What also sets this work apart from Gramatica's larger body of work is the inclusion of the wide panoramic landscape with foliage reminiscent of Paul Bril, with whom Gramatica collaborated on landscape paintings for Duke Ferdinando Gonzaga in 1610.1 Only a few extant landscapes by Gramatica are known, and while he very likely could have completed the entirety of the present composition, the possibility of a collaboration with another artist on the landscape cannot be fully discounted.
Various evidence suggests that this painting possibly once formed part of the collection of Cardinal Alessandro Damasceni-Peretti Montalto (1571-1623), grandnephew of Pope Sixtus V Peretti, as a pair to a canvas of Hercules spinning thread. On 21 November 1610, Cardinal Alessandro commissioned a picture from Gramatica for 50 scudi and just a few months later, on 11 March 1611, he paid to have frames of a “Europa” and a “Hercules” gilded.2 When Cardinal Alessandro died in 1623, his collection descended to Cardinal Francesco Peretti Montalto. After Francesco's death in 1655, the collection passed to his nephew, Cardinal Paolo Savelli, the universal heir to the Peretti Montalto collection. In his publication of about 1660, Martinelli (see Literature) records a Europa and a Hercules by Gramatica as being in the Villa Montalto-Peretti, indicating that the paintings remained in the Montalto collection for at least a few generations. Further support to the theory that the present painting once formed part of the Montalto collection can be found in a canvas by Carlo Maratti of the same subject dated circa 1680-1685 now in the National Gallery of Art in Dublin (fig. 2). Maratti's canvas is remarkably similar in composition to the present painting, suggesting that he was likely familiar with Gramatica's picture. Maratti was a close friend of Cardinal Paolo Savelli, and it seems quite possible that he may have seen Gramatica's composition in the Cardinal's collection.
Gramatica did make autograph copies of his works, and in addition to Europa and Hercules in the Montalto collection, it is known that he also made another pair of the same subjects for the physician Michele Mercati.3 Even though it is possible that the present work could be the one in the Mercati collection, the connection between the present work, the other autograph version, and the Maratti painting is undeniable.
An essay by Erich Schleier forms the basis of this catalogue note.
1. See A. Luzio, La Galleria dei Gonzaga venduta all’Inghilterra nel 1627-1628, Milan 1913, p. 47 and G. Papi, Antiveduto Gramatica, Soncino 1996, p. 141.
2. See B. Granata, under Literature, p. 191.
3. A pair of paintings by Gramatica depicting Europa and Hercules are listed in 1622 and 1628 inventories of the Mercati collection. See F. Cappelletti and L. Testa, Il trattenimento di virtuosi: Le collezioni secentesche di quadri nei palazzi Mattei di Roma, Rome 1994, p. 80, note 40.
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