Three New Acquisitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has acquired three Old Master paintings of note, according to The Art Tribune, including a portrait of a lady by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, called Baciccio. The painting appeared at Sotheby’s in New York on January 30, 2014 where it was reportedly sold to the dealers Álvaro Saieh Bendeck, Jean-Luc Baroni and Fabrizio Moretti for $569,000 (inclusive of the buyer’s premium), against an estimate of $150,000-200,000, who gifted the work in honor of Met curator Keith Christiansen. Here’s a portion of the Met’s write up about the work:
Genoese by birth and training, Gaulli moved to Rome following the loss of his family from the plague at age eighteen. There, while working for a picture dealer (Pellegrino Peri, of Genoa), his paintings caught the eye of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, with whom Gaulli formed a close relationship; indeed, his mature style is inconceivable without the example of the great sculptor (see Francesco Petrucci, Baciccio: Giovan Battista Gaulli, 1639–1709, Rome, 2009, pp. 38–61). Bernini is reported to have furnished models for Gaulli and promoted the twenty-two-year-old artist for the prestigious commission to decorate the dome, vault, and tribune of the Jesuits’ mother church, Il Gesu, with a cycle of illusionistic frescoes—one of the landmarks of Baroque painting. Today Gaulli’s name is primarily associated with this quintessentially Baroque type of decoration, among which outstanding examples are the allegorical figures in the pendentives of Sant’Agnese in Piazza Navona (1665) and the vault of SS. Apostoli (1707). He also provided numerous altarpieces, not least for Bernini’s church of Sant’Andrea al Quirinale and the Altieri family chapel that Bernini designed in San Francesco a Ripa. Gaulli became president of the Accademia di San Luca in 1674.
This next work, by the 17th century Italian painter Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (Il Grechetto), comes from London’s Matthiesen Gallery. Matthiesen sold the work in 1981 to Barbara Piasecka Johnson, and was shown at their booth at TEFAF (Maastricht) in 2013. Large scale religious works by the artist are apparently rare, reports the Art Tribune. A related work, The Immaculate Conception with Saints Francis of Assisi and Anthony of Padua, is in the collection of the Minneapolis Museum of Art. Here’s some of the Met’s catalogue entry:
From the time this picture appeared on the art market and was published by Brigstocke (1980), it has been recognized as a masterwork by one of the most technically innovative artists of the seventeenth century, the Genoa-born Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. Castiglione is a complex artist. Arrogant, with a volatile temper (in 1646, he slashed an altarpiece he had painted before the court of the Doge in a heated dispute over its value), his work is ceaselessly explorative. It draws on a variety of sources that range from the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, both of whom had worked in the international port city; the etchings of Rembrandt, which he studied for the dramatic treatment of light and the expressive line of his etching needle; and the contrasting work of Nicolas Poussin, Pietro da Cortona, and Gianlorenzo Bernini, whom he came to know during his two sojourns in Rome (1630–35/37 and 1647–51). The MMA picture dates from the artist’s maturity and is the fruit of his most experimental work as a graphic artist. A brilliant printmaker and draftsman, he was the inventor of the monotype and an innovator in the use of brush oil drawings (see, for example, 65.176)—techniques that would be masterfully taken up again in the nineteenth century by Degas. It is from these mediums and sources that he derived the singular painting technique of, on the one hand, short, repeated diagonal brushstrokes to describe the saint and crucifix and, on the other, a richly impastoed surface to give a tactile physicality to the astonishing still life of plants, skull, and open book set among the rocks. The relationship to his graphic practice is best demonstrated by comparing the painting with a series of extraordinary and closely related drawings of Saint Francis in which the artist explored the emotional range inherent in the subject (H.M. the Queen, Windsor castle). As in the painting, in some of these we find the saint’s face depicted as though drained of blood, in a state of spiritual ecstasy.
The Art Tribune reports this third painting by Pedro Orrente “was sold to the museum by the Madrid merchant Christopher González-Aller. It is … apparently the best known of a composition including several other copies … including the Museum of the Cathedral of Badajoz in the church of Santa Isabel in Madrid release. Having stayed in Venice in the early seventeenth century, there was notably marked by the style of Bassano, which can still be seen in this painting, probably made in the 1620s, particularly in soldiers playing dice Christ’s robe . The work, of great quality, also shows an influence of Tintoretto.”
Here’s part of the museum’s catalogue entry:
This powerfully composed and dramatically staged composition of the Crucifixion is an outstanding example of the work of Pedro Orrente, a leading exponent of modernity in seventeenth-century Spain. Orrente is sometimes known as the Spanish Bassano because of his admiration for the paintings of the Bassano family, with their Old Testament stories treated in terms of genre. When he was in Venice—probably at some point between 1602 and 1605—he must have had a close relationship with Jacopo Bassano’s son Leandro, but this was only one source for the impressive naturalist style he evolved during the time he spent in Italy. He was also very much attuned to the innovations of Caravaggio in Rome. Returning to Spain, he established an outstanding reputation in Murcia, Valencia, Toledo (where he knew El Greco and El Greco’s son Jorge and left a series of notable works), and Madrid (where his work entered the royal collections). This picture, a recent discovery, is a particularly accomplished example of his mature style. The composition was both replicated by the artist’s studio and copied. The present work is completely autograph and superior to that of three other principal versions/copies, the finest one of which is in the cathedral museum of Badajoz (it is, however, not well preserved; see Angulo Iñiguez and Peréz Sanchez, Historia de la pintura española, escuela toledanad e la primera mitad del siglo XVII, Madrid, 1972, pp. 243, 318–19). Another, poorly preserved, version is in the church of Santa Isabel in Madrid, and a third, very inferior version—almost certainly a copy—is in the parish church of Villa de Los Realejos (for which, see López Plasencia, “Un Calvario atribuido a Pedro Orrente en Canarias,” Boletín Museo e Instituto Camón Aznar 97 (2006), pp. 173–79, who, however, judged it to be autograph). The leading expert on the artist, José Gómez Frechina, has studied the Museum’s picture first hand and has judged it a work of exceptional interest and quality (notes in departmental archive). To judge from the version of the composition in the cathedral museum of Badajoz, which is of the same dimensions, the picture must have served as a small altarpiece. It probably dates from the late 1620s, though Orrente’s work shows a consistency that makes dating tentative at best.