Lot 53
  • 53

Carlo Dolci

300,000 - 400,000 USD
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  • Carlo Dolci
  • Saint John the Evangelist
  • oil on canvas, octagonal


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 is in remarkably good condition. The canvas seems to have an old lining, but the stretcher may be even older if not original. The very smooth surface has developed some cracking, but there is no instability or recent paint loss which would encourage any further structural work. The paint layer shows some raised cracking throughout. Given the very smooth surface to the work, changing the lining may create weave interference in place of the raised cracking. Therefore, leaving the lining may be the best option. The paint layer is visibly dirty, and on can certainly safely clean the painting. However, the patina is so attractive that one may choose not to clean the work. There are no retouches visible under ultraviolet light, except along the bottom edge, in the center of the left side and in the right side of the eagle in the upper right. This work is certainly unusually well preserved.
"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 powerful image of Saint John the Evangelist is an exciting recent rediscovery. Unrecorded in Dolci’s oeuvre, the painting has been dated by Francesca Baldassari to circa 1675, who recognizes it as an autograph version of the picture in the Galleria Palatina in Florence.

A deeply religious man, Dolci wanted his works to inspire faith and piety in their viewers, and the artist imbued the present Saint John with emotional intensity and devotion through a combination of compositional expressiveness and highly precise execution. The Evangelist looks heavenwards, his quill suspended in midair, as he is bathed in the soft glow of blessed inspiration. His symbol, the eagle, stares at him with a piercing, almost fierce intensity, as if he too can convey the will of God. The saint’s face is spotlit by a single source of divine light, the luminous effects of which have been masterfully captured by the artist.  Dolci pushes the figure incredibly close to the picture plane so as to emphasize the minute linear precision with which the picture is rendered. Details such as the gold highlights in the Evangelists halo, and the sophisticated manner in which these gold highlights emanate from his green halo, reinforce the painstaking detail for which Dolci is revered. According to Baldassari, such subtle artistry and attention to detail can be viewed as stylistic grounds on which to base the attribution. 

First mentioned by the artist’s biographer, Filippo Baldinucci, the prime version of the composition belonged to Cosimo III Medici (Galleria Palatina, inv. 1912 n. 217). Baldinucci remarks that in the 1670, Dolci received a commission for two paintings from the grand duke—one depicting San Giovanni Evangelista and a second representing San Casimiro re di Pollonia. Baldinucci’s comments are supported both by the inscription on the back of Palatina n. 217 (“A[NN]O S[ALU]TIS/1671/GIORNO AVANTI E DOPPO SANTISSIMA PENTECOSTE DELINEAVO/ AVANTI E DOPPO LA SOLENNITA DEL SANTISS[IM]O DIPINGEVO PER IL SERENISSIMO GRANDUCA DI TOSCANO/IO CARLO DOLCI”),1 and an inventory of 1687-1688, preserved in the Medici Archives, that records the Saint John and Saint Casimir as hanging in the bedroom of Cosimo III. And again, in 1723 the Saint John is mentioned in the inventory of the Pitti Palace.2

Also in the collection of the Galleria Palatina is another version of the composition (inv. 1912 n. 397) that is nearly identical in composition to both the present picture and the Medici version, but which appears to be slightly later in date and which lacks the aforementioned inscription and archival documentation. Baldassari has argued that this third version is likely a collaborative work between Dolci and a workshop assistant, owing its lack of linear precision and more generalized features. 

We are grateful to Francesca Baldassari for confirming the attribution to Dolci based on firsthand inspection, and for her assistance in the cataloguing of this lot. 

1. I, Carlo Dolci painted this image in the holy year 1671, in the days before and after blessed Pentecost, before and after the solemnity of the of the blessed, for his Highness the Grand Duke of Tuscany.
2. F. Baldassari, Carlo Dolci, Torino 1995, p. 155.