Lot 35
  • 35

Sebastiano Ricci

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Sebastiano Ricci
  • The Investiture of Marco Corner as Count of Zara in 1344
  • oil on canvas


Probably commissioned by Gerolamo fu Niccolò (1651-1712), for the Ca' Corner a San Polo, Venice, where the pictures hung in the portego;
Purchased by Jules Allard in 1901 on behalf of Edward J. Berwind (1848-1936);
Edward J. Berwind, "The Elms", Newport, Rhode Island, USA, where the works hung in the Dining Room;
By whom bequeathed to his sister Julia (1895-1961);
Her deceased sale, New York, Parke Bernet, 27-28 June 1962, lot 566, reproduced, as a set of 'Six decorative mural paintings, Venetian School, probably 18th Century', where bought by the present owner for $14,000.


P. Molmenti, G.B. Tiepolo, Milan 1909, p. 284 [French ed., Paris, 1911, p. 217] (as 'perhaps by Lazzarini and Tiepolo');
G. Knox, `Pagani, Pellegrini and Piazzetta: from Ca' Corner to 'The Elms', in Apollo, CX, 213, November 1979, pp. 428-429, 436-437 and notes 1-4 (as by Paolo Pagani), reproduced in colour p. 433, pl. XI;
L. Moretti, 'Antonio Molinari Rivisitato' in Arte Veneta 1979, XXXIII, mentioned in the postscript of p. 69 where he describes the work as "uno strepitoso Sebastiano Ricci";
S. Burri, "Paolo Pagani," in Saggi e memorie di storia dell'arte, XIII, 1982, p. 70 (rejects Knox's attribution of painting to Pagani and posits that it was the work of Sebastiano Ricci);
E. Martini, La Pittura del settecento veneto, Udine 1982, pp. 474, note 44, p. 480, note 61 (as by Sebastiano Ricci'), reproduced fig. 405;

Catalogue Note

This painting and the following lot, which have not been offered at auction since 1962, form part of a series of six canvas overdoors painted by different artists, executed circa 1696-1700, commemorating the feats of the Corner family. They are thought to have been commissioned by Gerolamo fu Niccolò (1651-1712)1 and are offered in the original frames in which they hung in Ca' Corner and The Elms (see figures 1 and 2).

Though with a distinguished family name that had produced doges, the Corner di San Polo were less famous than their relatives but could still boast of men of some standing. Their most celebrated member was Bernardo, born in 1656, who had held several important posts: he was Podestà at Brescia, luogotenente at Udine and a member of the Council of Ten. Drawing on the family legend that the Corner family were descended from the Roman gens Cornelia, he commissioned a series of 4 large canvases for Ca' Corner (fig 1), again by various different artists including Pagani, Pellegrini and Piazzetta, which celebrated the life of Scipio.2  These four canvases hung in the portego of Palazzo Corner with the overdoors, including the Riccis (see fig. 3 and fig. 1 in the following lot) and were later transferred to the dining room of The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island.

The present picture represents The Investiture of Marco Corner as Count of Zara in 1344. Marco Corner is thought to have been born circa 1284 and was elected Doge in 1365, dying three years later. He is represented here as a young man, far from his true age of sixty. The following lot represents Anteros Pleads with Atropos (see the following lot for a full discussion of the subject matter). The other four pictures in the series, which today hang in the Elms once more, represent The Embassy of Marco Corner to the Emperor Charles IV, Francesco Corner defends Venice against the League of Cambrai in 1509, The Procurator Zorzi Corner gives treasure to Venice, and Caterino Corner receives the surrender of a Turkish City.

The series has been attributed to different artists over the course of its history and has not received the attention it deserves, often being referred to in passing in footnotes. In an article on the Scipio series Bettagno (see Literature) was the first scholar to make serious mention of the Corner overdoors. He attributed the series to several artists, without specifying which paintings he gave to whom, listing the names of Gianantonio Pellegrini, Antonio Molinari, Sebastiano Ricci, Antonio Balestra and Niccolò Bambini.

In 1979 Knox analysed the series more thoroughly, agreeing with Bettagno that the six overdoors were all by different hands. Without putting a clear case forward, he attributed the Investiture to Paolo Pagani and gave the Anteros to Giambattista Piazzetta proposing a date of execution circa 1706, commenting on the latter that "in general the handling of the paint surface is brilliant".3 The Francesco Corner...he gave to Gregorio Lazzarini (1657-1730), The Procurator Zorzi Corner... he attributed to Pellegrini (1665-1730) while in the Caterino Corner... he saw the hand of Carl Loth (1632-1698).4 Supported by some preparatory drawings, he went on to suggest that The Embassy of Marco Corner... was by Antonio Molinari (1655-1704).5

However, that same year Moretti firmly attributed both the Investiture and the Anteros to Ricci, proposing a date of execution of 1699-1700, contemporaneous with Ricci's four canvases for the ceiling of the presbytery in the church of San Marziale in Venice. He calls the Investiture "strepitoso", and feels that the Anteros had been "maltrattato", probably referring to the overpaint which Berwind had had liberally applied to certain figures, notably Atropos in the following lot. The overpaint on the other four paintings in the series has since been removed.

In 1982 Knox's ideas are again rejected on three separate occasions: Burri proposes that The Invesituture is clearly by Sebastiano Ricci; Mariuz rejects the attribution to Piazzetta for the Anteros and concurs with Moretti's suggestion of Ricci, whilst Martini gives both to Ricci and refers to the Investiture as "stupendo".6 Yet, convinced of his ideas, as late as 1992 Knox once more insists that the Anteros is by Piazzetta, praising the "masterly control of mood and characterization".7

Moretti's argument seems the most plausible. At the turn of the century Ricci had begun work on a fresco in the church of San Sebastiano to replace a destroyed work by Veronese.8 He inevitably must have studied the latter's other works in the church. His influence can clearly be felt in the elegance and poise of the figures in both canvases: the sharp diagonals and carefully balanced compositions are indebted to Veronese in their neat use of space.9 Of the two it is perhaps the Investiture which more obviously borrows elements from the master: the golden curls of the lady upper left and the bald bearded man in front of the column are all lifted from Veronese's oeuvre. The explosion of bright sunlight and the accomplished foreshortening (we recall that these were meant as overdoors), is also consistent with Veronese's San Sebastiano canvases which were painted as ceiling decoration and thus accentuate the di sotto in sù perspective. Similarly, in the following lot, the winged figure of Anteros, hovering above the other figures, also lends credence to Moretti's links and is entirely consistent with the figures in Ricci's San Marziale canvases.10

We are grateful to both Professor Lino Moretti and Dottoressa Annalisa Scarpa Sonino for independently confirming the attributions to Ricci on the basis of photographs. Professor Moretti will be publishing both paintings in a forthcoming article to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the artist's birth.

A note on the Provenance:
The Elms (fig 4) was the summer residence of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Berwind of Philadelphia and New York, who had made their fortune in the Pennsylvania coal industry with the Berwind-White Coal Mining company. In 1898, the Berwinds commissioned the architect Horace Trumbauer to design a house modelled after the 18th-century Château d'Asnières, outside Paris. Construction of The Elms was completed in 1901 at a cost reported at $1.4 million. The elaborate interiors were furnished by Jules Allard et Fils of Paris and were the setting for the Berwinds' important collection of 18th-century French and Venetian paintings, including the works of such masters as Guardi, Fragonard and Boucher. Julia Berwind was to present many of these as gifts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and they can still be found there today.

When Mrs. Berwind died in 1922, Edward invited his sister Julia to live with him. After his subsequent demise in 1936 Julia continued to summer at The Elms until her death in 1961 at the age of 96, at which time the house and most of its contents were sold at public auction.

Most of the furnishings from The Elms, including the present paintings and the others in the series were sold at auction on June 27 and 28, 1962. When commercial development threatened to pull down the house, the Preservation Society of Newport County raised the necessary funds to purchase it and opened it to the public as a museum. Some of the original furnishings that had been dispersed at the auction were sold back to the house, including, in 2004, the other four pictures in this series.

1. See Moretti, under Literature.
2. See Knox, 1979.
3. See Knox, op. cit. p. 437.
4. Moretti agrees, suggesting it may be one of his last works, possibly finished by Ambrogio Bon (1645-1710).
5. For the two preparatory drawings in Düsseldorf, see Knox 1979, p. 433, figs. 11 and 12.
6. See Martini, under Literature, p 480.
7. See G. Knox, Giambattista Piazzetta, 1682-1754, Oxford 1992, p. 37.
8. See J. Daniels, Sebastiano Ricci, Hove 1976, p. 132, cat. no. 456.
9. For Veronese's frescoes see T. Pignatti, Paolo Verenese, Venice 1976, vol. I, pp. 112-115, cat. no.57-59; 70-75, reproduced vol. II plates 114-120; 150-152.
10. See A. Scarpa, Sebastiano Ricci, Milan 2006, p. 322, cat. no. 509-512, reproduced pp. 459-20, plates 217-220.