Circle of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Caravaggio 1573-1610 Porto Ercole) Saint Francis in contemplation

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Lot 44
Circle of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
(Caravaggio 1573-1610 Porto Ercole)
Saint Francis in contemplation

£ 50,000 - 70,000
US$ 63,000 - 89,000
Circle of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Caravaggio 1573-1610 Porto Ercole)
Saint Francis in contemplation
oil on canvas, unlined
115.5 x 93cm (45 1/2 x 36 5/8in).

Footnotes

  • The Soprintendenza alle Belle Arti italiana considers this painting to be a work of national importance and requires it to remain in Italy; it cannot therefore be exported from Italy.

    The work will be available to view in Rome between 18-21 June Rome



    Literature
    M. Marubbi, Da Lotto a Caravaggio. La collezione e le ricerche di Roberto Longhi, exh. cat., Venice, 2016, p. 97 (under cat. no. 18)

    The present work is the only known period copy, with differences, after Caravaggio's original Saint Francis in Meditation now in the Museo di Ala Ponzone in Cremona. The original composition is generally considered to have been executed at some point towards the very end of Caravaggio's time in Rome or possibly to his stay in Paliano, where he had taken refuge under the protection of the Colonna family.

    Little is known of the history of the original San Francesco in Cremona. A Saint Francis in meditation was recorded in the collection of Monsignor Benedetto Ala, Governor of Rome between 1604 and 1610. Ala is most likely to have come into possession of the painting before 1610, the year in which he moved to Urbino as bishop, the city where he remained until his death in 1620. The most likely date of execution for the original at Cremona is generally thought to be 1606. Most probably painted shortly after the artist's departure from Rome as a consequence of Caravaggio's murder of Ranuccio Tomassoni (28 May 1606), the artist has used his own features to depict the Saint in penitence, perhaps as a reflection of his own state of mind at that moment, or even as an offering to the Governor of Rome at the time, Monsignor Ala, the first known owner of the painting. An inscription on the frame of the Cremona San Francesco ('Con. S.ti Franci) suggests that at some point later, the work may have been deposited at the Cistercian convent of Santa Maria in Monte Oliveto at Castell'Arquato. The existence of the only other known copy of the San Francesco, dating to the second half of the 17th Century, now at the Museo della Collegiata di Castell'Arquato, near Piacenza, seems to confirm that the original was in Cremona within decades of it being painted. In his catalogue entry for the original, Mario Marubbi also refers to the present painting. He suggests that Caravaggio's San Francesco may already have also enjoyed some notoriety in Rome, given the presence of this painting, which is believed to be contemporary in date to the original (see M. Marubbi, ibid p.97). The original then found its way back into the Ala collection, presumably through inheritance to the marchese Filippo Ala Ponzone who donated it in 1879, as an anonymous work, to his native city of Cremona.

    The present painting has approximately the same proportions in the figure as the Cremona work but the dimensions differ, with the current San Francesco being shorter and very slightly wider. Differences between the two canvases are discernible such as the absence of the halo in the present work and in the detail of the book, lower left, but the greatest difference is in the trunk of the tree and the leaves themselves, which are oak leaves in the present painting as opposed to laurel in the original. Infra-red imaging does not reveal any kind of grid for transfer and the artist of the current painting also appears to have rethought the position of one of the fingers on the Saint's clasped hands suggesting that the present work was conceived as an independent work and not simply as a slavish copy.
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