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THE PROPERTY OF A SWISS FAMILY

Jan Miel
Beveren-Waes near Antwerp 1599 - 1664 Turin
FIGURES FEASTING AT A FAIR IN PRATI, OUTSIDE THE WALLS OF ROME, WITH THE BASILICA DI SAN PIETRO AND MONTE MARIO BEYOND
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33

THE PROPERTY OF A SWISS FAMILY

Jan Miel
Beveren-Waes near Antwerp 1599 - 1664 Turin
FIGURES FEASTING AT A FAIR IN PRATI, OUTSIDE THE WALLS OF ROME, WITH THE BASILICA DI SAN PIETRO AND MONTE MARIO BEYOND
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Details & Cataloguing

Old Master Paintings

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Jan Miel
Beveren-Waes near Antwerp 1599 - 1664 Turin
BEVEREN-WAES NEAR ANTWERP 1599 - 1664 TURIN
FIGURES FEASTING AT A FAIR IN PRATI, OUTSIDE THE WALLS OF ROME, WITH THE BASILICA DI SAN PIETRO AND MONTE MARIO BEYOND

Provenance

Commissioned from the artist by Marchese Tommaso Raggi (1595/6-1679), Rome, in circa 1650 or shortly afterwards;
Thence by descent until after 1710;
Jean, Comte de Sellon (1736-1810), Château d'Allaman, near Geneva;
His son, Jean-Jacques, Comte de Sellon (1782-1839);
Eugénie-Julie-Amélie Revilliod, née de Sellon;
By descent and marriage to Albert-Louis-Auguste de Loriol (1835-1879);
Thence by descent.

Exhibited

Rome, Chiostro di San Salvatore in Lauro, 1701 and 1710, as part of a set of five (see footnote).

Literature

Catalogue raisonné, Des 215 Tableaux les plus capitaux du Cabinet de Mr. le Comte de Sellon d’Allaman, Geneva, initially compiled circa 1795, with additions probably made between 1807 & 1815, undated but referred to in Notice sur les objets d’art de toute nature qui se voient dans la campagne du Comte de Sellon, Geneva 1837, p. 27, no. 117, as ‘Jean Miel’ (‘...le catalogue raisonné a été imprimé il y a trente ans environ...');
Catalogue des objets d’arts contenus dans la maison du Comte de Sellon, Geneva 1838, p. 13;
T. Kren, Jan Miel (1599-1664). A Flemish Painter in Rome, PhD. Dissertation, Yale University, 1979, vol. II, p. 166, cat. no. C26, under lost works (translating the entry from the 1795 catalogue of Sellon d’Allaman’s collection of paintings).

Catalogue Note

The date of Jan Miel’s arrival in Rome is undocumented but it is likely to have taken place some time in the early 1630s. He immediately came under the influence of Pieter van Laer (1599 - after 1642) called 'Bamboccio', and thus became one of the earliest of the so-called Bamboccianti, and was unusual at this date in their confraternity in being Flemish-born.  In the 1630s he painted small pictures of anecdotal subjects consisting of small groups of peasants in urban and rural settings, but in the following decade he expanded the scope of his work to include larger-scale multi-figural compositions of Roman street-life including a broad range of characters, from commedia dell’arte street players, soldiery, and often the colourful costumes of the Swiss Guard. Of these, his most famous works are his carnival scenes.  After 1650 his pictorial range changed again, radically, and he increasingly painted religious pictures, including both small-scale works for private devotion, and large altarpieces for Roman churches.

Jan Miel and Marchese Raggi
This is one of probably a set of five paintings of Roman scenes painted by Miel for the Marchese Tommaso Raggi (1595/6-1679), a Genoese nobleman living in Rome, in circa 1650 or shortly afterwards. Raggi is recorded in Rome as early as 1629 and was appointed chief of the papal prisons (‘generale delle galere papali’) by Pope Urban VIII. He died in Rome in 1679 and lies buried in the church of San Francesco a Ripa. The Raggi family's palazzo in Rome was located near the Campidoglio and an impressive picture gallery was recorded there in 1664, consisting of family portraits by Van Dyck (no doubt emphasising the Raggis' links with Genoa) and numerous other paintings by different masters.[1]  Writing in defence of the Bamboccianti in his biography of Jan Miel, Filippo Baldinucci commented on the artist’s extraordinary gift in this genre and made particular reference to two works Miel had painted for Raggi: 'Per lo Marchese Raggi fece due [bambocciate] in quadri lunghi, in uno dei quali fece vedere con bello artifizio il corso e le mascherate del Carnevale'.[2] The painting he describes specifically, and which may thus be a pendant to the present work, is the famous Carnival in Piazza Colonna, now in the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Ct. (see fig. 1), which shares the same Sellon d’Allaman provenance as the present picture until some time before 1932.[3] It is widely believed that Raggi owned five large works by Miel, on the basis of descriptions of 'cinque quadri bislungi' belonging to his descendants and recorded in exhibitions held at San Salvatore in Lauro in Rome in 1701 and in 1710. In the earlier exhibition all five paintings were described as being by Michelangelo delle Battaglie (that is, Michelangelo Cerquozzi), whereas in the latter exhibition the paintings were described as being by both Cerquozzi and Miel.[4]  It is possible that the set were the result of a collaboration between the two artists, but three out of five paintings which have been identified to date, are by one hand and the attribution to Miel is now universally accepted.[5]  Indeed the confusion between the oeuvre of both artists seems to have been dispelled by the end of the Century, since all five paintings are attributed to Miel when recorded in the collection of Jean Sellon d’Allaman in 1795.[6]  The remaining two of the set, now lost, included soldiers playing dice near a fountain and the most interesting Monuments of ancient Rome with picturesque figures.  While these descriptions are brief, one may infer from what we know of all five that the present picture and the Hartford one are those most closely matched, and are thus likely to be the two described by Baldinucci as pendants.

The Sellon d’Allaman provenance
The Château d’Allaman was constructed around the year 1200 on the shores of lake Geneva, to the West of Lausanne. Purchased by the Marquise de Langalerie in 1723, the Savoyard fortress was changed into a hospitable castle. Upon her demise the castle was purchased in 1755 by the young Genevois banker Jean-Gaspard [de] Sellon. It was his son Jean de Sellon who assembled the celebrated collection of pictures, mostly during an extended sojourn in Italy between 1789 and 1794.[7]  While his travels in Italy were no doubt connected with the family's banking and silk businesses, he also wished to avoid the riots in Geneva which followed the French Revolution. He was in Rome in 1790, where he most likely bought the five Jan Miels including the present work.  In the following year he was in Naples, where he probably acquired the notable Neapolitan pictures in his collection, and from 1792-4 he was in Florence, where he lived in the villa La Mattonaia.  Alas we have no surving records of most of his purchases, but it was surely in Florence that he bought François-Xavier Fabre's Portrait of Vittorio Alfieri, painted in the same city in 1793.  He must have collected at a prodigious rate since the catalogue started in 1795, just after his return to Geneva, records a selection of the best 215 paintings (from, if one source is accurate, 578), of which 160 were Italian.[8]  Among the early Italian works were pictures attributed to Giotto, Starnina, Fra Angelico, Verrocchio and Giovanni Bellini, then Leonardo, Raphael and Correggio, but it was among the later pictures in which the greatest concentration of quality lay, including the major works by Mattia Preti and Andrea Vaccaro that are preserved today in the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire in Geneva.  Jean de Sellon had assembled a strong group of paintings by Northern Italianate and Bamboccianti painters.  Apart from the five Jan Miels, there were pictures by Sebastien Bourdon, Johannes Lingelbach and Pieter van Bloemen.

It was in Florence that his son, Jean-Jacques de Sellon, learned that Leopold, Grand-Duke of Tuscany, had abolished capital punishment and crime had not risen as a result. Apart from the arts acquired, this discovery was to lay the foundation for his future engagement. Entering the legislative council of Geneva in 1816, Jean-Jacques fought continuously against capital punishment, his credo in the absolute respect for human life led him to fight against slavery, and in 1830 he founded the Society for Peace (Société de la Paix), the first on the Continent, soon after that founded in England and that in the United States of America. A great admirer of Napoleon I, Jean-Jacques offered hospice to many members of that family and other dignitaries, both in the townhouse in Geneva and at the castle d’Allaman. The sizeable collection of paintings inherited was enlarged by portraits of figures that he admired for their compassion in humanity. Many paintings he deposited at the Musée Rath, joining those offered to the public by Madame Rath.

The present painting was first mentioned in the 1795/1807-1815 catalogue, under no. 117, as by Jan Miel: ‘On Canvas. 2 pieds 10 pouces x 5 pieds 6 pouces. A fair behind St. Peter’s in Rome. This wonder of the world is executed in chiaroscuro. In the background one sees Monte Mario, celebrated for the view of the seven hills, which are found there. This painting is teeming with groups drawn with spirit, where the painter has neglected nothing in depicting the costumes and physiognomies of the inhabitants of Rome, and the surrounding country. This bambochade, as one calls this genre in Italy, gives a very good idea of the popular gatherings of this country. The color as well as the composition leave nothing to desire.’[9]  Remarkably there is a reference to the term ‘bambochade’, an early version of the term Bamboccianti which gained widespread currency only later.

Miel has painted here with remarkable topographical accuracy an exceptionally large view of the lands near the Basilica di San Pietro and Monte Mario; known then as they are today as ‘Prati’. As pointed out by Christopher Brown in his discussion of the Hartford picture, ‘both the topographical accuracy of the setting and the format anticipate the vedute of Vanvitelli and others who were active later in the century’.[10]  Miel has shown a fair with several groups of Romans picnicking in the fields, the large dimensions and oblong format of the canvas enabling the artist to illustrate a number of different incidents within a single picture space.  Although they are supposed never to leave the Vatican City, the Swiss Guard is present at the far left, as they are in Piazza Colonna in the Hartford companion work. The loose appearance of this area of the composition conveys an initial impression of old damage, but as the red and blue colours of the uniforms are still in perfect condition, it is more likely that this is due to certain passages having been left unfinished, perhaps because the picture was executed in a hurry for Raggi.

The Hartford painting - and by extension the series - has been dated to the 1640s by Kren, who argues that Raggi was particularly active during this period organising festivities and masquerades for the carnivals. If indeed other pictures from the Raggi series were by Cerquozzi, who only joined the Accademia di San Luca in 1650, this would provide a terminus post quem for their dating. This seems to be supported by the fact that of Miel's few dated genre pictures, the closest in style is his large-scale upright Carnival in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, which is dated 1653.[11]  Indeed a dating in the mid-1650s seems plausible not only from a stylistic point of view but also with regard to Baldinucci’s chronology of Miel’s works: the biographer talks of the Raggi series immediately after mentioning Miel’s commission of 1656 in which he frescoed a chapel next to the Pope’s chamber in the Vatican.[12]

We are grateful to Dottssa. Laura Laureati and Ludovica Trezzani for their assistance in cataloguing this lot.


[1] Recorded in the palazzo in Rome were '... [un] gran numero di ritratti della famiglia Raggi di mano di Antonio Van Dyck fatti con tutta la vivezza del colore e diverse opere di altri maestri' (cited in Nota delli Musei, Librerie, Gallerie e Ornamenti di statue e pitture ne' palazzi, nelle case e ne' giardini di Roma, Rome 1664, ed. E. Zocca, Rome 1976, p. 104. Family portraits were also commissioned from other prominent artists working in Genoa; one such example being Bernardo Strozzi's Portrait of Paolo Gregorio Raggi (private collection, Genoa), for which see Genova nell'Età Barocca, exhibition catalogue, Genoa 1992, pp. 262-3, cat. no. 159, reproduced in colour.
[2] F. Baldinucci, Notizie de’ professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua..., 1728, revised ed. Florence 1812, vol. XIII, p. 42.
[3] See [T.J. Kren], in E. Haverkamp-Begemann (ed.), Wadsworth Atheneum Paintings.  Catalogue 1.  The Netherlands and the German-speaking Countries.  Fifteenth-Nineteenth Centuries, Hartford 1978, pp. 162-4, no. 92, reproduced.
[4] 1701: ‘Cinque quadri, bellissimi, bislunghi, tutti d’una misura, di Michelangelo delle Battaglie, Bambocciate’, and 1710: ‘Sr. Marchese Raggi: Li cinque quadri bislunghi, di Michelangelo e Giovanni Miele, rappresentanti Bambocciate’. Both entries from the exhibitions are recorded in a manuscript by Giuseppe Ghezzi (held at the Museo di Roma), published by Giulia de Marchi, Mostre di quadri a S. Salvatore in Lauro (1682-1725). Stime di collezioni romane. Note di Giuseppe Ghezzi, Rome 1987, p. 151 (1701) and p. 243 (1710).
[5]  See Kren, op. cit., p. 163 for a fuller discussion on attribution of the Hartford picture.  Miel’s work has often been confused with that of Cerquozzi and Lingelbach, and the former two at least clearly worked closely together and knew each other’s work intimately.  As well as the present work and that in Hartford, a third painting from the set can be identified as the Peasants feasting beside a limekiln (oil on canvas, 87 by 163 cm.) which was sold in Rome, Finarte, 23 November 1993, lot 133, and is in now a private collection. It was exhibited in 1991-92 and was recognised as belonging to the Raggi series by Thomas Kren in his review of the exhibition (see L. Trezzani, in I Bamboccianti. Niederländische Malerrebellen im Rom des Barock, exhibition catalogue, Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum der Stadt, 28 August - 17 November 1991; Utrecht, Centraal Museum, 6 December 1991 - 9 February 1992, pp. 250-251, cat. no. 24.10, reproduced in colour, and T.J. Kren, in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 1992, pp. 449-50). All five works are published by T.J. Kren, under Literature, 1979, under lost works.
[6] See Provenance, and under Literature.
[7] See M. Natale, Le goût et les collections d'art italien à Genève du XVIIIe au XXe siècle, Geneva 1980, pp. 66-68.
[8] See under Literature.
[9] English translation of 1795 text is taken from Kren, under Literature, 1979.
[10] C. Brown, in Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1984, p. 255, under cat. no. 76.
[11] Reproduced in colour in G. Briganti, L. Trezzani, and L. Laureati, The Bamboccianti. The Painters of Everyday Life in seventeenth Century Rome, Rome 1983, p. 121, fig. 4.30.
[12] ‘Del 1656 dipinse in Vaticano in una cappella vicino alla camera del Papa alcune storie a fresco: e circa il medesimo tempo colorí più quadri con figure grandi, che furono mandati in più luoghi del Piemonte. Ma perché, come abbiamo detto, egli ebbe una maniera in fare invenzioni di bambocciate, fuor di ordinario convennegli farne molte, dalle quali ricavò gran nome in simil sorta di opere. Per lo Marchese Raggi…’ (Baldinucci, op. cit., p. 42). We are grateful to Dott.ssa Laura Laureati for drawing our attention to this.

Old Master Paintings

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