Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Domenico Feti

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From volume 6 of the work.

Feti, Domenico, an Italian painter; born at Rome, 1589; died at Venice, 1624. He was a pupil of Cigoli (Ludovico Cardi, 1559-1613), or at least was much influenced by this master during his sojourn in Rome. From the end of the sixteenth century Rome again became what she had ceased to be after the sack of 1527, the metropolis of the beautiful. The jubilee of the year 1600 marked the triumph of the papacy. Art, seeking its pole now at Parma, now at Venice, now at Bologna, turning towards Rome, concentrated itself there. Crowds of artists flocked thither. This was the period in which were produced the masterpieces of the Carracci, Caravaggio, Domenichino, Guido, not counting those of many cosmopolitan artists, such as the brothers Bril, Elsheimer, etc., and between 1600 and 1610 Rubens, the great master of the century, paid three visits to Rome. This exceptional period was that of Domenico's apprenticeship; the labour, the unique fermentation in the world of art, resulted, as is well known, in the creation of an art which in its essential characteristics became for more than a century that of all Europe. For the old local and provincial schools (Florentine, Umbrian, etc.) Rome had the privilege of substituting a new one which was characterized by its universality . Out of a mixture of so many idioms and dialects she evolved an international language, the style which is called baroque. The discredit thrown on this school should not lead us to ignore its grandeur. In reality, the reorganization of modern painting dates from it.

Domenico is one of the most interesting types of this great evolution. Eclecticism, the fusion of divers characteristics of Correggio, Barrochi, Veronese, was already apparent in the work of Cigoli. To these Feti added much of the naturalism of Caravaggio. From him he borrowed his vulgar types, his powerful mobs, his Bohemians, his beggars in heroic rags. From him also he borrowed his violent illuminations, his novel and sometimes fantastic portrayal of the picturesque, his rare lights and strong shadows, his famous chiaroscuro, which, nevertheless, he endeavoured to develop into full daylight and the diffuse atmosphere of out-of-doors. He did not have time to succeed completely in this. His colouring is often dim, crude, and faded, though at times it assumes a golden patina and seems to solve the problem of conveying mysterious atmospheric effects.

At an early age Domenico went to Mantua with Cardinal Gonzaga, later Duke of Mantua, to whom he became court painter (hence his surname of Mantovano), and he felt the transient influence of Giulio Romano. His frescoes in the cathedral, however, are the least characteristic and the feeblest of his works. Domenico was not a good frescoist. Like all modern painters he made use of oils too frequently. By degrees he abandoned his decorative ambitions. He painted few altar-pieces, preference leading him to execute easel pictures, For the most part these dealt with religious subjects, but conceived in an intimate manner for private devotion. Scarcely any of his themes were historical, and few taken from among those, such as the Nativity, Calvary, or the entombment, which had been presented so often by painters. He preferred subjects more human and less dogmatic, more in touch with daily life, romance, and poetry. He drew by preference from the parables, as in "The Labourers in the Vineyard", "The Lost Coin" (Pitti Palace, Florence), "The Good Samaritan", "The Return of the Prodigal Son" (and others at the Museum of Dresden). Again he chose picturesque scenes from the Bible, such as "Elias in the 'Wilderness" (Berlin) and the history of Tobias (Dresden and St. Petersburg).

It is astonishing to find in the canvases of this Italian nearly the whole repertoire of Rembrandt's subjects. They had a common liking for the tenderest parts of the Gospel, for the scenes of every day, of the "eternal present", themes for genre pictures. But this is not all. Domenico was not above reproach. It was his excesses which shortened his life. May we not assume that his art is but a history of the sinful soul, a poem of repentance such as Rembrandt was to present? There is found in both painters the same confidence, the same sense of the divine Protection in spite of sin (cf. Feti's beautiful picture, "The Angel Guardian" at the Louvre), and also, occasionally, the same anguish, the same disgust of the world and the flesh as in that rare masterpiece, "Melancholy", in the same museum. Thus Domenico was in the way of becoming one of the first masters of lyric painting, and he was utilizing to the perfection of his art all that he could learn at Venice when he died in that city, worn out with pleasure, at the age of thirty-four. There is no good life of this curious artist. His principal works are to be found at Dresden (11 pictures), St. Petersburg, Vienna, Florence, and Paris.

BAGLIONE, Le vite de' pittore (Rome, 1642), 155; LANZI, Storia pittorica dell' Italiana (Milan, 1809); tr. ROSCOE (London, 1847), I, 471; II, 339; CHARLES BLANC, Histoire des peintres: Ecole romaine (Paris, s. d.); BURCKHARDT, Cicerone, ed. BODE, Fr. tr. (Paris, 1897), 809, 816; WOERMANN, Malerei (Leipzig, 1888), III, 233.