The Property of a Gentleman

Francesco Trevisani

The Virgin sewing with the Christ Child

Lot Closed

December 8, 03:24 PM GMT


80,000 - 120,000 GBP

Lot Details


The Property of a Gentleman

Francesco Trevisani

Capodistria (Cape of Istra, Slovenia) 1656 - 1746 Rome

The Virgin sewing with the Christ Child

oil on copper, with the painted emblem of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni centre left; in a Roman carved and gilt wood frame

unframed: 38 x 31 cm.; 15 x 12¼ in.

framed: 51 x 44.5 cm.; 20⅛ x 17½ in.

Painted for Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (1667–1740) and probably sold on his death in 1740;

Thought to have been acquired by Mary Anne Shelley in Italy in the 1860s;

Thence by family descent until sold (‘Property from a Deceased’s Estate’), London, Sotheby’s, 6 December 2007, lot 276 for £180,500;

Where purchased by the present owner.

This exquisite depiction of The Virgin sewing with the Christ Child is a masterpiece by the Roman late baroque painter Francesco Trevisani and can be dated to about 1690–1700. It was made for the artist’s leading patron Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (1667–1740), whose emblem is displayed on the glass vase on the left of the scene. The painting's high degree of finish and attention to detail is complemented by the copper support, and the beautiful fall of light through the window unifies the intimate domestic scene to make this one of the most refined and poetic works within the artist’s œuvre. The composition exists in one other version, a painting today at the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

This painting can be dated to the last decade of the 17th century, when Trevisani enjoyed the protection of Cardinal Ottoboni. As with many of the paintings Trevisani executed for his patron, Ottoboni's emblem of the double-headed eagle is included, in this case on the vase of flowers centre left. In Trevisani's portrait of the Cardinal in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, the emblem appears twice, on the bell and on a chair in the background.1 As Ottoboni's 'painter-in-residence' from the late 1690s, living under his roof at the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome, Trevisani painted numerous pictures for him. By 1698 Ottoboni had two pictures by Trevisani in his collection and, as a mark of the esteem in which he held the painter, in 1709 he sought to secure a knighthood for the artist, albeit unsuccessfully. Trevisani was however finally granted one in 1730 by Cardinal Coscia, along with a pension of 300 scudi.2 

This is one of two known versions of the composition by Trevisani; the other, in the Uffizi, is dated by DiFederico to 1690–1700 and is of approximately the same dimensions as this copper.3 The Uffizi version may have been painted as the right-hand pendant to the artist’s Dream of Saint Joseph, also in the collection of the Uffizi and also executed on a copper support of approximately the same dimensions.4 

The present painting is not listed in the inventory of the Cardinal's goods drawn up after his death on 5 March 1740.5 Olszewski has argued that the omission of a number of key commissions from the inventory, such as Trevisani's Holy Family in the Cleveland Museum of Art, and indeed the overall low number of his paintings listed there (only thirty for approximately four decades of service), suggests that a substantial proportion of Trevisani's paintings was disposed of before the inventory was completed. Olszewski further argues that if pictures from Ottoboni's collection were indeed sold after his death, those by Trevisani would be the obvious choice, being both of the greatest value and not bound by the complicated primogeniture restrictions (fidecommissio) that affected so much of Ottoboni's collection as a result of it being inherited from his uncle Pope Alexander VIII.6  

After leaving the Ottoboni Collection the painting remained untraced until the nineteenth century, when it is believed to have been acquired in Italy in the 1860s by Mary Anne Shelley, a forebear of the previous owner. Mary Anne Shelley was the granddaughter of Samuel Shelley (1750–1808), a miniaturist and founder member of the Royal Watercolour Society, and cousin of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She lived in Florence during the 1860s after the death of her husband and became a close friend and supporter of Garibaldi.

1 F. R. DiFederico, Francesco Trevisani: Eighteenth-Century Painter in Rome, Washington 1977, p. 73, no. P5, reproduced pl. 100.

2 The Dead Christ with Angels at Stanford and The Three Maries in a private collection, California; DiFederico 1977, nos 24 and 25.

3 DiFederico 1977, p. 46, no. 30, reproduced pl. 24.

4 DiFederico 1977, p. 46, no. 29, reproduced pl. 23.

5 E.J. Olszewski, The Inventory of Paintings of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (1667–1740), New York/ Oxford 2004.

6 DiFederico 1977, pp. 10–11.