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Who the hell is Nosadella?

July 1, 2018

Lot 34. Giovanni Francesco Bezzi, il Nosadella (Bologna c. 1547-1571)
The Holy Family with Saints John the Baptist and Jerome
oil on panel: 29 7/8 x 24 in. (75.9 x 61 cm.)
inscribed ‘AGNVS’ (lower right, on the banderole)
Estimate: £350,000-550,000. This lot sold for £764,750 ($1,010,999 – a World Record for the Artist).
Click on image to enlarge.

A compositionally congested painting featuring a Madonna and (in the Italian Mannerist tradition her improbably large) Child by the 16th century Bolognese artist Nosadella, originally slated for the April 19, 2018 Old Masters sale at Christie’s in New York (but withdrawn), will come up for sale at the auction house’s London location during the July 5, 2018 evening saleUpdate – this painting sold for £764,750 (hammer price plus the  buyer’s premium – or $1,010,999) against an estimate of £350,000-550,000. 

But, who is this artist?

Details about Giovanni Francesco Bezzi (c. 1530-1571), called Nosadella (after the street in Bologna on which he lived), are scant and few works survive (he worked mostly in fresco and all the works in that medium are believed to have been lost). He apparently studied with Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527-1596) and, according to some sources, frequently traveled and spent time in Rome.   Attributions are based on two accepted works in Bologna, a Madonna and Saints of c.1550 in the Oratorio of Santa Maria della Vita and a Circumcision in Santa Maria Maggiore from the year of the artist’s death (the unfinished picture was completed by Prospero Fontana).

Carlo Cesare Malvasia in Felsina Pittrice, 1678, states: “Those few works of him that are known . . . are distinguished by their good color . . . and are full of erudition. And if they are not . . . perfect and studied, they are perhaps more powerful, singular, and resolute.” The Allen Memorial Museum’s website states: “Nosadella seems to have progressed from a heavy, almost sculptural style indebted to Tibaldi’s idiosyncratic interpretation of Michelangelesque mannerism, to a more refined and naturalistic style in the 1560s, reflecting a more Florentine maniera. While there are some lingering similarities between Nosadella’s mature paintings and works by Tibaldi, they are generally more delicate than the latter’s compositions, which are crowded with powerful forms and taut energy. Nosadella’s paintings show a greater emphasis on linear, decorative qualities, more complex arrangements of drapery, and a greater sense of space within the composition.” Despite this stylistic distinction between Nosadella and Tibaldi, several works have alternatively been attributed to the two artists – and two works have a striking compositionally similarity to the picture at Christie’s.

Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527-1596) Holy Family with Saint Catherine

Giovanni Francesco Bezzi (Nosadella) (Italian, Bologna ca. 1530 – 1571 Bologna)
Holy Family with Saint Catherine
National Museum of Art of Romania

The figure of the Madonna, with her head facing toward her right, and her right arm extended diagonally across the picture plane, appears in a couple of pictures – a Holy Family with Saint Catherine (above) at the Capodimonte in Naples given to Tibaldi and the other, a Holy Family with Saint Catherine (above) at the National Museum of Art of Romania, given to Nosadella.

Nosadella (Giovanni Francesco Bezzi), Italian, active ca.1549–1571, The Annunciation, 1560s
Oil on wood panel: 107.3 x 78.8 cm (42 1/4 x 31 in)
Princeton University Museum of Art

Attributions for other pictures have been debated and changed. The Princeton University Art Museum notes that their Annunciation (above), “once considered a work of the Bolognese master Pellegrino Tibaldi … has now been attributed to Giovanni Francesco Bezzi (called Nosadella), also active in Bologna.”  A preparatory drawing by the artist held in a private collection helped secure the authorship.

Nosadella (Italian, 1529-1571) Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist
about 1550-1560
oil on panel: 19-1/2 x 15 in.
Indianapolis Museum of Art

Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist (above) has had a bit of an identity crisis.  In a 1981 article in Perceptions, Martha Levine Dunkelman compared the Indianapolis painting with the two accepted works in Bologna, and concluded on stylistic grounds that that “there is … little reason to connect the Indianapolis Holy Family to Nosadella” ( members can access this article). The article does make the case that picture should be given to Tibaldi, based in part on the aforementioned Capodimonte picture. Nevertheless, museum’s website now says the work is by Nosadella and states: “Ignored by the artist-biographer Giorgio Vasari and his contemporaries, Nosadella’s oeuvre has been reassessed only recently by scholars, who have been challenged to distinguish his pictures from those of his master, Pellegrino Tibaldi. Even the authorship of The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist, now confidently attributed to Nosadella, has oscillated between master and student.”

Giovanni Francesco Bezzi (Nosadella) (Italian, Bologna ca. 1530 – 1571 Bologna)
The Presentation in the Temple, ca. 1567
Oil on panel
25 13/16 x 17 5/8 in. (65.6 x 44.8 cm)
Mrs. F. F. Prentiss Fund and R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1982
AMAM 1982.108

Examples of the artist’s work can be found at the Allen Memorial Museum at Oberlin University where in 1982 the eminent scholar of Italian Baroque art Richard E. Spear, the museum’s director at the time, facilitated the museum’s acquisition of an elaborate work, The Presentation in the Temple.

Nosadella (Italian (Bolognese), active about 1550 – 1571)
Holy Family with Saints Anne, Catherine of Alexandria, and Mary Magdalene, 1560s Oil on panel: 100.2 × 77.6 cm (39 7/16 × 30 9/16 in.)

The Getty in Los Angeles has a Holy Family with Saints Anne, Catherine of Alexandria, and Mary Magdalene (above), which they acquired in 1985.

No telling where the Christie’s picture will end up, but learning about its author and his oeuvre provides insights into the evolution of scholarship and the vicissitudes of connoisseurship.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 2, 2018 2:08 AM

    Great! Learned some new stuff!

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