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Musée Fabre Acquires Caravaggesque work by Neapolitan painter Bernadino Cavallino

July 11, 2015
Bernardo Cavallino (Naples 1616 - ca. 1656) The Death of Saint Joseph Oil on canvas, 18 5/16 × 14 3/16 in (46,5 x 36 cm)  Click on image to enlarge.

Bernardo Cavallino (Naples 1616 – ca. 1656) The Death of Saint Joseph
Oil on canvas: 18 5/16 × 14 3/16 in (46,5 x 36 cm)
Click on image to enlarge.

One of the intriguing painters of 17th century Naples is the Caravaggesque painter Bernardo Cavallino, to whom is ascribed some 80 paintings, of which less than ten are signed.   A recently rediscovered work by the artist was sold to the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France, by the Paris-based  Galerie Canesso, according to the Art Tribune.

The gallery’s write up of the painting states:

The artist’s oeuvre may now be expanded with the rediscovery of this painting, whose dimensions suggest it was either a modello for a large-scale work that remains unidentified or more simply a small-scale picture destined for private devotion. The composition was already known through a painting in the collection of the Banco di Napoli, a work regarded since the Cavallino exhibition of 1985 as “a copy or the work of an imitator”, and this judgement of style remains entirely valid with the appearance of our canvas.

In Italy, his work can be found in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the Brera in Milan, and the Capdimonte including this superb Ecstasy of St. Cecilia.

The Ecstasy of St Cecilia 1645 Oil on canvas Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples Click on image to enlarge.

The Ecstasy of St Cecilia 1645 Oil on canvas
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples
Click on image to enlarge.

Another standout is in the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland, The Dream of St. Joseph.

The Dream of Saint Joseph (c. 1645). Oil on canvas, 102 × 75 cm. National Museum, Warsaw.

The Dream of Saint Joseph (c. 1645). Oil on canvas, 102 × 75 cm. National Museum, Warsaw.

Of the composition of the painting acquired by the Musée Fabre, the Canesso gallery’s write up says:

The subject of the picture reflects a renewed interest in the iconography of Saint Joseph during the seventeenth century, when he became one of the favourite saints of popular devotion; in fact the Jesuits accorded him a place in their Trinity. One has to read the apocryphal gospels to find a description of Joseph’s passing from mortal life in the presence of Christ, who comfortingly touches his hands and gestures towards Heaven. The Apocrypha also tells us that Christ sent the Archangels Michael and Gabriel to take Joseph’s soul, for which the Devil was lying in wait. Here, several angels are sketched out in the penumbral gloom, one of them offering Joseph a white lily. The old man’s body is barely covered by a beige blanket that reveals his naked feet and solid carpenter’s hands, placed over one another and slightly exaggerated in size. The only decorative element in this intimate, reflective scene is the two-tone drapery, hanging in deep folds, and arranged along two lines of energy: the horizontal of the bench supporting Joseph’s body and the vertical formed by the figure of Jesus, continued by the extended arm and thumb. Solids take up as much space as voids, and work together to create the simple spirituality such a work sought to evoke. This is a pared-down composition, and the sharply-defined faces and insistence on descriptive elements in the voluminous draperies recall the style of The Dream of Saint Joseph with the Virgin and Child (Warsaw, Muzeum Narodowe) in which the figure of the angel with slender fingers is particularly close to ours.

The extreme, almost porcelain-like refinement of the brushwork suggests our canvas was painted in about 1640, since after this date the artist’s style evolved towards an increased liveliness in the treatment of colour.
De Dominici informs us that Bernardo Cavallino was trained by Massimo Stanzione (1585-1658), and the painting before us offers further evidence of how much his style reflected Neapolitan naturalism of the years 1635-1640: the artist expresses himself through authentic realism rather than displaying the affetti of a restrained sensibility. Within this small format, Cavallino uses a subtle play of chiaroscuro to emphasise the expressive qualities of the faces that barely emerge from the penumbra.

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