Lot 46
  • 46

Giovanni Battista Gaulli, called Baciccio

150,000 - 250,000 USD
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  • Giovanni Battista Gaulli, called Baciccio
  • Portrait of a lady, head and shoulders
  • oil on canvas


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 work has not been restored for many years. The canvas has a very old glue lining. While the paint layer is stable, the cracking is slightly raised at present. The lining could probably be corrected rather than replaced. The work is very dirty. Under ultraviolet light, no retouches are visible except for a few spots in the lower left. If and when the picture is cleaned, the painting will certainly noticeably improve. Although a few restorations will be required around the edges, in the hair to the right of the neck, in the veil to the right of the shoulder and above the hand, there do not appear to be any real condition issues. The work is in unusually good condition.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Painted in the mid-1670s, this striking portrayal of a lady is testament to Gaulli’s superlative portraiture style.  The artist captures his enigmatic sitter, whose identity is yet to be determined, with exquisite realism, from her soft, bright skin and tight dark curls, to her crisp, transparent shawl and opulent jewels.  The painting bears an affinity with Gaulli's Portrait of Eleonora Boncompagni Borghesi, dated by Petrucci to circa 1672 – 1675 and now in a private collection.1   The pose is remarkably similar, the sitter gazing frankly over her left shoulder, however, here a more intensely psychological characterization of his subject is conveyed.2  While poised, she is more relaxed and engages the viewer with a yet more candid expression. 

With her right hand she plucks at the jewel on her breast with a gesture that is repeated not only in the aforementioned Borghese portrait, but also in a small likeness on copper of Eleonora, dating to 1685 – 1690, in which she is shown in the same pose and finery, but with an updated coiffure.3  As Petrucci notes, the unusual position of the hand, which arches from the wrist, the fingers with long and supple and the smallest extended upwards, is in fact the invention of the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  Gaulli appears to be “citing” the Berninian gesture adopted for the figure of Truth from the funeral monument to Alessandro VII in Saint Peter’s, Rome, and the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni in the Altieri chapel in San Francesco a Ripa, Rome.4 Not only do both sculptures date within a year or two of the present painting, but evidence of  the intended quotation can be found in the form of a drawing by Gaulli of Bernini’s Ludovica Albertoni, now preserved in the Musée Atger, Montpellier, testifying to the impact the new work must have had on the artist.5

We are grateful to Francesco Petrucci for endorsing an attribution of this work to Giovanni Battista Gaulli on the basis of photographs.

1. F. Petrucci, Baciccio, Giovanni Battista Gaulli 1639 – 1709, Rome 2009, pp. 426 – 427, cat. no. A61, reproduced.
2.  F. Petrucci in a private written communication, dated 8 October 2013.
3.  Ibid., p. 426, cat. no. A62.
4.  Ibid. p. 59 – 61, reproduced in detail figs. 59 and 62.
5.  Ibid. p. 61, reproduced fig. 63