“The Quaker Meeting” (c. 1720) is a painting of an Italian Meeting for Worship by Alessandro Magnasco. A woman stands preaching, on a plinth in front of an obelisk, in a dark, cavernous room. Light descends on her from above. People are gathered around her, most of them ignoring her, some even chatting with one another. Two visual jokes: only a dog is listening closely to her, and one man holds his finger to his lips in a “shh!” A pair of nude men sit left and right in the foreground. It is thought that the painting is based on Van Heemskerk’s “A Quaker Meeting” or, perhaps, Goles’s engraving of that painting. Several copies exist, one of which hangs now in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Alessandro Magnasco (1667-1749) was an Italian Baroque painter. He used browns and greys, enlivened with splashes of red and blue, in quick, almost expressionistic brushstrokes. Magnasco painted scenes of everyday life in oil and with a sense of the grotesque. Among others, his subjects included military barracks, Gothic churches, town squares, jails and monasteries. He painted synagogues sometimes, and this may explain the background, which differs completely from the Van Heemskerk painting.
Quakers held Meetings for Worship in Venice, Livorno, Milan, Florence and Rome in the late 17th century. Italian Jews welcomed them to gather in their synagogues. Friends began meeting again in the 1980’s through the efforts of Davide Melodia. In the 21st century small groups, known as Quaccheri or Amici del Silenzio, gather in Rome, Florence, Bologna and Milan.
“The Quaker Meeting” is gloomy and weird. The nudes are disconcerting. It is an odd picture.
A link to a website with “The Quaker Meeting”, the smaller painting of which is clickable for magnification: