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Five Old Masters in Milan – UPDATED

April 27, 2012

Lot 24 Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi, lo Scheggia (S. Giovanni Valdarno 1407-1486 Firenze)
Scena di trionfo all’antica
tempera e pastiglia dorata su tavola: 41×51 cm
sul retro scritta antica a colore A.Orcagna; etichetta antica “A.Orcagna Costume of Piccolomini family; due timbri doganali datati 1951.
Estimate: €40,000 – €60,000 ($53,006 – $79,509) HAMMER PRICE €70,000

Tucked into the May 30, 2012, sale of Old Master paintings at Christie’s in Milan are a few pictures worthy of attention.  Lot 24 (above) by lo Scheggia is the sort of cassone panel with themes grand, triumphant and celebratory for which he was famous.   This one appears to have been severely cut down — it would originally have been a long horizontal composition of a procession — so it resembles a predella panel in scale.  It has some grime on it, but should clean well. That said, one has to like lo Scheggia, who I generally find to more irksome than interesting.

Next up, in a very busy and overbearing (original) frame, is this gentle, winning and deftly articulated Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Simone Cantarini.

Lot 36 Simone Cantarini (Pesaro 1612-1648 Verona)
Riposo in Egitto
olio su rame, in cornice originale intagliata e dorata: 28×37,5 cm
Al retro della cornice, iscrizione antica “Boschi” e i numeri di inventario 32 e 61; bolli in ceralacca non identificati

Lot 36 Simone Cantarini (Pesaro 1612-1648 Verona)
Riposo in Egitto

The contrast between the body language of the relaxed Christ child, draped in Mary’s arms while staring out to the viewer, and the intense conversation between Joseph and Mary is fascinating in its naturalism and animates the composition.  The mule at left, a necessary compositional balancing element, I suppose, is poorly handled almost to the point of being intrusive.  This painting could also benefit from a light cleaning (look at the filthy varnish in the sky).

Lot 45 (below) is a Caravaggisti work by Trophime Bigot, a French painter one doesn’t often encounter.

Lot 45 Trophime Bigot (Arles 1579-1650 Avignone)
Cristo deriso
olio su tela: 72×97 cm
Estimate: €80,000 – €120,000 ($106,011 – $159,017) THIS LOT OPENED AT €50,000 AND BIDDING STOPPED AT €60,000 AND IT FAILED TO SELL.

Here’s a portion of the Wikipedia entry about the artist:

Bigot has always been known from his documented altarpieces in Provence, but the English art historian Benedict Nicolson was the first to propose that he was identical with the artist called Maître à la chandelle (Candlelight Master), who was active in Rome, producing relatively small candle-lit scenes with heavy but subtle chiaroscuro in a style similar to that of Georges de la Tour. Nicolson connected a figure documented in Italy as variously Teofili Trufemondi/Trofamonti/Troffamondi/Bigotti with this artist, and suggested these were Italian versions of Bigot’s names. This theory was much disussed, and for a while many believed that there were two Trophime Bigots, father and son. It is now generally accepted that the two artists were the same man, who painted in two different styles according to the different demands of the Roman and Provençal markets; “It seems, however, that Bigot was simply adapting to new circumstances.” However acceptance of this theory is notably lower in Italy; the Galeria Doria Pamphili in Rome still attribute the boy with candle above to “Maestro Giacomo”, and the National Gallery at Palazzo Barberini hang works attributed to Bigot and the Candlelight Master in the same room, with the assertion that the styles and lighting are different.

This next work by Pietro Liberi is beautifully painted, romantic and elegiac.  He was active in the Veneto which is evident from the restricted palate (think Tintoretto and Veronese) and handling of paint.

Lot 49 Pietro Liberi (Padova 1605-1687 Venezia)
Compianto su Cristo morto
olio su tela
99,5×160,5 cm
cornice antica intagliata e dorata
Estimate: €40,000 – €60,000 ($53,006 – $79,509) TWO PHONE BIDDERS PUSHED THE BIDDING FROM AN OPENING OF €30,000 TO THE HAMMER PRICE OF €65,000.

An intriguing quality is gauzy treatment of the figures, suggesting otherworldliness and divinity, juxtaposed with the realistic depiction of the Crown of Thorns and nails in the foreground and the crisp edge of the white drapery.  The face of Christ is elegant, placid and sufficiently nuanced to suggest it was painted from a live model, while Mary and her attendants, the angels and putto look more like stock figures, which is effective in focusing attention back on the image of Christ.

The use of diagonals is well done. The strong downward left to right made up of the angels’ faces and the body of Christ, contrasts with the strongly implied right to left created by Mary and Christ’s heads, which are thrown back in opposite directions thus forcing the viewer’s eye.  This directionality is augmented by the largest and most clearly articulated angel’s wing.  Christ and the sheet on which he rests are also the brightest portion of the canvas, surrounded by literal and metaphorical darkness.

The treatment of some details, such as the hands of the Christ figure, is uneven.  The left hand is compositionally complex and a beautiful study in naturalism, while the right hand (and forearm) verges on clumsy.  This and other minor reservations, notwithstanding, I find this painting really intriguing and appealing. Here’s a segment from the Wikipedia entry about the artist: Liberi was born in Padua, his earliest training was with Alessandro Varotari (il Padovanino). He traveled extensively in Italy. During a voyage to Istanbul, he was captured into bondage for 8 months by pirates from Tunis. He was nicknamed il Libertino due to his frequent choice of salacious themes in cabinet pieces.”  Clearly, this in not one of his salaciously-themed cabinet pieces.

The last work is newly discovered, a Saint John the Baptist by Nicholas Regnier.

Lot 54 Nicolas Regnier (Maubeuge 1588-1667 Venezia)
San Giovanni Battista
olio su tela: 257,5×196,5 cm
Estimate: €400,000 – €600,000 ($530,057 – $795,086) BIDDING ON THIS LOT STOPPED AT €270,000 AND IT FAILED TO SELL.

Compositionally, this may derive from Caravaggio’s painting of the same subject now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, though that work is more dynamic.  Nevertheless, this monumental canvas, with it’s obvious condition issues, is impressive.  For more about this artist, here’s part an informative and well illustrated entry on the artist from the Art Tribune:

Régnier was thought to be born in 1591 according to a mistaken reading of a birth certificate. In fact, he might have been born in 1588, certainly before 1593 in any case. After his first training under Abraham Janssens in Antwerp, documented only by Sandrardt, the young painter left for Italy. He stopped in Parma in 1616-1617 before arriving in Rome.
Unfortunately, there are no known works from his early years. Thanks to his master Janssens, and also perhaps Lionello Spada whom he must have met at the Farnèse court in Parma, Régnier soon became familiar with the Caravaggesque movement. Once in Rome (between May 1617 and Easter of 1620), he shared lodgings with David de Haen and Dirk Baburen, both of whom belonged to this school.

Along with Valentin de Boulogne, Régnier was one of the main adepts of the Manfrediana Methodus, a term which designates a Caravaggism reinterpreted through the prism of Bartolomeo Manfredi’s style. Régnier quickly oriented his manner towards a pursuit of refinement and gracefulness, which Annick Lemoine calls “a poetics of seduction” or “a Caravaggism of seduction”. In this, he is in direct opposition to the Northern Caravaggisti such as Honthorst and Baburen, whose art reflects an almost caricatural earthiness. After settling down in Venice, Régnier’s style became even more suave, influenced by the Bolognese painters, particularly Guido Reni who became one of his principal models.

After looking over these works, and judging simply from the online images, were I to take one of these paintings home, it would be the Liberi. It is wonderfully captivating.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 27, 2012 8:15 PM

    Nice, Nord!

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