Giovanni Battista Gaulli, called Il Baciccio
- Giovanni Battista Gaulli, called Il Baciccio
- The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni distributing Alms
- inscribed lower right with an inventory number: 123
- oil on canvas, unframed
Commissioned by Cardinal Angelo Altieri, Rome probably towards the end of 1670, with payment of 105 scudi recorded on 22 February 1671;
Private collection, Genoa;
Private collection, Geneva;
Joseph Lazzarelli, Geneva;
By whom sold to Julius H. Weitzner, London & New York;
With Herner-Wengraf, Ltd., London by 1970;
From whom acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, 1970.
M. Fagiolo dell'Arco and R. Pantanella, Museo Baciccio: in margine a quattro inventari inediti, Rome 1996, p. 51, no. 50;
D. Jaffé, Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 1997, p. 48, reproduced;
M. Fagiolo dell'Arco (et al.), Giovan Battista Gaulli: Il Baciccio 1639 - 1709, Milan 1999, exh. cat., Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia, 11 December 1999 - 12 March 2000, pp. 68, 155, 163 (note 1), 341 cat. no. 76, reproduced p. 67, fig. 23;
D. Graf, 'Gaulli, Giovanni Battista', in K.G. Saur, Algemeines Künstler-Lexicon, 50, Munich-Leipzig 2006, p. 243;
F. Petrucci, Baciccio: Giovan Battista Gaulli, 1639-1709, Rome 2009, pp. 59, 289, 324, 575, cat. no. D20, reproduced figs. 61, 398;
K. Lloyd, "Baciccio's Beata Ludovica Albertoni Distributing Alms, " in The Getty Research Journal, no. 2, 2010, pp. 1-18, reproduced fig. 1.
This beautiful altarpiece, offered here at auction for the first time and described as a "vero capolavoro", was painted in Rome by Baciccio in 1670.1 The visual layout of the composition confirms that the work was meant to be hung as an altarpiece slightly above eye level, as we can just peer down into the bowl lower centre. Indeed, the bread and dark liquid would have carried clear Eucharistic symbolism when worshippers approached the altar for communion. Even before documentary evidence could prove its precise dating, Fredericksen (see Literature) and other scholars had dated the work to the 1670s when the artist was in Rome by comparing it to two other Roman altarpieces, the Madonna and Child with Saint Anne in San Francesco a Ripa from 1674 and the Death of Saint Francis Xavier in Sant'Andrea al Quirinale from 1676.2
The traditional subject of the altarpiece was long considered to be Saint Francesca Romana Distributing Alms but more recently Petrucci and Lloyd (see Literature) have proposed a different historical figure, the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, who was also a pious Roman woman. Ludovica was widowed in 1506 and after spending her wealth feeding the poor died in 1533. Though iconographically similar to Ludovica in her standard black habit, white veil and holding a book, Petrucci and Lloyd are correct to dismiss the idea of Francesca Romana as she would be depicted here devoid of her ever-present guardian angel. The key to the correct iconographical reading lies in the seemingly unusual placing of a coin in the loaf of bread lower centre. Moreover, as if to underline the iconographical importance of the coins, the little girl who stares directly at the viewer - the only figure to do so - with her left hand points to some more coins in her right palm. The unusual iconography of coins placed on a loaf of bread echoes a fresco of Ludovica in the Altieri family chapel also in the church of San Francesco a Ripa, the very church where Ludovica had become a Franciscan tertiary and where Bernini's celebrated marble sculpture of her which dates from 1674 can still be found. Given the subject, we can be quite certain that the present work was commissioned by Cardinal Angelo Altieri, who had recently become related through marriage to descendants of Ludovica, and was paid for on 22 February 1671.3 It would have been commissioned to celebrate the occasion of Ludovica's beatification by Pope Clement X Altieri earlier that year, a process which had started in 1670, thereby allowing time for the painter to have it complete by the end of January 1671.4 Lloyd reasonably proposes that the work was intended for the altar in the Altieri chapel and meant to be complete in time for the celebrations of Ludovica's first feast day. It was perhaps subsequently removed "when Bernini added an architectural recess for his statue of the beata."5
1. See Petrucci under Literature, p. 59.
2. Idem, pp. 520-21, cat. no. C5, and p. 523, cat. no. C7, respectively.
3. See Archivio Altieri, Giustificationi del Sig. Principe D. Angelo Altieri pp mandati 1670-1671 (n. 593 b), quoted in Lloyd, under Literature, p. 14, note 17: "Il Comp.a faccia mand.o di s. centocinque m.ta a Gio. Batta Gauli Pittore p regalo di un quadro della B. Ludovica fatto p. n.ro serv.o q.sto dì 22 feb.ro 1671 s. 105 m.ta A. Altieri" – "The book-keeper is ordered to make payment of 105 scudi to the painter Giovanni Battista Gaulli in recognition for the painting of the Blessed Ludovica made for our use on this day the 22 February 1671. 105 scudi, [signed] A. Altieri."
4. Ludovica's feast day was celebrated for the first time on 31 January 1671, and to this day that date is reserved for her.
5. See Lloyd, under Literature, p. 6.