As Macandrew and Graf noted, Gaulli frequently changed his mind while developing his compositions, and even the presence, as here, of squaring on a drawing is no proof that the design was irrevocably fixed, and would be followed in the final painting.1 The artist’s particular working method is often witnessed by a succession of preparatory studies, and explains the many changes and alterations that can often be seen in even apparently very finished drawings by the artist.
In the case of the present sheet, this working method is illustrated by the existence of another elaborate compositional drawing, sold in New York in 2011 and now in a private collection, where although the format is slightly wider, the Madonna and the St. Nicholas are in the same positions as in the final painted work.2 All the same, in comparison to that drawing, the present sheet appears to be more finished, and less of a working study, so it is not easy to say which drawing must have been made first. In any case, both sheets are important documents of Gaulli's working method, and of the artist's imaginative and lively artistic mind, always in search of better solutions for his compositions. Other studies for the painting are in Düsseldorf and Oxford, and an oil modello, formerly in Palazzo Ruspoli, Nemi, is in the collection of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Rome.3
The subject, an unusual one, has been elucidated by Robert Engass.4 St. Nicholas, at the Council of Nicaea in 325, condemned the Arians, provoking the members of the Council to take away the symbols of his office. The Virgin, however, approving of his defence of the Trinity, miraculously restored them to him.
1. H. Macandrew and D. Graf, ‘Baciccio's Later Drawings, A rediscovered group acquired by the Ashmolean Museum,' Master Drawings,vol. X, no. 3, 1972, p. 235
2. Sale, New York, Sotheby's, 26 January 2011, lot 545; Petrucci, op. cit., p. 549, no. C.23.1, reproduced
3. For a detailed account of the drawings, see: K. Wolfe, in Giovan Battista Gaulli Il Baciccio 1639-1709, exhib. cat., Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, 1999-2000, p. 179, under no. 39 (the oil modello).
4. Robert Engass, The Painting of Baciccio, University Park 1964, p. 96
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