Contributor: Antonella Mampieri
Location: Bologna, Collezioni Comunali d’Arte
Description: This painting by Francesco Hayez (1791–1882), one of the leading painters of Italian Romanticism, was commissioned by Severino Bonora (1801-1866), a rich Bolognese landowner, for his collection. Its subject is an Old Testament story from the Bible. Ruth, a poor Moabite widow, returns with her widowed mother-in-law Naomi to Israel, and is depicted gleaning in the fields of one of her former husband’s relations, Boaz, in order to gain a living for herself and her mother-in-law. The exiled Ruth will eventually marry Boaz.
However, the subject of the painting, and indeed the painting itself, are far less significant here than the life and ideas of its patron and collector. Severino intended to lead a Romantic and adventurous life. A passionate traveller in spite of his epilepsy which brought him twice very near death during his travels, Severino organized a six month long tour every year through Europe, Asia or Africa, taking with him young artists who couldn’t otherwise afford to travel. He chose dramatic and moving subjects for his collection of paintings, helped his fellow artists develop their skills through his patronage and input, and more generally worked to form modern Romantic taste.
Severino, a member of a wealthy Bolognese family, attended the local Academy of Fine Arts and studied philosophy. His house was a meeting place of artists and the literati; his library and collection of prints was open to friends and others interested in rare books. On his walls he hung paintings he commissioned, the work of celebrated Italian contemporaries (such as Hayez and Adeodato Malatesta) or of young artists just starting their careers.
In making his collection Severino wanted both to help young painters to make their name and at the same time to show his fellow citizens good examples of contemporary Romantic painting in order to stimulate good modern taste. The subjects of the paintings in his collection were very often suggested by Severino himself, and they are characterised by the exotic and the extreme. They depicted scenes taken from the far past – from the Bible or from medieval history or fiction. Others portrayed exotic scenarios featuring characters in far away countries and picturesque garments. Severino also loved and collected Romantic landscapes wasted by Nature’s fury in the shape of thunderstorms or gales. When the story depicted was contemporary, it illustrated moving episodes, often fragile women crying for poverty, hunger and desperation. These last included Mother at her son’s death bed, Woman Sleepwalker walking on the roofs of Dresden, Two orphan young maidens, and A blind old man. Ruth in Boaz’s Fields clearly combines three of these preferences in melding a story from the Bible with an exotic setting and a melancholic woman. The subject of this painting was left to Hayez’s own choice, but it adequately met the demands of Severino, who had asked for an Oriental scene featuring a beautiful Bedouin woman, should the painter not accept his other suggestion of working on a scene from Silvio Pellico’s successful Romantic tragedy Francesca da Rimini (1815, published 1818). A beautiful Eastern woman stands in the foreground, looking melancholically out of the painting but actually focusing on her inner thoughts. (As such, it is one of several paintings by Hayez of the same period, all centred on one single central female figure, barebreasted, meditating on something, sometimes explicitly on the events of the Risorgimento.)
Perhaps the most interesting paintings in Severino’s collection were those that depicted Romantic episodes from Severino’s travels, providing a partial record of that idea of the Romantic life. They tended to feature figures of women taking part in his dangers and discoveries , or
listening to Severino narrating his adventures, as here.
Creator: Francesco Hayez (Venice, 1791 – Milan, 1882)
Subject: Severino Bonora (1801 – 1866)
Media rights: Istituzione Bologna Musei I Musei Civici d’Arte Antica
Object type: Severino Bonora’s art collection, painting, visual art
Format: oil on canvas
Publisher: Istituzione Bologna Musei I Musei Civici d’Arte Antica
Digital collection record: http://bbcc.ibc.regione.emilia-romagna.it/pater/loadcard.do?id_card=186636
Catalogue number: P 357