Lot 16
  • 16

Giacomo Ceruti, called Pitocchetto

200,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • Giacomo Ceruti, called Pitocchetto
  • Portrait of a young countrywoman, half length
  • oil on glass
  • 26 by 18 1/4 in.; 66.4 by 46.4 cm.


Martinengo collection, Brescia;
F. Steffanoni, Bergamo;
Falanga collection, Milan;
Private collection, Milan, by 1967;
Anonymous sale, Milan, Finarte, 16 December 1971, lot 30B;
Private collection, Rome;
Anonymous sale, Milan, Christie’s, 25 November 2008, lot 41;
With Cesare Lampronti, Milan;
From whom acquired.


Milan, Finarte, Giacomo Ceruti, mostra di trentadue opere inedite, 30 October-14 November 1966, no. 27;
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Giacomo Ceruti e la ritrattistica del suo tempo nell'Italia settentrionale, February-March 1967, no. 40.


G. Testori, "Il Ghislandi, il Ceruti e i veneti," in Paragone, 1954, no. 57, pp. 31-32, reproduced plate 15;
F. Ferro, "Giacomo Ceruti," in I maestri del Colore, 1966, p. 1;
O. Marini, "'Qualcosa per vicenda del ‘Pitocchetto,’ I. I committenti bresciani del Ceruti, A) Il Ceruti nella Galleria Barbisoni," in Paragone, no. 199/19, September 1966, pp. 41-42;
G. Testori, Giacomo Ceruti, trentadue opere inedite, Milan 1966, pp. 70-71, cat. no. 27;
M. Valsecchi, "Inediti di Giacomo Ceruti," Le Arti, XVI, November 1966, p. 64;
L. Mallé and G. Testori, Ceruti e la ritrattistica del suo tempo nell’Italia settentrionale, Turin 1967, p. 51, cat. no. 40, reproduced p. 95, plate 27;
U. Ruggeri, "Ceruti a Torino," in Critica d’Arte, XIV, April 1967, p. 6;
O. Marini, "Qualcosa per la vicenda del ‘Pitocchetto,’ I. I committenti bresciani del Ceruti: il Ceruti nella galleria Avogadro," in Paragone, no. 215/35, January 1968,  pp. 46-47, 50, 51, 55;
M. Gregori, Giacomo Ceruti, Bergamo 1982, p. 439, cat. no. 76, reproduced p. 226, fig. 76 (dating it between the late 1520s and early 1530s);
F. Frangi, Giacomo Ceruti. Il Pitocchetto, exhibition catalogue, Milan 1987, p. 177, under cat. no. 31;
Galleria Cesare Lampronti, Rassegna di importanti dipinti dei secoli XVII e XVIII, Rome 2009, pp. 30-33, cat. no. 9.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's.This work is painted on glass, which has remained unbroken. The background is unpainted. The paint layer has become very slightly unstable in the white pigment of the scarf, in the forehead, and in a few spots beneath the eyes and in the lower neck. Some slight blanching can be seen in these colors as a result. There are well applied retouches int he white scarf to the left and the right of the neck. There may be a couple of restorations in the red sleeve in the lower right. There do not appear to be any retouches in the face or in the hair. The retouching has been well handled. The work certainly looks well and should be hung in its current state.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This extraordinary painting is a rare example of a reverse painting on glass by Giacomo Ceruti, datable to the late 1720s to early 1730s, during the final years of the artist’s activity in Brescia.  Although well known as a painter of portraits, still-life and religious paintings, Ceruti is most celebrated as a painter of genre and low-life scenes, depicting his humble subjects with striking naturalism and unusual dignity.The practice of reverse painting on glass was known as far back as the Roman world, and the earliest European paintings on glass were created in Italy in the latter part of the 13th century.1  Painting behind glass, or Hinterglasmalerei in German, reached its highest production in the 1500s and continued to be popular throughout Europe up until the 19th century when less expensive colored prints, framed behind glass and easily reproduced through such inventions as chromolithography, contributed to the decline of the genre.

The method of producing a painting on the back of a clear glass panel to be viewed from the opposite side is laborious and exacting, requiring a sure technique.  The artist works in reverse to the usual procedure when painting on canvas or wood and begins by placing the fine details and highlights first and then filling in the background later.  It is, therefore, necessary for the painter to “position every detail in exactly the right place at the very beginning – eyelashes must be situated precisely where he will later place the face [and] the wavy lines of curls where he wants to put the hair.”2  In preparation, the process would usually begin with a drawing of the subject laid under the glass and used as a pattern.  When completed, the glass is turned over and the painting is seen in reverse.  The sheet of glass provides both the base and the transparent cover for the work.  With the pigment adhering directly onto the smooth glass surface, the color is exceptionally fresh and vivid and, as is the case with this beautiful example, the subject is startlingly life-like.3

Oreste Marini (see Literature) published this painting incorrectly as a work formerly in the Avogadro collection, based on an inventory description of two paintings by Ceruti on glass in that collection.4  Mina Gregori, in her 1982 monograph on Ceruti (see Literature), clarified the provenance by proving that the painting formerly in the Avogadro collection, that Marini equated with the present work, is a different but strikingly similar version by the artist, also on glass and with similar dimensions, however depicting the same model holding a basket (fig. 1).5  She noted that an 1820 catalogue of paintings owned by the Fenaroli family in Brescia (who became connected to the Avogadro family by marriage in the 18th century), gave a more detailed description of the painting in that collection:  “Ritratto dipinto sopra il vetro d’una donna con canestro, del Ceruti" (Portrait painted on glass of a woman with a basket), the word canestro (basket) confirming that the Avogadro/Fenaroli picture was a different painting.  Gregori confirmed that the present work, along with Bust of an Old Man also on glass, comprised part of a group of four paintings from the Martinengo collection.6  This pair, along with the aforementioned Young Woman Holding a Basket and another depicting God the Father are among the few remaining examples of reverse painting on glass in Ceruti’s oeuvre.7

Francesco Frangi has observed that Ceruti used the same model in three other paintings —  the painting discussed above formerly in the Avogadro/Fenaroli collection; another painting of a Young Woman Holding a Basket, oil on canvas, formerly in the Rota collection; and the figure in the left foreground of Women working on pillow lace (the Sewing School) in a private collection.8  While there is no documentary evidence revealing her identity, it seems likely the artist knew her during his late Brescian period.


1.  See M.L. Ward, "Reverse Paintings on Glass before 1900," in Reverse Painting on Glass: Mildred Lee Ward Collection, exhibition catalogue, Lawrence, KS  1978, p. 14.
2.  See W. Steiner, Hinterlas und Kupferstich, Munich 2004, p. 7.
3.  R. Eswarin, in Grove Dictionary of Art, London 1996, vol. 12, p. 797.
4.  “Un ritratto dipinto sopra il vetro, del Ceruti,” and “Un altro di Donna, del sud.o Ceruti, pure sul vetro” (a portrait painted on glass, by Ceruti and another of a woman of the above-mentioned Ceruti, also on glass), see O. Marini under Literature.
5.  See M. Gregori, under Literature, p. 439, cat. no. 75, reproduced p. 225.
6.  Ibid., p. 439, cat. no. 77, reproduced p. 227.
7.  See Giacomo Ceruti, Il Pitocchetto, exhibition catalogue, Brescia 1987, p. 61, reproduced.
8.  For the latter two, see F. Frangi, in Giacomo Ceruti, Il Pitocchetto, exhibition catalogue, Brescia 1987, p. 177, cat. no. 31, reproduced p. 108; p. 174, cat. no. 18, reproduced p. 94.