Lot 107
  • 107

Bernardo Cavallino

180,000 - 220,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Bernardo Cavallino
  • Mattathias slaying the officer of King Antiochus on the Altar at Modin
  • oil on canvas


With Galleria San Marco, Rome, 1951;
With Manzoni Galleria d'Arte, Milan, 1967;
With Gilberto Algranti, Milan, 1969;
Private Collection, United States.


Milan, Manzoni Galleria d'Arte, 33 opere del Seicento, 1967, no. 31;
Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art; Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum; Naples, Museo Pignatelli Cortes, Bernardo Cavallino of Naples, 1616 - 1656, November 14, 1984 - June 26, 1985, no. 59;
London, Matthiesen Fine Art, Ltd., Baroque III 1620-1700, June 13- August 15, 1986, cat. no. 12.



G. Testori, 33 opere del Seicento, exhibition catalogue, Milan, Manzoni Galleria d'Arte, 1967, cat. no. 31, reproduced;
A.T. Lurie & A. Percy, Bernardo Cavallino of Naples, 1616 - 1656, exhibition catalogue, Cleveland and Fort Worth, 1984, pp. 168-169, cat. no. 59, reproduced;
Bernardo Cavallino, exhibition catalogue, Naples 1985, p. 131, cat. no. A. 28.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com , an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting has been quite recently restored and should be hung as is. The varnish that has been applied discourages the ultraviolet light from identifying any restorations yet it appears that there have been fairly extensive efforts made to reduce abrasion to the paint layer. Although the picture looks well it is more than likely that there have been fairly consistent campaigns to restore it. One can see that the sharpness and depth in the picture, particularly in the figures to the far left and elsewhere, has diminished over time. Nonetheless the restoration is accurate and earnest, and despite the weakness to the paint layer, we recommend that the picture be hung as is.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The subject of this dramatic picture, sufficiently obscure and apparently unique in Baroque painting, defied correct identification until it was determined by Anne Percy in the landmark exhibition on the works of Bernardo Cavallino in 1985.It depicts an episode from the apocryphal book of Maccabees (2:23-25) and a pivotal moment in Jewish history.  The Seleucid King Antiochus, who was then overlord of Judah, ordered that the Jews in his realm offer sacrifices on pagan altars.  A Greek envoy had come to Modin, a small town north of Jerusalem, to deliver the edict and to assure that it was followed.  Mattathias, the local priest, loudly refused to obey, as it was clearly contrary to Mosaic law:

As he [Mattathias] ceased to utter these words, a Jew went up before the eyes of all of them to offer sacrifice as the king commanded, on the altar in Modin.  And Mattathias saw him and was filled with zeal, and his heart was stirred, and he was very properly roused to anger, and ran up and slaughtered him upon the altar.  At the same time he killed the king's officer who was trying to compel them to sacrifice and he tore down the altar

Mattathias was then forced to flee to the wilderness with his five sons who, with their supporters, formed a band of resistance fighters that became the nucleus of the Maccabees who eventually succeeded in freeing Israel from the rule of the Seleucid dynasty. 

For this painting, Cavallino has followed his scriptural source carefully; the "unclean" cows-- the controversial sacrificial victims-- are shown in the shadows at right, just next to Mattathias as he attacks his erring co-religionist (whose status as a Hellenized Jew is confirmed by his cuirass).  The royal official recoils in horror and the priest's five sons and others witness the act of defiance.  Interestingly, Cavallino has apparently included a portrait of himself in the composition; the fourth figure from the left is shown looking out directly at the viewer, and is dressed as a soldier.2

The dating of the picture remains somewhat uncertain, as the composition, which is gathered in the groups leaving the center of the canvas vacant but for the main protagonist and his victim, is rather unusual in the artist's work.  Percy has suggested a date of the second half of the 1640s, in comparison with a pendant pair of paintings of David and of Esther, one in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and the other in the Harrach collection, Schloss Rohrau.   This would place the present work in the artist's maturity which certainly seems to be supported by the age of Cavallino's portrait in the painting. 

1  The painting had previously been entitled the Sacrifice of the Gentiles, presumably on the strength of a reference made by de Domenici to a picture of that subject in the collection of Nicola Salerno (see A. Percy, op. cit., p. 169).
2  See A. Percy, op. cit.;  Percy and Lurie in their catalogue identified a number of examples of these self portraits by Cavallino in his works.  They date from throughout his career, as far back as the early Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew (Capodimonte, Naples) where he is shown as a relatively young man.  The general pose and direct gaze of the portrait is repeated throught the works, with some variations and changes of costume, and apparently ages as the works become more mature.