THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
J.-B. Guyot (d. 1808), canon and provost of the Abbey of Saint-Martin de Tours;
His posthumous sale, Paris, Hôtel de Bullion, C. Élie and F. Destouches, 8 March 1809, and following days, lot 47, for 64 francs;
Charles Joseph François Spruyt (1769–1851), painter and engraver;
His sale et al., Ghent, Refectory of the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelites, P.F. de Goesin-Verhaeghe, 3 October 1815, and following days, lot 48, for 41 francs, to Walgart;
Bagnasco collection, Lugano;
Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 7 July 2000, lot 88;
With Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd, London;
From whom acquired by the present owner.
London, Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd, Master Paintings and Sculpture, 16 January – 21 February 2003, no. 10, reproduced in colour.
B. Perronet and B.B. Fredericksen (eds), Répertoire des tableaux vendus en France au XIXe siècle, Los Angeles 1998, vol. I, ii, p. 285;
Advert in Apollo, vol. CLI, no. 460, June 2000, reproduced in colour in reverse;
L. Magnani, 'Le Christ chassant les marchands du Temple de Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, au musée du Louvre', in Revue du Louvre, June 2003, p. 55 and p. 59, n. 25;
To be included in the forthcoming monograph on Castiglione by Timothy J. Standring.
A highly individual painter, Castiglione was able to draw on many sources: the work of Rubens and Van Dyck in Genoa; the animal filled landscapes of Scorza and Roos; the wealth of classical painting from Raphael to Domenichino that he encountered at first-hand in Rome and Naples, where he lived between 1629 and 1638; the compositions of Poussin, a likely source of inspiration for his classical frieze-like scenes rendered with striking chiaroscuro effects; and the densely populated canvases by the Bassano family, which also left a lasting legacy.
This painting’s virtuoso execution is manifest in innumerable details: the billowing damask curtain at the upper left, its rich pattern picked out with the most subtle combination of dark and light lines; the russet touches that animate the lips and eyes of the black man making a food offering; the thick application of paint in the brazier, which creates an impression of white hot flames, deftly dissolving into thin veils to render smoke; the beautifully preserved surface of, for instance, the urn cradled in the arms of the kneeling man. Here, as on other metal objects depicted, such as the lobed bowl or the upturned lidded chalice set before the idol, colours mesh with astonishing bravura to create the illusion of curved metal surfaces. The still life of birds in the centre foreground appears in the same arrangement in a version of Christ cleansing the Temple at Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine.2 Motifs such as the crouching boy in the striped shirt, the pair of laurel-crowned attendants, and the man offering tribute with arms extended, recur in other pictures by Castiglione; for example: The journey of Abraham, in the Durazzo Pallavicini collection, Genoa; A pagan sacrifice at the Art Institute Chicago; and Noah’s sacrifice after the Flood, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, another instance of a biblical scene that integrates the animal world with a religious subject.3
First published by Mary Newcome Schleier in the catalogue of her exhibition on Genoese art in 1992, the composition has been connected to two drawings, one of which is a splendid drawing reproduced here in colour for the first time (fig. 1).4 Both painting and drawing are rendered in a highly individual manner and demonstrate Castiglione’s technical brilliance. Many of the composition’s elements in its final painted form are present in the brush drawing. Although more upright in format, it reflects the finished painting in its arrangement of foreground and setting. There are minor differences in the figures’ poses and the colouring of their dress. The main point of divergence is the temple scene in the background (the brush drawing shows men carrying urns, a reflection perhaps of an earlier idea). The second drawing is an oil sketch at Windsor Castle, no longer thought to be a preparatory study by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione and now attributed to his younger brother Salvatore Castiglione (1620– after 1677).5 A number of copies of the present painting are known, foremost among them a reduced copy in the collection of the Museo Civico Amedeo Lia and another in the Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest.6 We are grateful to Mary Newcome for pointing out the latter and for her comments on the painting.
A biblical subject is the probable theme depicted here. First recorded in the early nineteenth century, the picture was described in the Guyot and Spruyt sales as ‘a sacrifice to an Egyptian god’, presumably on account of the pyramidal structure in the background.7 Newcome published it as a Pagan Sacrifice. More recently the catalogue of the exhibition held in 2003 at Jean-Luc Baroni, London, has proposed a possible meaning based on a reading of the background scene, which links the subject to the Ark of the Covenant housed in the Temple of Jerusalem, the supposed setting for this scene of sacrifice. On the sarcophagus-like structure at the very back of the composition, Moses, depicted in carved relief, is portrayed with rays of light sprouting from his head like horns as he kneels to receive the tablets of the Law from God. Two figures in the background crowd appear integral to the narrative: one points to heaven while addressing the other, who is dressed in military garb. This may depict the biblical episode recounted in II Chronicles 25, 13–16, in which King Amaziah, responsible for bringing the idols of those he defeated to the Temple, is rebuked by a prophet sent by God.
Castiglione often placed the central characters of his biblical subjects towards the back of his compositions. Closely comparable to the present painting is his larger composition now at the Louvre, in which the Temple of Jerusalem again provides the setting: Christ and the money-changers in the Temple (mentioned above).7 Structured in an analogous way to the present work, similar architecture is framed by fluted columns and a comparable inner sanctum for the Ark serves as the backdrop. As here, the protagonist is consigned to the back, while in the foreground the artist indulges his skill in painting a sumptuous array of animals, precious vessels, and a throng of people and livestock. In the Louvre picture, the small and deftly painted figure of Christ driving out the traders from the temple, rendered with a few strokes, is instantly recognisable at the centre of the narrative. Here too perspective and recession are used to great effect, with the background scene rendered in muted colours.
It is possible that this composition once had a pendant as a counterpart to its Old Testament theme. In biblical narratives parallels were often drawn between Old Testament figures that foreshadowed Christ – foremost among them Moses as a prefiguration of God’s Son – with New Testament episodes in the life of Christ. An old label on the reverse of the frame is inscribed in what appears to be a nineteenth-century hand as follows: ‘[…?] Castiglione, avec / pendant’. A subject such as ‘Christ driving the money changers from the Temple’ would fit well with a representation of Old Testament idolatry. In the absence of further evidence, however, any hypothesis concerning the identification of a possible pendant remains tentative.
1. Inv. 241; oil on canvas, 100 x 125 cm., reproduced in colour in Frankfurt 1992, no. 59, plate 59.
2. Inv.no. 1961.100.12, Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation; oil on canvas, 41.3 x 71.2 cm. Reproduced in black and white on p. 130, as fig. 59.1 in Frankfurt 1992.
3. Durazzo Pallavicini collection, Genoa: oil on canvas, 116 x 155 cm., reproduced in Genoa 1992, p. 70; Art Institute Chicago, 1986.77: oil on paper, 57.6 x 42.5 cm.; and LACMA, M.84.18: oil on canvas, 140.3 x 193.7 cm., reproduced in colour in Genova nell’età barocca, exh. cat., Genoa 1992, no. 53, p. 147.
4. Formerly in Sir William Drake’s collection, it was in the sale of Mme Blay's drawings, watercolours and gouaches, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 4 July 1929, as lot 20, reproduced; its dimensions are recorded there as 405 x 555 mm.; executed in black and red chalk, watercolour, with white highlights in gouache on paper.
5. RCIN 903876; brown, blue, and red oil paint on paper, 25.4 x 35.5 cm. A. Blunt, The Drawings of G.B. Castiglione and Stefano della Bella in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen at Windsor Castle, London 1954, p. 39, no. 161. For the revised attribution see the Royal Collection’s on-line catalogue. In the opinion of Timothy Standring the drawing bears all the characteristics of Salvatore’s style (oral communication, 17 May 2017).
6. Inv. 322, oil on canvas, 37.5 x 60 cm., see A. De Marchi in A. De Marchi and F. Zeri, La Spezia, Museo Civico Amedeo Lia, Dipinti, Milan 1997, pp. 36–37, no. 32; and Szépművészeti Múzeum, inv. no. 68.8, oil on canvas, 59.5 x 73 cm.; a variant of the composition is recorded in the same collection: inv. no. 97.10, oil on canvas, 44.3 x 76.5 cm.
7. ‘Sacrifice fait à une Divinité Egyptienne. Dans l’intérieur d’un Temple on voit une idole entourée de nombreuses offrandes que déjà on lui a apportées, tandis que divers personnages accourent encore de toutes parts pour présenter et faire agréer aussi leurs hommages; devant elle est un autel sur lequel brûle l’encens. Tableau du plus riche detail.’
8. See n. 1.
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