Private collection, Europe;
Anonymous sale, Vienna, Dorotheum, 21 April 2010, lot 47.
P.G. Pasini, Guido Cagnacci. Catalogo generale, Rimini 1986, cat. no. 77, p. 294, reproduced;
G. Papi, "Qualche riflessione sul primo tempo di Guido Cagnacci," in Antichità viva,1988, nos. 3-4, pp. 19-25, 24-25 notes 5 and 20 (as by Spadarino);
G. Papi, "La vocazione caravaggesca di Giovan Antonio Galli detto lo Spadarino," in Arte cristiana 77, 1989, p. 384, cat. no. 31 (as by Spadarino);
G. Papi, Spadarino, Soncino 2003, cat. no. 32, p. 151, reproduced table XLIV (as by Spadarino).
An image of striking modernity, this enigmatic but beautiful depiction of a sleeping man is one of the most immediate and evocative images ever produced by Cagnacci. The reclining, bearded figure sprawls out on the floor of what appears to be a cave, his nudity lightly draped with a vigorously painted white cloth. His body is arranged so that his left foot is almost pressed flat against the front of the picture plane, and other limbs arranged in such a way—the other leg bent back and up, one arm pulled back behind his head, and the other draped out and again towards the viewer—that there is little doubt of the artist's total mastery of foreshortening and human anatomy. It is a tour-de-force of drawing and perspective; the painting's purpose, however, is somewhat harder to decipher.
The painting was first published by Pasini in his 1986 catalogue of the works of Cagnacci as the final entry in his book. He noted that it was "inconsueto ed eccentrico" (atypical and eccentric). Even so, he thought it autograph, and related in style and thus dateable to about the same moment as the iconic Death of Cleopatra in Vienna (Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Vienna, inv. 260), a work produced in the final phase of the artist's development, and painted in his most lush and courtly style. Pasini suggested that it was a study for a mythological or biblical figure, positing that given the disposition of the figure, it could be connected to a Drunken Noah or a Polyphemus (the first of these seems unlikely, given the young age of the model). Discussion of the painting was picked up almost immediately by Gianni Papi who understood the Cagnaccesque qualities of the painting, but proposed an alternate attribution to the Roman Caravaggist painter Giovanni Antonio Galli, called Spadarino (1585-1651), using it as an example of the stylistic rapport between the two artists.1 He later elaborated on his thoughts, and connected the painting to a number of works by Spadarino, including the Baptism of the Emperor Constantine (Museo Civico, Colle Val d'Elsa) as well as a Saint John the Baptist in a private collection (see Papi 2003 Literature, cat. nos. 41 and 3 respectively).
Since Papi's 2003 publication, however, the painting has been cleaned, and a layer of disfiguring varnish (and possibly overpainting) has been removed to reveal a scintillating and silver-toned surface, much different than suggested by older photographs. Certainly, the freely painted white cloth—which Pasini had misunderstood as a later, puritanical addition—is clearly original, and rendered with exquisite assurance. The handling of the paint is much more consistent with Cagnacci's more sensual approach to the human form than Spadarino's. However, the most compelling evidence for Cagnacci's authorship is revealed by a recent X-ray taken of the painting, which confirms that the canvas had been used previously (see fig. 1). Rotated one turn to the right, the upright figure of a Saint John the Baptist is easily discernible on the canvas; he is posed in an orthodox manner, his right arm raised and pointing skyward, his other cradling his reed cross. He sits semi-nude on a rock, with his head in sharp profile. This composition, spindly and stark in a way, is entirely consistent with early paintings by Cagnacci. Close examination of the physiognomy of the young Baptist painting underneath (which is still clearly defined) is extremely close to that in paintings of the mid-1620s. The sharp profile, the thinly pursed lips, the slightly hooked nose, and the shape of the eye (almost a "V" turned on its side), all find comfortable parallel in other paintings, such as the figure of Saint Matthew in the Calling of Matthew (Museo Civico, Rimini) and of Saint Roch (Museo Diocesano, Pennabilli). This would suggest that the Reclining Male Nude should date to a few years later than the painting underneath. Indeed, most recently, Keith Christiansen has studied the picture and the X-ray and suggests that rather than a late work, as argued by Pasini, it may date from the years around 1630, following Cagnacci's second trip to Rome and his renewed study of the works of Orazio Gentileschi and, most importantly, Guercino. He notes that its astonishing naturalism is a result of the picture's origin as an academic study, done from life: the subject of the picture—at best conjectural—was secondary. Daniele Benati prefers a slightly later dating for the picture, to the late 1630's, when Cagnacci moved from the Romagna to Bologna.
It is this arresting naturalism of the Reclining Male Nude which all of the art historians who have examined the painting, whether dirty or after its cleaning, have unanimously remarked upon. The figure of the man is rendered in such a relaxed and simple way; there is every reason to believe that it was done by the artist dal vivo. His own contemporaries noticed Cagnacci's tendency towards realism, not always with praise.2 To the modern eye, this is a positive, and the picture appears to anticipate the naturalism of the 19th century—the temptation to recall Manet's Dead Toreador of circa 1865 (National Gallery, Washington, D.C., inv. 1942.9.40) is appealing, if fallacious.
1. "possibili rapporti—almeno a livello di sensibilità—fra il romagnolo [Cagnacci] e lo Spadarino (See Papi op cit., 2003, p. 151).
2. Francesco Scanelli noted this tendency in 1657: "Guido Cagnacci, pittore veramente di buona maniera, ma molto piu attaccato al natural, che a necessari fondamenti dela soda pratica [Guido Cagnacci, a painter of truly wonderful style, but quite stuck to nature, more than to the vital fundamentals of strict practice]." see F. Scanelli, Il Microcosmo della Pittura, Cesena 1657, pp. 368-9.
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