Lot 49
  • 49

Pier Francesco Mola

400,000 - 600,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Pier Francesco Mola
  • Bacchus overseeing the crushing of grapes by his satyrs
  • oil on canvas


Rancate (Mendrisio), Canton Ticino, Pinacoteca Cantonale Giovanni Züst, Omaggio a Pier Francesco Mola (1612 - 1666) nel quarto centenario della nascità1 April 2012 - 13 January 2013.


L. Damiani Cabrini, Omaggio a Pier Francesco Mola (1612 - 1666) nel quarto centenario della nascità, exhibition pamphlet, Rancate 2012;
F. Petrucci, Pier Francesco Mola (1612 - 1666), Materia e colore nella pittura del '600, Rome 2012, p. 296, cat. no. B6, reproduced p. 34, fig. 16;
F. Petrucci, "Un 'Satiretto' del Mola dalla collezione del Marchese di Carpio e qualche novità su Giovanni Battista Pace", in Quaderni del Barocco, II, pp. 4 - 5, reproduced in detail p. 5.


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 recently restored. The large canvas has been lined, probably in Italy. The paint layer is certainly stable and the canvas is well stretched. There is a heavy varnish on the work and a quite noticeable lack of texture to the paint layer. Perhaps the texture would improve slightly if the varnish were removed and replaced with a more interesting and less sprayed looking varnish. The actual amount of retouching seems to be quite minimal. It does seem that some mild heat damage may have occurred in some parts of the paint layer, since there is some bituminous blistering in the darker colors in some areas such as the shadowed side of the raised arm of the figure picking grapes on the right and in other pockets here and there, particularly in the darker colors of the background. No clear evidence of retouching exists under ultraviolet light, but there is either a canvas join or thin break to the canvas in the lower left. There have been numerous small cleaning tests applied diligently throughout the picture. These tests do not seem to reveal anything untoward about the original paint layer for a picture from this period. Overall, the image is strong and the painting is colorful and has good depth. There is a compromised surface as a result of numerous linings, and there seems to be some slight change to the texture of the painting due to atmospheric conditions. The restoration has been quite minimal, and most of it has been accurately applied. One could hang the picture in its current state. Alternatively, the most conspicuous losses and cracks could be retouched, or one could completely clean the surface to try to establish a more lively character to the paint layer.
"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

This dramatic Bacchic scene, only recently discovered, was included in the Omaggio a Pier Francesco Mola exhibition in Rancate, Canton Ticino in 2012, curated by Laura Damiani Cabrini, and published as an autograph work in Francesco Petrucci’s monograph (see Exhibited and Literature).  While not unprecedented, the scale of this canvas is rare for the artist, as is the depiction of figures in almost life-size proportions.  This shift toward the predominant depiction of figures occurred in Mola’s compositions following his return to Rome in 1647, having travelled to Venice, Lucca and Bologna to study in the workshops of artists such as Pietro Testa and Francesco Albani.1   While his earlier works displayed an inclination toward the sensitive depiction of landscape, upon his arrival in Rome, Mola absorbed the influence of Guercino and artists such as Niccolo Renieri and Orazio Riminaldi working in the wake of Caravaggio, whose compositions gave greater prominence to the representation of figures.2 

Erich Schleier dates the painting between 1648 and 1649, at the very peak of the artist’s neo-Venetian period.3  Petrucci meanwhile places the painting somewhat earlier, circa 1633 – 1638, when Mola’s work was indebted to Poussin and a moment in which Bacchic scenes were particularly popular.4  Though representations of Bacchus were prevalent at the time, the crushing of grapes is an uncommon approach to the subject and a rarity even among prototypes by Titian and Poussin.5  There are four other known depictions of Bacchus by Mola: the Meeting of Bacchus and Ariadne in the ceiling frescos in Palazzo Costaguti, Rome; the Bacchus and Ariadne in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig  (inv. no.  477 [291]); a second version of the Braunschweig  painting, in the Earl of Pembroke collection at Wilton House, Wiltshire; and a half-length figure of Bacchus in the Galeria Spada, Rome (inv. no. 160).6  As Schleier observes, in each of the four treatments, Mola depicts Bacchus in red drapery though none are perhaps as classical in their interpretation as the present work.7  

Here, the artist gave careful attention to disegno, particularly in the treatment of Bacchus and the full-bodied satyrs, whose flesh and muscles are then built-up with thick, bright highlights and contrasting red tones.  The painting is executed in characteristically rapid yet confident strokes, and Mola’s swift technique of painting is apparent through numerous pentiments, visible in the right hand of the satyr gripping the krater and in the raised right arm of the satyr squeezing grapes.  The distinctive pose of the latter, his outstretched arms clasped above his head, his face upturned and his mouth open to catch the flowing juice is replicated almost identically in the artist’s Pagan Sacrifice, in a private collection (fig. 1).8  In that work, which both Petrucci and Damiani Cabrini date to the same period as the present canvas, the pagan priest’s hands are clasped and his face upturned toward the sky in prayer.

1.  L. Damiani Cabrini 2012, op. cit.
2.  E. Schleier, private communication dated 29 January 2012.
3.  Ibid.
4.  F. Petrucci, op. cit.
5.  E. Schleier, private communication dated 29 January 2012.
6.  Ibid.
7.  Ibid.
8.  F. Petrucci, op. cit., p. 267, cat. no. B2, reproduced pp. 267 and 33, fig. 15.