While a precise dating for the present canvas is elusive, the pose of the Madonna links it to one of the most famous paintings of Gentileschi’s English period. In 1633, the artist sent a Finding of Moses to Philip IV of Spain as a gift (Museo del Prado, Madrid, inv. P00147, see. Fig. 1). That painting was the second version of the composition, the artist having completed a slightly different example for his patron Charles I (private collection, UK). Unique to the Prado painting, there is a figure of a young, turbaned woman at right, a lady in waiting to Pharoah’s daughter. She stands next the princess and bends over the basket in which the infant Moses is being presented, her arm raised in surprise.
The drama and novelty of his invention must have pleased Gentileschi, as he has reprised it in the present canvas. The attendant of Pharoah’s daughter has been transformed into the figure of the Madonna, although she does wear the same exotic headdress and sumptuous scarf (as is fitting, Orazio has omitted the pendant pearl worn by the Egyptian maid to decorate her turban). The infant also switches his role to that of the Infant Christ. His position is flipped and altered, but as is so emblematic of Gentileschi’s style, he rests on a brilliantly white sheet, the shadows rendered in tones of blue and grey. Details as minor as folds in the scarf and sleeve of the Virgin are retained as well, and match those in the Prado picture.
Orazio Gentileschi occasionally made repetitions of his own compositions on a smaller scale; famous examples include the David in Palazzo Spada, which exists in versions of smaller format and on copper. The present composition is not known in a large scale, autograph version, although a painting considered to be a studio production is in a private collection.1 In addition, Gianni Papi has noted other examples of Gentileschi excising poses from one composition and adapting them for use in another.2 One is the figure of the Virgin in the Vision of Saint Francesca Romana painted in 1618-19 for Fabriano (now Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino), whom he transformed in a canvas of a few years later into Saint Cecilia, now in the National Gallery, Washington, DC. Another example is from his Judith and Holofernes in the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, where the heroine is repurposed for the figure of a Woman Playing Violin, in the Detroit Institute of Arts, both from the artist’s Genoese period.
We are grateful to Prof. Gianni Papi for confirming the attribution to Gentileschi based on first hand inspection. He tentatively dates the painting to just after the large canvas in the Prado (1633) on stylistic grounds. However he does not exclude the possibility that it might have been painted earlier, even before he reached England.
1. See P. Carofano, “Introduzione” in Atti delle Giornate di Studi sul Caravaggismo e il Naturalismo nella Toscana del Seicento, 2009, p. 8, fig. 1 (as by Orazio Gentileschi).
2. In a private communication, dated 14 December, 2017.
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