Gustaf Adolf Sparre (1746-1794), by whom presumed to have been bought on the Grand Tour between 1768 and 1771;
In the posthumous inventory of Sparre's effects drawn up in 1794, when in the Sahlgren-Sparre palace in Gothenburg: no. 25, in the Blue Chamber;
Thence by inheritance and descent to the present owner: in Gothenburg until 1855; thereafter in the same country house in Southern Sweden.
Although known in family inventories as a work by Reni since 1794, this painting remained unremarked by scholars until it was noticed by Pierre Rosenberg, who drew it to the attention of Stephen Pepper.1 Pepper, who judged it autograph on the basis of a photograph, compares it with a picture of the same subject on copper in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, which he dates circa 1636-37.2 The Dresden picture is one of two similar Ecce Homos, one on copper and the other on canvas. Although both pictures are remarkably similar, despite their different supports, and date from around the same time, they were bought separately and do not share a pre-Dresden provenance. Unfortunately, Pepper's text confuses the two, one of which he believed lost, but which had in fact been returned to the Gemäldegalerie in 1974. Although similar in subject, and in the depiction of Christ bust-length with His bound hands crossed in front of him, there are considerable differences between the two compositions: for example in the pose of Christ's head (see Fig. 1), which in the present picture is cast upwards. In other respects it is also comparable with the second Ecce Homo in Dresden, also painted by Reni on canvas circa 1636-37, cited by Pepper as lost in the War, but returned to the Gallery in 1974 (see Fig. 2).
Pepper dates the present picture slightly later than the Dresden ones. We are grateful to Dr. Andreas Henning, Curator of Italian Paintings at the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden for permission to reproduce the two Dresden pictures in their recently cleaned state, revealing a cooler colouring. Dr. Henning (verbal communication) thinks the Dresden Ecce Homo on copper dates from close to 1640, in which case it may well be coeval with the present picture. A dating close to 1640 is also indicated by comparison with another depiction of Christ with His head cast upwards, the oval Christ Crowned with Thorns in Paris, Louvre, dated by Pepper circa 1639-40.
Gustaf Adolf Sparre assembled a celebrated collection of Old Master paintings, numbering 108 in all, most of them acquired on his Grand Tour in The Low Countries, France and Italy. The greater part of his collection consisted of works by the leading Dutch and Flemish masters of the 17th Century, and the present work is one of a much smaller group of Italian paintings.
1 See Literature, 1984.
2 Idem, pp. 274-5, no. 162, reproduced plate 186 (not 187); see also H. Marx (ed.), Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden, Cologne 2005, vol. I, Die Ausgestellten Werke, p. 184, reproduced in colour.
3. Thus his catalogue no. 162 is reproduced plate 186, not 187.
4 Pepper, op. cit, 1984, p. 274, no. 161, reproduced plate 186 (not 187); see also Marx, op. cit., vol. II, Illustriertes Gesamtverzeichnis, p. 427, no. 1455, reproduced.
5. See Pepper, op. cit., p. 287, no. 188, reproduced plate 216.
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