signed and dated lower left on wall: P.B. 1751 and inscribed with an inventory number at lower right: W.F. 227
oil on canvas
Commissioned in 1751 by Count Ernst Guido von Harrach (1723-83);
Thence by family descent at Vienna and Rohrau;
By whom sold ("Property from the Harrach Collection, Schloss Rohrau"), London, Sotheby's, 11 December 1991, lot 80;
Purchased just after the sale by the present collector.
Vienna, Galerie Sanct Lucas, Italienische Barockmalerei, 14 May - 15 June 1937, cat. no. 2;
Bern, Kunstmuseum, Europäische Barockmalerei aus Wiener Privatgalerien, 21 December 1947 - 31 March 1948, cat. no. 45;
Bregenz, Vorarlberger Landesmuseum and Vienna, Österreichisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Angelica Kauffmann und ihre Zeitgenossen, 23 July 1968 - 1 February 1969, cat. no. 117;
Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Pompeo Batoni, Prince of Painters in Eighteenth-Century Rome, 21 October 2007 - 27 January 2008; London, The National Gallery, 20 February - 18 May 2008, cat no. 27.
A. Gruss, Verzeichnis der Gräflich Harrach'schen Gemälde-Galerie zu Wien, Vienna 1856, p. 47, no. 227;
G. Parthey, Deutscher Bildersaal; Verzeichniss der in Deutschland verhandenen Oelbilder verstorbener Maler aller Schulen, Berlin 1863, Vol. 1, p. 72, no. 3;
G. Glück, Die Harrach'sche Bildergalerie, Vienna 1923, no. 2;
H. Voss, Die Malerie des Barock in Rom, Rome 1924, p. 647;
H. Ritschl, Katalog der Erlaucht Gräflich Harrach'schen Gemälde-Galerie in Wien, Vienna 1926, p. 63 no. 188;
E. Emmerling, Pompeo Batoni sein Leben und Werk, Darmstadt 1932, p. 127, no. 152;
G. Heinz, Katalog der Graf Harrach'schen Gemäldegalerie, Vienna 1960, pp. 13-14, no. 63;
R. Keyszelitz, "The Counts Harrach," in Great Family Collections, ed. D. Cooper, New York 1965, pp. 113, 116, reproduced;
B. Barsali, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Vol. VII, Rome 1965, p. 200;
D. Irwin, "Angelica Kauffmann and her Times", in The Burlington Magazine, Vol. CX, September 1968, p. 534, reproduced fig. 61;
R. Keyszelitz, "Die Graf Harrach'sche Familiensammlung und ihre Neuaufstellung in Schloss Rohrau," in Österreichische Zeitschrift für Kunst und Denkmalpflege, XXIV, 1970, pp. 129-31, reproduced fig. 111;
A.M. Clark, ed. E.P. Bowron, Pompeo Batoni, A Complete Catalogue of His Works, Oxford 1985, pp. 251-2, cat. no. 152, reproduced plate 142;
J.C. Praitre, Suzanne, 1991, p. 105, reproduced plate 162;
S. Ferrari, "Un mediatore dei rapporti artistici fra Roma e Vienna: l'agente Giuseppe Dionigio Crivelli (1693-1782)," in Römanische Historische Mitteilungen, 40, Vienna 1998, pp. 459-468;
E.P. Bowron and P.B. Kerber, in Pompeo Batoni, Prince of Painters in Eighteenth-Century Rome, exhibition catalogue, Houston and London, 2007-8, p. 98, reproduced in color pp. 8, 172, 176, 178, cat. no. 27, reproduced p.101, fig. 90;
B. Geoffroy-Schneiter, "Pompeo Batoni, peintres des princes," in L'Oeil, April 2008, p. 106, reproduced in color.
Without peer or parallel, Pompeo Batoni was the dominant painter in Rome in the middle years of the 18th century. His contemporaries recognized this preeminence, a position which Batoni maintained for a period of nearly fifty years. The comment of the American painter Benjamin West is indicative of the regard in which Batoni was held; many years later, remembering his own youthful sojourn in Italy in 1760-63, years when Batoni was in his ascendancy, West noted that when he “went to Rome, the Italian artists of that day thought of nothing, looked at nothing, but the work of Pompeio Battoni.”1 Batoni’s celebrity was not restricted to Italy, but was international in scope. This magnificent Susanna and the Elders is a testament to Batoni’s considerable stature. It was painted by the artist in 1751 for Ernst Guido, Graf von Harrach, one of the most important collectors of the day, and remained in the family’s collection for nearly 250 years when it was acquired by the present owner. The Susanna and the Elders is inarguably one of Batoni’s finest history pictures and one of his very few treatments of an Old Testament subject.2 In it, Batoni employed the full range of artistic talents at his disposal: his mastery of drawing; his lush and precious use of color; his simultaneously controlled but free application of pigment; his complete mastery of composition. All of these remarkable artistic achievements, however, are used in the Susanna to serve Batoni’s keen sense of dramatic narrative, allowing him to create in the painting an image not only of great beauty, but of astounding visual impact.
It is clear in his choices in this picture that Batoni knew he was painting in the gran maniera of his artistic antecedents in Rome—most obviously that of the Bolognese classicists Guido Reni and Domenichino, but also in the perfected figure of Susanna, that of Raphael himself. In the picture, which Batoni painted on a tela d’imperatore (the choice of which again suggests his conscious decision to parallel himself with the great Baroque painters of a century before), the figure of Susanna is depicted slightly to the left of the center of the canvas, seated on a gently curving stone bench at the edge of a pool. For a bather, she is rather modestly presented; removing little more than her sandals and loosening the robes around her chest, she remains largely (if still seductively) covered by her white under-tunic and a bright azurite-blue mantle. In counterbalance to this demur and beautiful figure, Batoni presents the two Elders at the right, and it is perhaps where his real genius for composition and narrative come in to play. The Elder nearest to Susanna pulls roughly at her white robe, hoping to reveal more of her body, while he tries to seduce her with the large, heavy bag of gold which he holds out to her with his other hand. The powerful figure of the other Elder is more dynamic still; he lunges forward in an arc, apparently having just vaulted over the stone bench to surprise the young woman. His left hand pointing towards the distant palace of her husband, he brutally indicates to Susanna in that single gesture his plan to falsely accuse her of adultery if she does not submit to his lust.
In sharp contrast to the violence of the scene, Batoni’s technique is one of extreme finesse and luscious detail. The pearly cream and white of Susanna’s flesh and her linen tunic, the blue of her robe, as well as the astoundingly rendered beards of the Elders, the detailed fur lining of one of their jackets, all are brilliantly handled. Batoni exercised absolute control in the execution of the Susanna, despite its wanton subject, painting with a precision that his contemporaries thought remarkable, and almost “un-Italian” (Leopoldo Cicognara, the great antiquarian, called it Batoni’s “laboriosa finitezza olandese”).3 It was the artist’s normal practice to make drawings for the figures in his compositions, but in the case of the Susanna only one survives, a study in black chalk on gray prepared paper (see fig. 1).4 An initial idea for the figure of the central Elder is presented, and while the angle of his head is largely maintained in the final painting, his body is placed behind the ledge (or the suggestion of a ledge) in a much more sedate manner, and his hands are in a more restrained pose. Also on the sheet are two hands with open fingers, which would appear to correspond to that of Susanna herself.
While a large part of Batoni’s patronage was famously devoted to portraits of Grand Tourists, with the bulk of his output making its way to British aristocratic collections, he was equally celebrated in his own day as a painter of historical or classical subjects. From very early in his career he had proved that it was a genre in which he was not only competent, but at which he excelled; one need only look at his magnificent Allegory of the Triumph of Venice (now in the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC) painted when the artist was in his late twenties for the Venetian ambassador to Rome, to understand this. His reputation for these canvases - allegorical, mythological or ancient subjects - increased in pace with his own fame, and eventually they became so desirable that they were prohibitively expensive except to the richest aristocratic - or indeed royal - patrons.5 Amongst this elite group were a number of foreign patrons, and his style found particular favor amongst the German-speaking princelings north of the Alps, who commissioned not only portraits from him, but also grand subject pictures.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Batoni attracted the attention of one of the most important of these collectors, Count Ernst Guido von Harrach (1723–836, see fig. 2). Harrach came from one of the most important families in the Habsburg Empire, and one which had a grand tradition of patronage. His great-grandfather Ferdinand Bonaventura, Graf von Harrach (1636-1706) had been ambassador to Spain, and through his contacts there and at auction began to acquire works by contemporary and older masters, including paintings by Giordano, Ribera, and Carreño de Miranda. His son, Aloys Thomas, was also a diplomat in the imperial service, and after a posting in Madrid like his father, served from 1728-1733 as viceroy in Naples, then an Austrian possession. There he acquired numerous works of the Neapolitan school and commissioned paintings from local artists, including a set of three grand, regal paintings by Nicola Maria Rossi, the artist’s masterpieces, depicting the Harrach rule in Naples.7 His son (and in turn Ernst Guido’s own father), Friederich Augustus, became governor of the Netherlands, where he added a number of Dutch and Flemish paintings to the collection.
Ernst Guido was also a keen collector, just as his forebears had been. He focused on acquiring works by the best modern masters working in Rome, and in this he was brilliantly helped by his agent in the city, Abate Giuseppe Dionigio Crivelli (1693-1782). A clergyman from Trento, Crivelli acted as agent for a number of German clients, but it was as artistic advisor on the Roman art scene for Harrach that he would have the biggest impact. He had helped to acquire for the Count a number of wonderful pictures “with considerable taste and knowledge,"8 including paintings by native born Italian artists, such as Conca, Costanzi, Bottani, Bonavia and Panini, as well as the most important of the stranieri, including Mengs, Manglard and Vernet. It is likely Crivelli who first brought Batoni to Harrach’s attention, and who started the process of securing a work by Batoni for his collection.
The progress of the commission of the Susanna is colorfully documented by a number of letters from Crivelli to Harrach in Vienna, all preserved in the Harrach archive (Vienna Osterreichisches Staatsarchiv, Allgemeines Verwaltungsarchive).9 In his missives, the agent Crivelli records all the problems and delights of the process of artistic patronage. Indeed, the project seems to have gotten off to a bumpy start. Having given Batoni the commission, Crivelli went to check on what had been done:
Mi resta a vedere il quadro di Battoni[sic], che una sola volta me e riuscito di trovare in casa, e quella volta, che il quadro lo dipingeva in un altro studio, ma che non dubitassi della sua parola.10
A few weeks later, on the 28 July, Crivelli, still calm, had tried to visit Batoni again:
Sono poi andato in cerca di Battoni, che ha mutato casa ne’ passati giorni, e non mi e peranche riuscito di sapere dove Egli abbia preso alloggio, ma non passera molto, che ne verro in cognizione.11
Indeed, the intrepid (and from the tone of letter, slightly frustrated) Crivelli soon located the artist, and a week later updated Harrach with the news that work had begun:
Ho trovato poi la nuova abitazione di Battoni, ed ho trova[to] altresi la Susanna appena abozzata. Egli promette di darla finita a settembre, ma io non credo.12
Despite what appears to have been a delay, perhaps due as much to Batoni’s relocation of house and studio as to his own well-known dilatory tendencies, the artist still promised Crivelli a September delivery for the painting. In a letter ten days after the previous one, the agent reported to Harrach (again, with a clear sense of suspicion) that:
Pompeo Battoni mi va lusingando con promesse di finire il suo [quadro] dentro il mese venturo.13
Despite his earlier reserve, Crivelli had clearly become more optimistic (and self-congratulatory) about the project a few weeks later, writing to Harrach on the 11th of September that:
Ho visitato due volte lo sbozzo di Battoni, e spero vederlo finito alla fine del mese. Per quello, che e lavorato fin ad ora, mi lusingo, che diventerà migliore di quello di Conca, e di Panini14
Despite the fact that the painting was still unfinished (and Crivelli’s description of it as “sbozzo” suggests significantly so), Crivelli’s assiduity in following up with Batoni seems to have paid off, and even though the September deadline was not met, by mid-October, he could declare good progress had been made:
Battoni sta a buon termine della Susanna, ma vuole tanto lecarla, che pare siasi prefisso con questa copia di ottenere l’effetto dell’originale in cotesti gelidi Vecchioni di Vienna.15
By the 4th of December, however, it seems that the final issues with the picture were resolved to Batoni’s satisfaction, and Crivelli was triumphant, reporting on the painting's beauty, including what appears to be a bit of self-promotion by Batoni himself who was at least name-dropping, if not fishing for further Austrian commissions:
Battoni e alla fine del quadro, ch’e riuscito bellissimo, e me lo mandera a casa subito che sara secco. Il Pittore desidera, che V.S. illustrissima lo faccia vedere al Sig.e Principe Venceslao di Liechtenstein, per cui ne dipinse due di figure cubitali16
By the 15th of January, 1752, the Susanna was with Crivelli, and waiting for shipment, although further delays were warranted. Crivelli notes that:
… Battoni… mi prega e scongiura di diferirne la spedizione allegando, che incassandosi fresco resterebbe pregiudicato nelle tinte e della carnagione, che ingiallisce facilm.te se non è secca a dovere. dello stesso parere è Vernet, e tutti i pittori.17
It would be over a year later, on 26 May 1753, that the picture was finally dispatched to Harrach in Turin, where the count had taken up a government post. Harrach, highly pleased with the painting, paid Batoni a fee of 160 scudi on receiving the picture.
1. The Diary of Joseph Farington, K. Cave, ed., vol. XIII, New Haven and London 1984, p. 4600.
2. The story of Susanna and the Elders is taken from the Book of Daniel, chapter 13. Clark and Bowron (op. cit., p. 397) note only eight paintings with Old Testament themes, including the present painting, and an autograph replica of it.
3. Cf Clark and Bowron, op.cit., p. 23.
4. Formerly with Armando Neerman, and sold at Sotheby’s, New York, January 16, 1986, lot 168, unillustrated (see also Clark and Bowron, op cit., p. 383).
5. Cf. E.P. Bowron, “Pompeo Batoni,” in Dictionary of Art, London 1996, p. 381
6. Although his birthdate has been given as 1732 in some places, Ernst Guido was born in 1723, thus making him 28 years old rather than the more precious 19 years of age when he commissioned the present work from Batoni.
7. They are monumental in size (the largest measuring 243 by 770 cm.) and represent The Viceregal Court at the Sanctuary of Santa Maria di Piedigrotta; the Viceroy at the Festival of the Quattro Altari and the Exit of the Viceregal court from the Royal Palace (cf. N. Spinosa, Pittura napoletana del Settecento dal Barocco al Rococo, 1986, p. 128, cat. no. 100).
8. Cf. Clark and Bowron, op.cit., p.252.
9. The correspondence is extensively published by Stefano Ferrari in “Giuseppe Dionigio Crivelli (1693-1782): la carriera di un agente trentino nella Roma del Settecento,” in Società di studi trentini di scienze storiche, 2000. The references to the correspondence in this note are based upon that publication.
10. “I have yet to see the painting by Batoni, I was able to find him at home only once, and that time he had painted it in another studio, but I do not doubt his word on it.”
11. “I then went to in search of Batoni, who had moved house in the last few days, and in the end I wasn’t able to ascertain where he had taken lodging, but it won’t be long before I find out.”
12. “I found Batoni’s new digs, and I also found the Susanna which was just sketched in. He promised to have it finished by September, but I don’t believe him.”
13. “Pompeo Batoni has flattered me with promises of finishing his painting within the coming month.”
14. “I went twice to see Battoni's sbozzo and I hope to see it finished by the end of the month. In regards to what he has finished up to this point, I must flatter myself, it will be better than those by Conca and Panini.”
15. Batoni has largely finished the Susanna, but wants to polish it up so much, that he seems obsessed with achieving the effect of the original (painting?) of those frozen “Elders” in Vienna (the reference to the work in Vienna is unclear, but must have been a picture of similar subject).
16. The two paintings “di figure cubitali” are the Venus Delivering the Arms to Aeneas and the Choice of Hercules painted in 1748 for Prince Joseph Wenzel von Liechtenstein and still in that family’s collection (see Clark and Bowron, op.cit., cat. nos. 122-3).
17. Batoni… is begging and pleading with me to put off the shipment adding that crating it while it was still not fully dry would affect the colors and the fleshtones, which yellow easily if they are not allowed to dry properly. Vernet is of the same opinion as are all the painters.
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