With Etienne Breton, Paris, 2011;
With Daniel Katz Ltd., London;
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Born in Fiesole in 1535, Giovanni Battista Naldini entered the workshop of Jacopo Pontormo in 1549 at the young age of twelve. The influence of Pontormo, in whose studio Naldini remained until the former’s death in 1557, is apparent especially in the early stages of his career, although Naldini eventually forged his own highly individual style incorporating the ideals of other great artists of the Cinquecento, such as Andrea del Sarto, Rosso Fiorentino, and Giorgio Vasari. After Pontormo's death, Naldini made his first trip to Rome, but returned to Florence in 1562 when he was recruited by Vasari to work in the ground-breaking decorative scheme for the studiolo of Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
With its intense palette dominated by cool greens and warm reds and yellows, distinctive facial types and sfumato forms, this work reveals Naldini's fully mature style. He had a flair for bringing figures together in beautifully choreographed compositions; here, his disciples and Naim’s citizens encircle Christ, who dominates the composition with a dramatic gesture of blessing that revives the young man. Behind Christ, his disciples witness the miracle with attitudes of contemplation, whilst the citizens on the right of the composition show expressions of awe. The layout of his figures and their diverse, twisted poses, the bold choice of palette and the repoussoir figures at the outer edges all hark back to Pontormo. The most specific echo of his master comes by way of the kneeling figure in the foreground with his back to the viewer who appears to float, reminiscent of the kneeling figure in Pontormo’s seminal Deposition in the church of Santa Felicità, Florence (fig. 1). Traces of Rosso’s art are also evident, particularly in the striking movement of the figures and the dazzling light that sharply draws clear folds on their clothing, which recall Rosso’s Deposition of 1521, today in the Pinacoteca Comunale, Volterra (fig. 2). This pair of first-generation Mannerists are seen as emblematic of the eccentric nature of Florence’s pictorial language in the early sixteenth century; in the present work, Naldini brilliantly reveals his formative training whilst also managing to express his own unique style.
The present work depicts the rare subject matter of Christ raising a widow’s son at Naim: Christ and his disciples arrive at the village of Naim during the burial ceremony of the son of a widow, and after taking pity on the mourning widow, he raises the young man from the dead. Only one other painting by Naldini depicting the same subject matter is recorded, an altarpiece for the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, which unfortunately was destroyed in a fire in 1771. There is also a drawing by the artist depicting this event in the J. Paul Getty Museum, however it does not appear to be linked to the present composition.1 The shawled woman kneeling in front of him with a gesture of supplication and despair, her head buried in her hands, may be identified as the widow. Unlike many other representations of this subject matter by other artists, Naldini concentrates on the touching representation of the pleading widow before Christ – this may have been motivated by the patron’s personal preference, or perhaps by the growing influence of the Counter-Reformation which promoted religious paintings that were more appealing to the faithful by offering identification figures, in this case the mother bemoaning her son.
We are grateful to Prof. Carlo Falciani for endorsing the attribution to Giovanni Battista Naldini following inspection of the original.
1 Inv. no. 88.GA.53; G. Gruitrooy, 'A New Drawing by Giovanni Battista Naldini', in The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, vol. 17, 1989, pp. 15–20.
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