The scene is marked by a development of the traditional chiaroscuro which had so informed the artists working in Europe in the wake of Caravaggio. The single source of light emanates from within the scene rather than from without, as tended to be the case in the paintings of Caravaggio, rendering the contrasts all the more theatrical and the drama all the more acute. This type of candlelight scene had been pioneered by northern artists active in Italy such as Gerrit van Honthorst and Trophime Bigot and was readily taken up by Artemisia in the latter part of her career.
Professor Spinosa dates the work to around 1630, just after the artist had left Rome and had moved to Naples. He specifically compares the painting to the Judith and her Maidservant in the Detroit Institute of Art, from 1625-30 (of which there is a second version from the 1640s in Capodimonte), as well as the Annunciation, signed and dated 1630, in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, both for the folds of the drapery and the physiognomies (Fig. 1).1 Even closer similarities can be found with another work from the early Neapolitan period: Artemisia’s Cleopatra in a private collection, Rome, finds echoes in the pose of the lying saint, and displays comparable faces which emerge from the shadow toward the pictorial plane.2 Moreover, the cartoon used for the present figure of Sebastian must have been reused and adapted for another figure of Cleopatra, in a private collection in Naples.3 The latter picture, however, while very close in design both in the disposition of the prostate figure, as well as the virtually identical figure upper left, cannot boast the delightful shadow cast by the raised hand which covers half of the figure upper left. Furthermore, the way the hands and physiognomies are delineated with gentle highlights points to an inventiveness and sophistication found only rarely in Artemisia’s Neapolitan period, and is a feature which she is likely to have borrowed from Simon Vouet, whose work in Rome she would have known very well. Indeed, Spinosa specifically mentions that the lighting of the present work recalls that of the Fenchman’s Temptation of Saint Francis in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina.
The attribution has been independently endorsed by Professor Nicola Spinosa and Dottor Giuseppe Porzio. A copy of Professor Spinosa’s written expertise accompanies the present lot.
1. R. Ward Bissell, Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art, Pennsylvania 1999, pp. 219-20, cat. no. 14, reproduced color plate XIII, and pp. 233-34, cat. no. 24, reproduced fig. 114.
2. Ibid., pp. 230-31, cat. no. 22, reproduced color plate XV.
3. N. Spinosa, F. Baldassari and J. Mann, Artemisia Gentileschi e il suo tempo, exh. cat., Milan 2016, p. 57, reproduced p. 56, fig. 1.
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