The Met acquires a rediscovered 18th century Italian painting
The acquisitions highlights page of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Web site includes a Sacrifice of Iphigenia by the 18th century Bolognese painter Gaetano Gandolfi. According to the museum’s catalogue entry, the painting is “a modello for the ceiling of a small room in Palazzo Gnudi Scagliarini in Bologna (via Riva di Reno 77), the decoration of which was commissioned from the artist in 1789 by Antonio Gnudi, apostolic treasurer for the papal state of Ferrara-Bologna (he was appointed to the position by Pius VI in 1781).”
The painting had disappeared from view and only resurfaced in 2010 when it was sold by the Genoese auction house Wannenes in November 2010 for €295,200 to the Florence, London, and New York-based Moretti Gallery, which more recently sold it to the museum.
According to the museum:
[This] is an outstanding example of Gandolfi’s pictorial imagination and facility with the brush. It is also in exceptional condition and is in a highly original frame that was specially designed for it, quite possibly by Giacomo Rossi, since its proto-Neoclassical character and decorative motifs, combining scallop shells with delicately carved laurel leaves, have close analogies with the stuccowork in the gallery … Nothing is known of the picture’s ownership prior to its publication in 2010, so it cannot be said whether Antonio Gnudi retained the modello for himself, but this would be the obvious explanation for the unusual design of the frame.
Also from the museum’s catalogue entry:
The subject of the modello is the sacrifice of Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon. She lies on the ground near the altar at which she is to be sacrificed as punishment to her father, who had angered Artemis/Diana by killing a deer sacred to the goddess. A priest (Calchas) stands over Iphigenia, his left hand grasping her left arm while in his raised right hand he holds a knife he will use to sacrifice her. A winged cherub, or putto, restrains the priest’s action while above, reclining on a bank of clouds, Artemis/Diana points to the deer that, at the crucial moment, the goddess has provided as a substitute for Iphigenia. The foreground is defined by the helmeted figure of Achilles, who had attempted to intervene to save Iphigenia. His confusion at the goddess’s intervention is expressed by his prostate position, his body twisted backwards with one hand raised. Agamemnon, covering his face with his hand to avoid seeing his daughter sacrificed, is shown in the background. The placement of the figures no less than the foreshortening of the altar beautifully articulate the space with a view to the function of the composition as a ceiling decoration.