Bell, Robert Anning (1863-1933)
Inscribed on label of the Society of 25 English Painters bearing the no. 2, verso, handwritten: Venice: Once did she hold the gorgeous East in fee and was the safeguard of the West (On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic, by William Wordsworth, 1802), verso: R. Anning Bell Signed on label bearing the no. 2414
A romantic Pre-Raphaelite painting of Catherine Cornaro, last Queen of Cyprus. The painting abounds in symbolism. The queen portrayed as a beautiful woman in her prime, wearing a headdress, seated on her throne under a canopy. Her head is bent downwards, her eyes lowered and although dignified, her face expresses sadness, as if she knows her fate. Catherine is representing Cyprus. A Venetian guard has his back to her. Dressed in military attire, he holds his staff, and has an expressionless, cold face. His left hand rests on a chair on whose back, and obvious to the viewer, is embroidered the lion of St. Mark holding the book open with a rather illegible inscription “Ho*** Marco”. On the right hand of the picture an Ottoman dignitary, in long robes and wearing a turban with a red fez, is bending towards the queen and is about to kiss her hand which he is holding in his palm. Although the viewer cannot see the Ottoman’s eyes, he appears to be approaching the queen with respect and reverence, but his body language seems to express a calculative attitude. The painting is obviously presenting the last years of Venetian rule in Cyprus. Already the Ottomans are making their intentions quite clear about wanting to take over the island of Cyprus, while the Venetians are turning a blind eye and a deaf ear. Their small acquisition cannot be allowed to cause them a major incident, nor are they willing to enter into long wars for it. The Ottomans know very well that Cyprus can be acquired relatively quickly and easily. Venice is slowly taking her leave and Turkey is flirting with the throne of Cyprus and cunningly paying homage to beautiful Catherine. In line with the title, Venice is about to lose the gorgeous East and retract back into the West. The painting is a strong example of Romanticism and smacks of colonial attitudes. The nineteenth century being the century of Orientalism had its influence on the artist, and places the execution of the work towards the end of the Romantic movement which was then receiving the first effects of colonization. The colours of the picture are strong, Venice red, dark shades of green and a pale white contrasting with the red fez of the Ottoman. The style is typical of the Pre-Raphaelite era. Large eyes, clear almost Hellenistic profiles, long arms and much body language. The work is framed in the original frame chosen by the artist, used over and over again by him and typical of the Victorian era.
37 x 27 cm
Signed: l.l. R. A. Bell
History And Legend, Allegory, Armed Forces--Officers, Group Portraits, Clothing And Dress, Queens
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