Feast in the House of Simon by Bernado Strozzi

Feast in the House of Simon by Bernardo Strozzi (c.1630)

Whilst I was wandering around the narrow streets of Venice, crossing over the many quaint little bridges I had a sort of plan of what I wanted to see.  I had to have a look St Mark’s square and cross the Rialto Bridge but I also had two artistic destinations I wanted to visit.  First was the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute which was the church at the heart of yesterday’s blog but most of all I wanted to visit the Accademia Galleries which houses a collection of the best works of art by Venetian painters.  I finally found the building and I was luck as apparently it was “Cultural Week” and the entrance fee had been waived.  The first room I entered was full of what they termed “The Primatives” and was a large collection of late 14th century and early 15th century altarpieces.

It was when I went into the other rooms that I was taken aback by the paintings.  It was simply breathtaking.    It was the sheer size of them which was overwhelming.  In all the galleries around the world which I have visited, I have never seen such a large collection of gigantic paintings.   Some, including the painting I am featuring today, were in excess of 7 meters in width and there was the Veronese painting Feast in the House of Levi which was in excess of 13 meters in width and almost 6 meters high.   These large paintings simply overpowered you and you sat before them in total shock.  You could only imagine how long the artists had taken to paint them.  One room just had the complete nine painting cycle of the Legend of St Ursula, the fourth I featured in My Daily Art Display on March 22nd.  As each of the nine was so big I spent almost an hour following the tale of St Ursula and studying all the marvelous detail laid out on each canvas.  It was a remarkable experience.  The final room I went through on my way to the exit had amongst its collection the famous and very beautiful Tempest by Giorgione which I featured on March 4th.  This is a lovely painting much smaller than the mammoths I had been admiring earlier but still a gem. I was completely spellbound by this gallery visit and I suggest you add this gallery to your “must visit” list.  You will not be disappointed.

Back to today’s offering in My Daily Art Display.  It was one I saw during my visit.  I could have picked so many from the wonderful collection but for today I have chosen a painting by Bernard Strozzi entitled Feast in the House of Simon which he completed around 1630.

The painting was acquired by the gallery in 1911 and comes from the chapel of Palazzo Gorleri in Genoa.  It is thought that it was painted for the parlour of the Santa Maria in Passione monastery at Diano, Genoa.  The story behind the painting is from the New Testament:

“…When Jesus was on his travels to preach, a Pharisee called Simon invited him to a meal.
When Jesus arrived at the Pharisee’s house and took his place at table, suddenly a woman came in, who had a bad name in the town. She had heard he was dining with the Pharisee and had brought with her an alabaster jar of ointment. She waited behind him at his feet, weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses and anointed them with the ointment.
After this scene, Simon the Pharisee wondered whether Jesus was really the prophet everyone told he was, because surely Jesus would have seen that this woman had a bad name and would not have let her touch him. But Jesus retorted with a parable and he showed the difference of welcoming he had received from Simon as compared to the welcome of the woman. Simon had poured no water over Jesus’ feet and Simon had not anointed Jesus’ head.
Jesus said: “For this reason I tell you, Simon, that her sins, many as they are, have been forgiven her, because she has shown such great love. It is someone who is forgiven little who shows little love”. Then he said to the woman: “Your sins are forgiven…..”

The artist has distributed the various characters around the painting, not randomly but with care so as to tell various parts of the story behind the painting.  There is so much going on within the painting which as you know is what fascinates me.  We see Mary Magdalene kneeling at the feet of Christ with her porcelain urn of water in preparation to her washing the feet of Christ.   There is also humour in the painting.  Look how the man behind Christ’s right shoulder is remonstrating with the dog which is about to attack the cat.  It appears the cat has managed to escape the clutches of the dog by jumping upon the table much to the displeasure of a young servant, who has raised a stick and is just about to whack the cat away.  The banquet table lies diagonally across the painting.  Our eyes fix on Jesus who is vociferously defending Mary Magdalene whilst Simon is seen half getting out of his chair as he stares on incredulously at the sight of Mary at the feet of Jesus.  There is a splendor of colour which brings the painting alive.  Look at the servant carrying the tray of fruit – see how he is lit up by the bright background of the sky.

This is an awesome painting and I can only hope that like me, one day you will be able to stand before it and absorb its beauty.