The Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds' name was coined by August L. Mayer in the 1920s due to the artist's association with a number of paintings of that subject: one, for example, is in the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (formerly attributed to Diego Velázquez) and another in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.4 The Master was considered by some to be identifiable with Bartolomeo Passante (or Bassante), an artist mentioned in numerous 17th-century sources and 18th-century Neapolitan inventories, whilst others favoured his identification with Juan Do, a Valencian painter recorded in Naples from 1626 who was clearly associated with other painters active there during this time.5 The former was based on Ferdinando Bologna's interpretation of the swirls on the letter an old man holds in a painting by the Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, which Bologna read as 'B. Pass.'.6 Another scrawl on the same letter was interpreted by Giuseppe de Vito, however, as Juan Do's signature (in monogram) and so too was the writing on the cartiglio on which a philosopher leans, in a painting in Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, seen to carry Juan Do's signature.7 Neither of these hypotheses seems entirely plausible and both are refuted by Nicola Spinosa.8 Another argument that has been used in favour of a possible identification with Juan Do is the biographer Bernardo De Dominici's description of the artist's technique: "Ma finalmente operando da se, diede certa tinta alle carnagioni, che riuscì graziosa, come composta con poca tinta di nero di carbone, e di lacca, usata però con leggerezza. Di questa tinta, che mirabilmente accorda nel bel impasto del suo colore, egli si servì infin che visse".9 Such a method has found parallels in two paintings attributed to the Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds which, when tested through scientific analysis, were found to demonstrate the use of charcoal dust in the flesh tones to lend them greater chiaroscuro.10 Whether this technique was widely adopted in Ribera's studio is not known, though De Dominici's very specific reference to it suggests it is unlikely. Evidence against an identification with Juan Do came to light as recently as 2009, however, after the restoration of the Retablo de Jesús Nazareno in the Cathedral at Granada. One of this altarpiece's components, a straight copy after Ribera's Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, is clearly signed by Juan Do and dated 1639.11 Not only does this demonstrate that Juan Do was merely an imitator of Ribera at this date but, more importantly, the painting is evidently not by the same hand as the accomplished group of pictures given to the exceptionally talented Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds.
1. See G. de Vito, under Literature, 1998, reproduced in colour p. 48, plate XI, and p. 25, plate IV respectively (both in private collection, Milan). The latter was formerly in Giuseppe de Vito's collection. De Vito himself did not support the hypothesis that the three paintings once formed part of a single set; see G. de Vito, under Literature, 1984-85, p. 344, under cat. no. 2.146.
2. Smell measures 108.5 by 78.5 cm. whilst Sight measures 103 by 75 cm. compared to the present canvas' dimensions of 104.6 by 79.2 cm..
3. "Five paintings of around 2 to 2 1/2 palmi by the hand of Bartolomeo Passante of figures depicting the five senses of the body with carved frame," see J.T. Spike, "The case of the Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, alias Bartolomeo Passante", in Studi di Storia dell'Arte, vol. III, 1993, p. 209, under Appendix I. The complete inventory is published by R. Ruotolo in Ricerche sul '600 napoletano, Naples 1987, pp. 187-189.
4. See de Vito, op. cit., the former reproduced p. 8, fig. 1, and the latter reproduced in colour p. 29, plate V. Other examples showing The Annunciation to the Shepherds are in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich (deposits), and formerly in the Brooklyn Museum.
5. In 1626 Juan Do is recorded as marrying Grazia, the sister of Pacecco da Rosa, and Giovan Battista Caracciolo and Jusepe de Ribera are both named as witnesses at this event.
6. Private collection, Milan: see de Vito, ibid., reproduced in colour on p. 17, plate I, and a detail of the 'signature' on p. 18, fig. 4.
7. Ibid., reproduced in colour on p. 20, plate II, and a detail of the 'signature' on p. 19, fig. 5.
8. See Spinosa's discussion of the Master of the Annunciation's identification in "Aggiunte al Maestro dell'Annuncio ai pastori, alias Bartolomeo Passante o Juan Do", in Man Könnt vom Paradies nicht angenehmer Träumen. Festschrift für Prof. Dr. Harald Marx zum 15. Februar 2009, Berlin 2009, pp. 85 ff.
9. B. De Dominici, Vite de' pittori, scultori etc., Naples 1742, vol. III, p. 22: (trans.) 'But when he worked alone, he gave his flesh tones a certain colour, which turned out pleasing, by mixing in a little charcoal, and lacquer, but in small amounts. He used this colour, which mixes so well with his impasto, until his death'.
10. See De Vito, ibid., pp. 14-15 and 58-60. One of the paintings tested was the Portrait of a bearded man holding a mirror (the Sense of Sight?) in a private collection.
11. See Esplendor Recuperado. Proyecto de investigación y restauración de los retablos del Nazareno y la Trinidad de la Catedral de Granada, 2009, where the altarpiece and a detail of Juan Do's signature are reproduced ('IVAN/ DO/ F.'). We are grateful to Prof. Nicola Spinosa for pointing out this vital piece of literature.
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