IMPORTANT OLD MASTER PAINTINGS FROM THE FORBES COLLECTION FORMERLY AT FETTERCAIRN HOUSE
P. Oggioni, Rome;
Acquired from the above by Irvine on behalf of Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet of Pitsligo (1773–1828), of Fettercairn, Kincardineshire, on 17 March 1828, in Rome, for 35 Louis;
By descent to his son Sir John Stuart Hepburn-Forbes, 8th Baronet of Pitsligo (1804–1866);
By inheritance to his son-in-law Charles Trefusis, 20th Baron Clinton (1834–1904);
Thence by descent to the present owner.
This painting follows the compositional type of one of two other versions of this subject – that which was sold New York, Sotheby’s, 26 January 2012, lot 36 ($550,000). The other version is at the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.3 Both paintings take inspiration from Schedoni’s most admired source, arguably the most influential Emilian artist of previous generations, Correggio. The Madonna’s profile derives to some degree from Correggio's Madonna and Child ('La Zingarella') and the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine, both originally in the Farnese collection,4 a pose which also appears in Schedoni's own Charity of Saint Elisabeth of Hungary.5 Furthermore, he employs here the warm, vibrant palette so much associated with Correggio, found, for example, in the aforementioned Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine.
The Capodimonte and ex-Sotheby's paintings are closely comparable in composition, though they contain some marked differences. The figures in the Capodimonte painting appear larger and fill more of the composition, whereas in the ex-Sotheby's version and the present work, the group has been set further back and their scale is more in harmony with the surrounding landscape. Two of the most obvious compositional differences are the positions of the angel's head, which is in three-quarter view in the Capodimonte painting, rather than in the sharper profile seen here and in the ex-Sotheby's version, and Saint Joseph's right hand, which has moved from resting on the pages of the book in the Capodimonte version, to holding the top of it, flawlessly foreshortened. Stylistically, the ex-Sotheby's painting is executed in a more angular manner, especially in the drapery and contouring, which is more defined than in the Capodimonte composition. The light is also intensified in the ex-Sotheby's work, falling from left to right, as it does here. Dallasta and Cecchinelli date the Capodimonte painting to circa 1610, and the ex-Sotheby's painting to 1613–14.6 The present painting surely dates also to the final years of the artist's tragically short life, which ended in Parma in the employ of Duke Ranuccio I Farnese, following a career of a mere 15 years.
When Irvine acquired the present painting he commented that it 'has fortunately never been cleaned, only it had been retouched in some places with oil colour, many years ago, and which had got dark but being taken off with care the original tint has been found under. Those old repairers of pictures (indeed some of the present) often darkened parts of a picture by way of giving greater relief to some object, as was the case here in order to give more effect to the head of the angel by darkening some bushes behind it which were turned black and heavy.'7 Irvine, having trained as a painter himself, took a keen interest in the condition and care of paintings. In a dated list of his expenses, he records that in the month following his purchase of the 'Schidone' he had it cleaned by a trusted restorer in Rome, one 'Signor Colombo', for 6 Louis, and also acquired a new frame for it: 'one more worthy of its merit.'
The painting has not undergone any restoration since this time, which in large part accounts for the difference in tonality and surface to the ex-Sotheby’s painting. Beneath an old varnish and the consequent trapped surface dirt in the textured brushstrokes, Schedoni’s fluid yet refined handling is found throughout the composition, particularly in the faces of the Christ Child and the angel (both of which appear much more in shadow than in the ex-Sotheby's picture), the angel's wing, Saint Joseph's bowed head and right hand, and in the drapery of the Madonna's sleeve.
We are grateful to Drs Emilio Negro and Nicosetta Roio for endorsing the attribution to Schedoni on the basis of a digital image.
1. 'This picture I remember to have seen and admired some years ago having been brought from Milan by an engineer and land surveyor employed to make a survey of the Campagna of Rome, and then I understood it was to be sold. He is lately returned here and invited me to come and see his pictures... I picked out this...'. James Irvine's letter to Sir William Forbes, Rome, 29 March 1828.
2. James Irvine's letter to Sir William Forbes, Rome, 29 March 1828.
3. For both paintings, see E. Negro and N. Roio, Bartolomeo Schedoni, Modena 2000, p. 101, cat. nos 47.1 and 47.2, reproduced p. 102.
4. See M. Utili et al., La Collezione Farnese. La scuola emiliana: I dipinti. I disegni, Naples 1994, pp. 148–50, reproduced in colour pp. 148 and 150, respectively.
5. See Utili 1994, pp. 248–50, reproduced in colour p. 247.
6. F. Dallasta and C. Cecchinelli, Bartolomeo Schedoni. Pittore Emiliano, Parma 1999, p. 132.
7. James Irvine's letter to Sir William Forbes, Rome, 29 March 1828.
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