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Category Archives: Object of the Month.2014

Object of the Month: December 2014

Madonna and Child with an Angel (“Madonna of the Magnificat”)

Tempera on panel

Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (and studio)

Florentine, 1444/45–1510

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

The Florentine master Botticelli is known for creating elegantly fluid lines that give his paintings what art experts call an “ethereal quality.” Two expressive works showcasing this skill are his Madonna and Child with an Angel (c. 1490) and his Mystic Nativity (c. 1500).  Although both works highlight Christ’s incarnation, the overall composition and thematic nuances are vastly different.

This first work, a tondo from M&G’s collection, portrays a tender embrace between Mary and the Christ child.  The pose of the central figures readily awakens in the viewer that universal feeling of familial love.  It is an intimate human scene, but one that illuminates the wonder of the Word becoming flesh. This wonder is further explored through the angel who (unlike most angelic messengers) is without the defining attribute of wings. The angel’s focus on Mary’s Magnificat is also significant, for it draws our attention to the text that “gives voice” to the painting’s key theme: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”

The beautiful intimacy between Mary and the Christ child is also implied through the central vignette of his Mystic Nativity. However, radiating from this focal point is a sweeping panorama that takes the viewer beyond the incarnation to the final judgment. It is one of Botticelli’s most unusual works; it is also his only known signed painting. In his later years, Botticelli came under the influence of the fiery reformer Savonarola. In The Panorama of the Renaissance Margaret Aston notes that the “more expressive and powerful force discernible in his later works may represent his spiritual response to [Savonarola and] the spiritual unrest in Florence.”  Aston also points out that despite the juxtaposition of the incarnation with the apocalypse, the overall tone of the painting is joy. The apocalypse, usually so terrifying, is here transformed through the angels’ celebration.  Clearly, this nativity will change everything.

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education


Published in 2014

Object of the Month: November 2014

St. Catherine of Alexandria Appearing to the Family of St. Bonaventura

Oil on canvas

Francisco de Herrera, the Elder

Spanish, c. 1590-1654

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Francisco came from a family of painters; his father was an illuminator and engraver, and his son also became a painter. He first studied with his father, Juan de Herrera Aguilar, who taught him in the Mannerist style of painting typical in late sixteenth century Seville.

His first known work is not a painting, but an engraved frontispiece for the Constituciones del Arzobispado de Sevilla (Seville, 1609). A year later, Herrera established a studio and may have been the first master of the well-known Diego Velázquez. However, a contemporary Spanish biographer, Palomino, wrote that Herrera had a terrible temper and difficulty keeping students. Nonetheless, throughout his career Herrera gained many commissions from various monasteries and convents in his hometown of Seville.

Herrera’s most significant contribution to Spanish painting is the freedom in his “modeling of forms with bold brushstrokes of solid pigment.” This mature style is evident in the present painting. “On December 30, 1627, Herrera signed a contract with the Procurator of the Franciscan College of St. Bonaventure at Seville to paint six canvases depicting scenes from the life of St. Bonaventure.” According to the contract, Herrera was to “begin work January 1, 1628, and to complete one painting every month and a half, for the sum of 900 reales for each composition. If the painter did not meet these terms, the father procurator was free to give the commission to another artist.” Herrera seems to have completed no more than four paintings including the current work along with St. Bonaventure as a Child Healed by St. Francis (Louvre, Paris), St. Bonaventure Received into the Franciscan Order (Prado, Madrid), and St. Bonaventure Receiving Communion from an Angel (Louvre, Paris).

It is not known why Herrera did not complete the commission. It could have been that he simply had too many commissions at one time. Besides the four works for St. Bonaventure, he was to complete the main altar and decorations for the Franciscan Monastery of Santa Ines, a Last Judgment for the Church of San Bernardo in Seville among others. The fact that Zurbarán had just arrived in town may have also played a role in the procurator’s decision to give the remainder of the commission to him instead of Herrera.

John M. Nolan, Curator


Published in 2014

Object of the Month: October 2014

A Sibyl

Oil on canvas

Ginevra Cantofoli

Bolognese, 1618-1672


Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

From the Middle Ages to the early Renaissance, an artist’s instruction commonly occurred in the workshop of master painters or religious orders; however, in the 13th century, the craft guild system launched an apprenticeship program to carefully regulate the training, materials, and assessment of prescribed artistic techniques. The standard training began for boys (around 13 years of age) within a master’s workshop setting, which lasted 3-7 years; this process became the required expectation as outlined in Cennino Cennini’s, The Craftsman’s Handbook, a how-to-guide to artistic techniques, “If you do not see some practice under some master, you will never amount to anything, nor will you ever be able to hold your head up in the company of masters.”

Once completing the basic preparatory skills, the youth could progress to “journeyman” (a master’s assistant) by possibly journeying to another city to study and practice under a different master at a new level of training and collaboration. After 3-4 years (sometimes longer), he was allowed to submit a test piece to be evaluated by both his own master and other guild representatives. If his “masterpiece” passed, he would then be able to work as a “master” painter himself and acquire a permit to establish his own workshop and apprentices—hence the name, Old Master painters.

During the Renaissance, a new concept of artistic training developed known as The Academy—a private, informal instruction venue that not only developed artistic skill, but also included life observation, philosophy, and discussion to increase knowledge and broaden understanding.

These various methods of training were challenging for artists, but produced some well-known greats as well as some very gifted lesser known artists. While art education was well framed, suited to males, and even strictly regulated in areas, there were yet some options for a female to pursue training and have a presence in the world of art.  One historian states, “Although there were routes to follow for a man who wanted to be an artist and no map at all for a woman, art training was more flexible than it seemed on the surface.”  Even when excluded from apprenticeships and academies, history provides many examples of women that received artistic training through private tuition or lessons (if her family had money), from an artist-father in his workshop, in a convent, or from seeking out friendly advice.

Interestingly, a number of the known female painters spring from Bologna, Italy in particular.  It was a city where women outnumbered the men and a place that prided itself for its famous university which as early as the 13th century opened its doors to women (some of whom became lecturers renowned for their scholarship).

Elisabetta Sirani, grew up in Bologna and under the tutelage of her artist-father, Giovanni Andrea Sirani, who (somewhat reluctantly) trained her in the manner of his master, the “Divine Guido” Reni. She became a respected painter and received important commissions for churches and portraits.  She became a member of “merit” as a full professor and a member of “honor” of the Academy of St. Luke in Rome—one of the first women painters and the only Bolognese of her generation to enjoy this privilege.  Since she was officially recognized as a professional artist, she could direct her own studio, take on apprentices, and train young artists. Breaking the tradition based on the model of arts education for men and women, Sirani welcomed women of all ages and backgrounds in her atelier including amateurs and aspiring artists like Ginevra Cantofoli, who went on to make a reputation of her own.

Ginevra Cantofoli is believed to come from a well-to-do family and was older than her teacher; yet, she was one of Elisabetta’s favorites and possibly became one of her assistants. She based many of her works on her teacher’s, and subsequently, some of her works have been confused as Sirani’s. However, she also produced original works including those for the Foresti family chapel and other large scale compositions for churches in Bologna. Rare for the 17th century, she earned her living as a professional artist; this is confirmed by a legal document drafted by the artist herself in 1688 in which reference is made to “money by her earned by her work of painting.”

A sibyl in classical mythology is a female prophetess often pictured with a book or scroll and which symbolized the harmony between Christian and Classical ideals.  However, this work is unusual as a self-portrait of Ginevra who blends the classical sibyl and Hebrew prophetess. By painting a sibyl, she associated herself with areas where women had little influence during the time, such as ancient literature and languages and religious painting.

Based on history and the great numbers of male Old Masters that followed the accepted training processes, it is unusual to see works by female Old Masters; however if you visit M&G, you can see at least two examples on display in the collection including this unique self-portrait.

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director


Published in 2014

Object of the Month: September 2014


Oil on canvas

Frederic James Shields, A.R.W.S.

English, 1833-1911

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Frederic James Shields, the creator of this work, was one of many provincial artists to embrace the tenets of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Like many artistic movements, the Brotherhood began with a small group of youthful idealists decrying the conventions of their day. The founding members, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt were a diverse set of friends with one thing in common—a genuine admiration for  “the immaculate purity of Pre-Renaissance art” (K. E. Sullivan). This passion, coupled with their growing disdain for London’s Royal Academy, motivated these young painters to set down four principles to govern their work.  These principles (or “declarations” as the young men labeled them) were:

  • To have genuine ideas to express;
  • To study Nature attentively;
  • To sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote; and
  • Most indispensible of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.

Time would mellow some of the Brotherhood’s youthful disdain (Millais later became President of the Royal Academy). More importantly, it would refine and extend the Pre-Raphaelite vision.

The famed Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition (1857) “awakened” the Victorian public to a wide range of artistic venues including Pre-Raphaelite art. It was at this exhibition that Frederic James Shields first encountered the meticulously executed, vibrantly colored canvases of Rossetti, Millais, and Hunt. Shields later studied with Rossetti, and the two became life-long friends. However, the rich detail and typological symbolism in works like Patience reveals that Shields’ artistic technique and iconography are more in tune with William Holman Hunt’s oeuvre. A comparison of the topological symbolism in Hunt’s The Hireling Shepherd with Shields’ commentary on Patience illustrates some of the fascinating similarities between these two artists’ approach to subject and technique:

Set upon a sundial, her ankle chained thereto, her motions circumscribed with its time-measuring limit, stands Patience. Wings has she like a dove’s, but not till God shall loose her chain shall she fly away and be at rest.  Meanwhile she waits, crowned with thorns, with eyelids dropped as seeing things invisible, and lips, firm closed, like unto the Lamb of God, who brought to the slaughter, opened not His mouth.  Her once green garment is faded, stained and tattered with storm and wrack, and she is environed by sharp thorns and thistles, the thorns bearing still some lingering withered leaves of the past winter, and putting forth fresh green shoots (new woes fast on the heels of the old ones, and the thistle seeding to multiply yet more). She keeps pressed to her bosom the word of Christ’s patience, and bears His yoke, its noose around her neck.  Moreover, she carries a basketful of seed corn, and from her girded loins hangs a sickle (Frederic James Shields).

Donnalynn Hess. Director of Education


Published in 2014

Object of the Month: August 2014

Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)

Oil on canvas, Signed and dated middle left: Jusepe de Ribera español/ F.1638

Jusepe de Ribera, called Lo Spagnoletto

Spanish, active in Naples, 1591-1652


Ribera was born in Javita, Spain and presumably apprenticed in his homeland until he sailed for Naples, Italy in 1607, where he first observed the works of Caravaggio and developed an early affinity for the master’s style. Caravaggio’s art was a continual influence throughout Ribera’s career, but a trip to Rome provided exposure to the classical style of the Carracci and Guido Reni. Ribera’s impressive list of collectors includes Cosimo II, the Viceroys of Naples, and King Philip IV. He always considered himself a Spaniard (hence, the identification in the present signature) and greatly influenced the art of his homeland although he lived in Italy most of his life and made a considerable impact on Italian Baroque artists.

The present Ecce Homo is a devotional picture boldly presenting Christ after his torture and mockery by the Roman soldiers. Ribera painted the work in 1638 at the height of his popularity, and it illustrates his ability to combine a strong spiritual image with poignant realism. Christ gazes at the viewer with a confidence amidst the mockery, knowing that the crown of thorns and reed-scepter are emblems of a heavenly power unrealized by mankind. The empty background, isolation from the jeering crowd, and the engaging look of Christ’s eyes all contribute to create an arrestingly moving portrait of the highest order.

“El Greco to Goya” is the earliest known exhibition in which this painting participated—a 1963 show held at the John Herron Museum of Art in Indianapolis, IN and at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Additionally, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX hosted an exhibit in 1983 including M&G’s Ribera. Two of the foremost American scholars on Spanish paintings, Craig Felton and William Jordan, produced a corresponding exhibition catalog in which M&G’s painting is referred to as “unquestionably the finest” of Ribera’s known works of this subject.

John M. Nolan, Curator 


Published in 2014


Object of the Month: July 2014

The Mocking of Christ

Oil on canvas, c. 1620–30

Unknown French or Dutch (follower of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio)

Active 17th century


The attribution of unsigned paintings is a tricky business and can stump even the most well-respected scholars. Sometimes documentary evidence can help to attribute firmly an author to a painting, and at other times attribution can be securely made by an expert’s trained eye through an analysis and comparison of the artist’s style and technique. The present painting illustrates the difficulty of determining attribution for an unsigned painting several hundred years old due to two complications: a dearth of documentary evidence and the artist’s using a popular style/technique (which limits unique identifying elements to an artist’s individual style).

The starting point for comparison of this work originates with the revolutionary Italian artist, Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio. The dramatic lighting effects and use of ordinary people for models are some of the hallmarks of his style. These same characteristics are carried through in this painting: the shaft of light streaming down from the top center to the lower right and the variety of rugged-looking characters surrounding Christ.

The painting bears a striking similarity to the same paintings of this subject produced by Caravaggio, especially his Crowning of Thorns in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna. The characters of an armored man with a plumed hat and a torturer wearing a gaping, white shirt are found in both paintings. Even the “V” shape made by the bamboo reeds above Christ’s head are echoed in each composition. Furthermore, several of the figure types reflect similar models in some of Caravaggio’s paintings. For example, the Spanish-looking man with the reed (at the far left) resembles the man holding the ropes (at the far right) in Caravaggio’s Flagellation in the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen. The boy in the feathered hat in the upper right also is a stock character found in a number of Caravaggio’s early genre paintings, including the Cardsharps at the Kimbell Museum of Art.

Comparisons such as these may seem like a good indication for an attribution to Caravaggio. However, his style became extremely popular and widely mimicked—making the task of assigning authorship difficult. Artists from all parts of Europe—France, Spain, Flanders, Holland, and Germany—flocked to Rome in the early 1600s and tried their hand at experimenting with his new style. Artists who incorporated Caravaggio’s style often retained some of their own nuances that made their work unique and more readily identifiable.

Paintings that bear a strong resemblance to Caravaggio’s paintings are often attributed to Bartolomeo Manfredi, his closest Italian follower. The similarity of Manfredi’s style to Caravaggio’s is compelling, making Manfredi a potential part of the equation with the present painting. However, scholars at Sotheby’s have isolated features unlike Manfredi’s style such as the metallic coloring, handling of the drapery, facial features (especially the figure to the far right) to point to an attribution to a Northern artist working in Rome.

The present painting seems to have the closest affinity to artists from France who were working in Rome during the 1620s—namely Nicolas Régnier, Valentin de Boulogne, and Nicolas Tournier. Of these three, the strongest possibility for an attribution for this painting is Tournier, who used similar expressive figure types, compositional arrangement, and handling of paint and drapery, as seen in his Merry Company in the St. Louis Art Museum. The facial type of Christ and handling of drapery are especially close to Tournier’s The Fiasco Drinker in the Galleria Estense, Modena.

Until further research, comparisons, and additional expert opinions support a specific attribution (such as Nicolas Tournier), the painting will continue to carry its current, more general designation as an Unknown French or Dutch Follower of Caravaggio.

John M. Nolan, Curator 


Published in 2014


Object of the Month: June 2014

The Holy Trinity

Tempera on panel

Lorenzo di Niccolò di Martino

Florentine, active 1392–1412


Lorenzo di Niccolò worked in Florence around the turn of the fifteenth century—one of the most significant centuries in history known as the Renaissance. Painting during this period continued in the tradition of Giotto (begun a century earlier), and Lorenzo’s own style was not much different from that tradition along with other contemporary artists. While paintings of the Trinity were common imagery within altarpieces of the time, Niccolò’s depiction is unique—painted in a way never done before. All known earlier representations of the Trinity in this configuration (known as “The Mercy Seat”) are depicted with God the Father sitting behind the crucified Christ; whereas, here, God the Father is shown standing.

Perhaps today this seems like an insignificant modification, but in the fourteenth century iconography was more codified; deviations articulated meaning, tradition, and Church dogma—all issues firmly upheld and monitored by Church officials. Interestingly, Trinity subjects with God the Father in a standing position were rare until the same concept appeared about 20 years later in one of the most famous paintings in history, Masaccio’s fresco of the Holy Trinity at Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

Another nuance of Niccolò’s imagery is that God the Father is also shown as a young man—the same likeness used for Christ. This approach heightens the physical and spiritual connection between the Father and Son, who are mysteriously distinct persons in a unified Trinity. However, the depiction of a youthful Heavenly Father was later forbidden by papal edict revealing that the iconography shown in this painting was short lived in art history.

An intriguing facet of this panel is that the entire back side of the panel is painted (with the exception of areas of wear and damage expected for an artwork over 600 years old). A full, decorative reverse side of a painting is somewhat common to early Italian panel paintings and suggests that people were intended to view the reverse. Sometimes entire narratives or portraits are found on the back of paintings; others have painted inscriptions or symbols for organizations such as confraternities. However, the pattern and application here supply a completely abstract, decorative function. In fact, the effect was intended to mimic the type of decorative marble inlaid patterns commonly incorporated into many existing Florentine churches, including the DuomoSanta Maria Novella, and Santa Croce.

Preliminary research has revealed an almost identical pattern for what we see on this panel on a wall fresco border painted by Agnolo Gaddi in 1380 at Santa Croce. This pattern could be a clue to its inclusion in that same church to match the existing faux stonework existing on the walls. The pattern is distinct and would have the same markings as some or all of the other panels associated with the altarpiece from which this panel came. Such unique features can aid in attribution and dating, if related panels have firm documentation.

John M. Nolan, Curator 


Published in 2014


Object of the Month: May 2014

Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom

Oil on canvas, c. 1655

Govaert Flinck

Dutch, 1615–1660


Govaert Flinck began his artistic career in the studio of a Mennonite preacher named Lambert Jacobsz of Leeuwarden. However, after Rembrandt settled in Amsterdam, Flinck assured his future success by entering the great master’s studio as a journeyman. He was the first to closely imitate Rembrandt’s new, Amsterdam style, so much so that some of his pictures were sold as if by Rembrandt himself.

In spite of his facility to learn his master’s style, Flinck later abandoned his teacher’s manner to assume a lighter classical style of painting learned from nearby Flanders. This change proved to be one that the patrons loved and, consequently, brought him great popularity and wealth. The officials of Amsterdam patronized Flinck more than any other artist (including Rembrandt), which is evidenced by his winning the most important civil commission in Amsterdam—the decoration of the new town hall—with this very work!

As the winning entry, Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom is a preparatory sketch for the much larger finished canvas, which still hangs in its original position as a chimneypiece in “The Moses Room” of the Amsterdam town hall. Flinck would have shown the present sketch to the town commissioners for approval before working on the final canvas. This colorful and ambitious composition marks the height of Flinck’s powers as the leading historical painter of his day. Govaert Flinck’s classical style of painting became the standard for Dutch artists for the next hundred years.

John M. Nolan, Curator 


Published in 2014


Object of the Month: April 2014

The Man of Sorrows

Oil on panel

Albrecht Bouts

Flemish, c. 1452-d. 1549


Albrecht Bouts was born into an artistic family; his father, Dieric, was one of the most prominent artists in Louvain in the mid-fifteenth century and was elected official painter to the city in 1468. Albrecht learned his craft working closely with his father in his workshop; Dieric’s influence on his son’s artistic technique is seen most in Albrecht’s compositional choices rather than his style and brushwork. The present devotional panel, The Man of Sorrows, is widely believed to be based on a lost type created by Dieric; Albrecht would have been familiar with such images in his father’s shop as well as had access to his cartoons and drawings. Small and intimately composed images of Christ and Mary became enormously popular in the last part of the fifteenth century and into the sixteenth century, largely emanating from the workshops of the father and son.

The close-up focus on Christ’s face in this composition is a variation of an earlier fifteenth century model and reflects the Netherlandish trend of pious adoration of Christ’s head. Here, the bust-length image of Christ is presented frontally with a gaze fully engaging the viewer. Christ’s sunken, blood-shot eyes confront and invite the devotee to deeply contemplate the evidences of His suffering for mankind’s behalf. His eyelids are nearly half-way down, reflecting the countless hours of agony, pain, torture and sleeplessness. His brow bears a thick, entwined crown of thorns—one of the primary emblems of Christ’s torment and shame. Unlike any contemporary Italian painter’s conception of this theme, Bouts fully renders each thorn to depict their excruciating effect. On Christ’s sullen cheeks, translucent tears echo the flow of blood; the cool purple color of Christ’s lips reflect the blood loss and strain of torment. Finally, both Christ’s hands are raised in a blessing gesture.

Though many variations of this bust-length subject exist from Bouts and his workshop, very few, if any, are exactly alike. However, such detailed, realistic imagery focused on Christ’s substitutional sacrifice reflects the contemporary interest to contemplate Christ’s head and wounds both in art, but also in devotional tracts and meditations such as Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ.


Published in 2014


Object of the Month: March 2014

St. Cecilia

Oil on canvas

Giovanni Lanfranco

Roman, 1582-1647


Generally, a painter’s style refers to the way an artist executes a painting. Style can also be described as a general trend in painting usually initiated by an artist seeking to paint in an innovative or previously unexplored way.  However, a specific artist’s style can often be revealed in his individual expression—idiosyncrasies that help experts identify his work. For example, an artist may paint faces with certain characteristics (i.e. chubby cheeks, almond-shaped eyes, or small ears), use backgrounds in a similar way, or mark out his composition with heavy drawings before painting.

The technique an artist uses to apply paint is also characteristic of style. Every painter employs certain techniques that become distinctive to them—Botticelli outlined his figures; Rembrandt used very thick paint in highlights; Degas used hatching marks in his pastels; Van Gogh used thick paint for each individual brushstroke, etc… So, the actual stroke and method an artist uses to apply paint becomes an integral part of his personal style. Connoisseurs and scholars thoroughly inspect, discern, and memorize both the artist’s characteristic techniques and the general style or trend the artist follows—these are subjective considerations in determining a painting’s attribution.

To illustrate the concepts of style and technique, consider the context of Lanfranco’s painting of St. Cecilia from c.1620. At the turn of the 17th century, Italian artist Caravaggio initiated a style of painting viewed as revolutionary for his time. Artists all around him were painting in the “mannerist” style of the time—an eclectic blend of ideal forms with asymmetrical compositions, uneven or overall lighting effects, and garish colors. However, Caravaggio broke from these conventions to explore the dramatic possibilities of lighting combined with a candid, straightforward realism.

Caravaggio’s innovative style flourished rapidly within Rome’s fertile artistic environment, and Giovanni Lanfranco was one of the artists influenced by Caravaggio’s radical style, as evidenced in M&G’s painting. The half-length figures emerge from a dark background, bathed in a heavenly light streaming in from the upper left. The effect is intensified by deep shadows covering nearly half of each figure. This manipulation of light mixed with a strong sense of realism meet the criteria for the style that Caravaggio inspired called tenebrism.

Lanfranco worked in the tenebrist style intermittently throughout his career, with this St. Cecilia being one of his best representative works. However, M&G’s work is not his only treatment of this subject. The National Gallery’s St. Cecilia and an Angel in Washington D.C. provides unique insight into identifying Lanfranco’s particular style and technique; the National Gallery painting has been confirmed as a collaboration of two artists—Giovanni Lanfranco and Orazio Gentileschi. In 1990, Erich Schleier, the foremost scholar on Giovanni Lanfranco, expressed the opinion that the sleeves and hands of St. Cecilia reflect the style of Lanfranco (for centuries before, the painting bore a firm attribution to Orazio Gentileschi, one of Caravaggio’s principal Roman followers). Following Schleier’s input, further research was made into the old Rondanini inventories from which the National Gallery (and M&G’s) painting once belonged. Alessandro Rondanini’s painting inventory compiled on January 19, 1741 described two St. Cecilia paintings: one (M&G’s) by Lanfranco says, “St. Cecilia playing the cembalo with two angels,” and the other St. Cecilia (National Gallery) “with the heads by the hand of Gentileschi and the rest by Giovanni Lanfranco.”

Not only did the 1741 inventory confirm the attribution of the National Gallery’s painting to Gentileschi and Lanfranco, but analysis of x-radiographs, pigments, and x-ray fluorescence by National Gallery conservators have also supported this conclusion. This remarkable example reveals how expert (subjective) opinion by Erich Schleier led to objective proof for the collaborative attribution found in an old inventory and supported by scientific tests.

Studying the sleeves of M&G’s St. Cecilia furnishes insight into Schleier’s stylistic and technical analysis of comparing Lanfranco’s hands and sleeves in the Washington painting. Cecilia’s hands in both works are formed in a curved manner, almost as if no bone structure supported the flesh. Since artists tend to paint similar figural forms in paintings from a particular phase of their career, the stylistic detail of the hands in the Washington and Greenville paintings reflect the way Lanfranco uniquely handled this element of his composition. The flowing sleeves have highlights painted with rapid, bold brushstrokes, which is another stylistic trait carried over in each work.

In 1620, Lanfranco turned from the influence of other artists and was the first to develop an inventive style of ceiling fresco that presents an atmospheric illusion of figures rising into the heavens by using dramatic foreshortening and figure recession as seen in the fresco of the dome of S. Andrea della Valle in Rome; this Lanfranco innovation created a sensation inspiring many artists after him to use and develop this style.

John M. Nolan, Curator


Published in 2014