This painting by Francesco Hayez just ripped my heart out and stomped all over it. Which is supposed to be what’s happening to the protagonist, Maria, who has just been informed by Rachele that her lover is unfaithful. The dramatic title: Vengeance is Sworn. It’s part of a triptych on love and revenge, along with The Secret Accusation, now in the Civica Pinacoteca Malaspina of Pavia, and A Rival’s Revenge (The Venetian Women), the whereabouts of which are currently unknown.
A Maffei verse was originally carved into the frame: “via dal mio cor si vil pensiero” (banish from my heart so vile a thought).
A note stands in for the absent referent that structures the narrative drama of the painting, the unfaithful beloved. Maria touches Rachele’s hand as if to push it away, while Rachele clutches Maria’s shoulder, completing a circuit between the women that calls into question the centrality of the missing third party.
A figure silhouetted on a balcony in the background seems to be turned away from the drama. The deserted canal functions a semi-private space in which secrets are revealed, but only to some.
Masking and unmasking shift the drama from the realm of the quotidian into theater, implicitly problematizing the erotic intrigue as a performance. The true feelings of the actors, submerged beneath a set of scripted gestures and historicizing costumes, remain a mystery. Perhaps there is no depth to be found here, only surface.
Vengeance is Sworn
Francesco Hayez, 1851
Oil on Canvas, 237 x 178 cm
Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna