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Details & Cataloguing

Old Masters Day Sale

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Workshop of Simon Vouet
PARIS 1590 - 1649
SAINT PETER VISITING SAINT AGATHA IN PRISON

Provenance

Private collection, New Orleans, circa 1820;
William Dickinson Griswold (1815–96), Terre Haute, Indiana, circa 1850;
Thence by descent to his grandson, Hamilton Smith III (1875–1943), Virginia;
By descent to the present owners.

Exhibited

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, on loan 1967–71;
Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Caravaggio and His Followers, 27 October 1971 – 2 January 1972, no. 75 (as Vouet);
New Haven, Yale University Art Museum, on loan 1972;
Jacksonville, Cummer Museum of Art, on loan 1974–2001;
London, Whitfield Fine Art at Partridge Fine Art Ltd, Exhibition at Partridge Fine Art, 4 June – 18 July 2008, pp. 66–69, reproduced in colour on p. 67 and on p. 69 as a detail;
Rome, Castel Sant-Angelo, Il cammino di Pietro, 7 February – 1 May 2013, no. V.4, reproduced in colour on p. 179 and on pp. 180–81 as a detail;
London, Whitfield Fine Art, Caravaggio's Friends & Foes, 27 May – 23 July 2010, pp. 110–15.

Literature

A. Brejon de Lavergnée and J.-P. Cuzin, I Caravaggeschi Francesi, exh. cat., Villa Medici, Rome, 15 November 1973 – 20 January 1974, p. 248 (listed as a copy of a lost painting by Vouet);
R.E. Spear, Caravaggio and His Followers, exh. cat., Cleveland 1971, New York 1975 (rev. ed.), p. 190, no. 75, reproduced in black and white on p. 191 (as Vouet, c. 1625–26; again as Vouet in appendix to 1975 ed., p. 229, no. 75);
C. Volpe, 'Annotazioni sulla mostra caravaggesca di Cleveland', Paragone, XXIII, no. 263, January 1972, p. 75 (as a workshop version);
B. Nicolson, 'Caravaggesques at Cleveland', The Burlington Magazine, CXIV, no. 827, February 1972, pp. 114 (as a Vouet original, albeit 'ironed');
E. Borea, 'Considerazioni sulla mostra 'Caravaggio e i suoi seguaci' a Cleveland', Bollettino d'arte, LVII, 1972, pp. 162 (as a copy); 
A. Brejon de Lavergnée and J.-P. Cuzin, Valentin et les caravaggesques français, exh. cat., Académie de France, Rome and Grand Palais, Paris, 1973–74, p. 256 (as a copy);  
B. Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement, Oxford 1979, p. 109 (as damaged original or copy); 
B. Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, L. Vertova (ed.), Turin 1989, vol. I, p. 210, no. 727, reproduced in black and white vol. II, no. 727 (as damaged original or copy);
V. Abbate, Pittori del Seicento a Palazzo Abatellis, exh. cat., Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, Palermo, 31 March – 28 October 1990, Milan 1990, p. 172 (listed once under replicas and copies and then cited again with reference to Spear 1975 as version or copy);
E. Schleier, 'Lanfranco, Perrier, Simon et Aubin Vouet: quelques points de contact', in Simon Vouet, Actes du colloque international, 5–7 February 1991, Paris 1992, p. 210 and p. 223, no. 9 (as a copy of a lost original);  
C. Whitfield in Exhibition at Partridge Fine Art, London 2008, pp. 66–69; 
G. Algranti in Agata santa: storia, arte, devozione, exh. cat., Florence 2008, p. 106, reproduced in colour on p. 104 (as largely an autograph work by Vouet with some workshop intervention, circa 1625);
E. Schleier, 'Les commanditaires de Vouet', in Simon Vouet (les années italiennes 1613/1627), exh. cat., Nantes and Besançon 2008, p. 72 and p. 73, note 45 (as workshop replica of a lost original painted in around 1624);
S. Loire, 'Simon Vouet en Italie (1612–27), Questions d'attributions et de datations', in Simon Vouet en Italie, O. Bonfait and H. Rousteau-Chambon (eds), Rennes 2011, p. 202 and pp. 227–28, no. 96, reproduced in colour on p. 203, fig. 10 (as attributed to Vouet, perhaps merely an old copy);
Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée will include the painting in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné on Vouet as a copy after Vouet.

Catalogue Note

The earliest documented reference to a painting of this subject by Vouet is a work on copper recorded by Antonio della Cornia in the 1635 inventory of the Duke of Savoy's collection.1 The existence of a number of versions of this composition attests to its popularity. The best of those extant is undoubtedly the present painting. In his survey of Caravaggesque painting, Benedict Nicolson listed it together with three other copies (one in the Museo in Trapani, Sicily;2 another with Christopher Gibbs, London, 1974; and a third with Julius Weitzner, London, 1974). To these may be added other replicas and copies, foremost among them in terms of quality and provenance a canvas of slightly larger dimensions than the present work, recorded in the eighteenth century in the Collegio dei Gesuiti al Cassero near Palermo and now in the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, published by Vincenzo Abbate as a workshop version.3 As Abbate has pointed out, the presence of this and other versions of the composition in Sicily, where the veneration of Saint Agatha flourished, signals Vouet's work for patrons in southern Italy towards the end of his Roman period.4 

Views about the authorship of the present painting have varied between those who consider it to be an original in compromised condition and those who believe it to be an old copy. Richard E. Spear was the first to address in detail the question of the painting's attribution when he published it in the catalogue of the exhibition held in Cleveland in 1971 as a work by Vouet datable to about 1625–26, noting that in spite of its flattened appearance its quality should not be overlooked.5 Benedict Nicolson hesitated between damaged original or copy. Erich Schleier considers it a workshop replica of a lost original of about 1624; while Stéphane Loire is tentative in his attribution to Vouet, describing it as damaged, ‘perhaps merely an old copy’. In the opinion of Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée the composition is worthy of Vouet but the execution is not at the level of an autograph work and so he consigns it to the status of a fine copy.

The evidence provided by technical imaging shows that the composition was planned with clear reserves for the different elements and with minor adjustments to the figures (report available on request). While an attribution to Vouet himself has been brought into question, it may be that a prototype (now lost) was followed under the artist’s direction. The design of Saint Peter visiting Saint Agatha is typical of Vouet’s predilection for three-figure compositions and there are interesting stylistic comparisons between this work and those considered autograph. Spear cited other examples of nocturnes with an internal light source painted by Vouet in around 1625. He also drew an analogy between the central figure of the angel and Vouet’s painting of a youth in armour (formerly at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Algiers and now at the Musée du Louvre, Paris),6 proposing that they must derive from the same model and date from the same phase in Vouet's career. The figure of the angel is also comparable to the angel at Capodimonte, Naples, while the profile figure of Saint Agatha recalls that of Sophonisba in Vouet’s impressive painting of the Carthaginian heroine at the Gemäldegalerie, Kassel.

1 'S. Pietro che va a mendicar Santa Agata, con un angelo, mezze figure in rame. Di Monsù Voet. Mediocre.', in A. Baudi di Vesme, 'La regia pinacoteca di Torino', Le gallerie nazionali italiane, vol. III, 1897, p. 36, no. 27. This has been tentatively identified with a reduced studio version on copper (30.5 x 42.8 cm.) offered at Christie's, London, 18 December 1987, lot 287 (as circle of Simon Vouet) and again at Christie's on 13 May 1988, lot 147; private collection, Paris; Nicolson 1989, vol. I, p. 210, no. 729, reproduced in vol. II.
2 Museo Agostino Pepoli, Trapani, inv. no. 332; 128 x 180 cm. Described as an old copy from an original by Simon Vouet, of inferior quality to the other replica in Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo, in G. Bresc Bautier et al., Trapani, Museo Pepoli, Palermo 1991, p. 53. 
3 Inv. no. 177; oil on canvas, 145 x 194 cm.; reproduced in colour in Abbate 1990, p. 173, with a detail on p. 174. 
4 Clovis Whitfield has tentatively identified this as the painting commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Barberini for the church of Sant'Agata dei Goti in Rome.
5 In the appendix to his exhibition published in 1975, Spear continued to support the attribution of the Smith painting to Vouet himself, citing also Nicolson's agreement on the matter. As a rebuttal to two of the exhibition reviewers he wrote, 'Borea and Volpe were misled by the condition of the picture when they called this a studio work'; see Volpe 1972, p. 75; Borea 1972, p. 162; and Nicolson 1972, p. 114.
6 Formerly identified as Saint William of Aquitaine, the subject is variously referred to as a halberdier and more recently as Saint Theodore; Nicolson 1989, vol. I, p. 211, no. 745, reproduced in black and white in vol. II, and in colour in Nantes and Besançon 2008, p. 171.

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