places, by virtue of their talents, knowledge of art, and will gain unappreciable advantages’ (A. Du Casse, Histoire des négociations diplomatiques relatives aux traités de Mortfontaine, de Lunéville et d’Amiens, pour faire suite aux Mémoires du roi Joseph, précédée de la Correspondance inédite de l’empereur Napoléon I avec le Cardinal Fesch, Paris, 1855, I, letter on pp. 135-139, citation on page136)). Asia for the French signified ‘Australasia’, like the museum classification in France and Italy, ‘Oceania’, a geographical area, which includes Australia. Goold’s correspondence in Rome is filed in the category Oceania. In his will Fesch left provision for an educational art institution that was realised at Ajaccio. The Fesch collection was on open access in Rome, when Goold was in Italy for 5 years in the 1830s before he came to Australia. Literature on the Fesch collection is limited despite its importance, principally because of the difficulty of tracing paintings, which this project will highlight again. Fesch bequeathed his collection to his hometown of Ajaccio, not as a museum (which it has become) but as a study center for theology, and for understanding religious and aesthetic art. Fesch was a model for Goold who created his collection to educate the faithful in the ambitious and numerous churches he built. French scholars in Ajaccio are researching the Fesch collection. CI Anderson will consult their databases, for she has a track record of collaboration with the scholars involved.