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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