Red chalk on paper - double-sided drawing
Dimensions : 8 3/4‘’x 7 5/8 ‘’ (222 x 193 mm) (framed 18 1/2’’ x 16 15/16’’- 47 x 43 cm)
Signed at the bottom with ink "Pesares"
Frame: 17th-century Bolognese frame in carved and gilded wood
Price on request
In this double-sided red chalk study, Simone Cantarini offers us a double reflection on the theme of the Judgment of Solomon. This sheet reveals his precise style and his sense of detail, which he combines here with a true Baroque inspiration in the composition.
1. The tumultuous life of Simone Cantarini, from the Marche to Guido Reni's studio in Bologna
Simone Cantarini was born in 1612 in Pesaro, in the Marches, a region which was a crossroads for artists from many parts of Italy. Cantarini began his artistic training quite young, probably 1623-1625, in the studio of Giovanni Giacomo Pandolfi (?1570-1640?), a painter of religious works who combined the local naturalism with the mannerist style of the late sixteenth century. After a brief trip to Venice, Cantarini moved to the shop of Claudio Ridolfi (?1570-1644), a student of Paolo Veronese (1528-1588). From Ridolfi he received training in the Venetian manner that was also a strong current in the local tradition, as well as a deep appreciation for the art of Federico Barocci (1535-1612), with whom Ridolfi had worked in Urbino. In about 1629 Ridolfi left Pesaro, forcing Cantarini to continue his studies on his own. In addition to prints by the Carracci, the young artist turned his attention increasingly to Barrocci and also to the caravaggesque, yet very personal, art of Orazio Gentileschi, who executed several works in the Marches during the 1610s, and of Giovan Francesco Guerrieri (1589-1657) from nearby Fossombrone.
As Malvasia recounts , the most significant event of Cantarini's youth was the arrival, probably in 1632, of Guido Reni's (1575-1642) Madonna and Child with Saints Thomas and Jerome in Pesaro Cathedral (now Pinacoteca Vaticana). Not content to study Guido's style from this work alone, Cantarini went to the church of San Pietro in Valle in nearby Fano to copy and draw after Guido's Giving of the Keys to Peter (now Louvre, Paris), completed 1626, and Annunciation of 1620-21. The young artist quickly assimilated Guido's style and soon received important commissions. Cantarini's desire to go to Bologna to study in Guido's studio was given additional impetus by an attempt on his life resulting from amorous exploits, which, Malvasia intimates, were inspired by a too careful study of the lascivious prints by the Carracci.
Upon his arrival in Bologna, probably in 1634 or 1635, Cantarini presented himself in Guido's studio as a painter of little training. His abilities soon became evident. Although Guido recognized that Cantarini was already a fully formed painter, he made the young man his most trusted pupil and secured him many commissions. Eventually, however, Cantarini's infamous pride and unbridled tongue came to the fore and alienated the master and the entire studio. One point of friction was Cantarini's refusal to use his considerable talents as an etcher to propagate Guido's designs, claiming that his own were equally worthy of publication. The decisive break came in 1637. From this point on, Cantarini's relations with his patrons also deteriorated rapidly, to the point where his commissions fell off almost entirely.
In 1639 Cantarini is documented at his sister's wedding in Pesaro. It must have been shortly thereafter, in 1640 or 1641, that he made a brief trip to Rome. Following Guido's death in 1642, Cantarini returned to Bologna, where he maintained a successful studio until his death in 1648 following a stay in Mantua. His behavior and criticisms of the Gonzaga collection created a scandal and it is suspected that he was poisoned by an angry rival.
2. Solomon's Judgment
This Old Testament scene is described in the First Book of Kings (3, 16-28). Two women had each given birth to a child, but one of them died of suffocation. They then fought over the surviving child. To settle the dispute, Solomon called for a sword and ordered the child to be cut in two. One of the women declared that she would rather give up the child than see him die, and Solomon thus recognized the child's true mother, to whom he was entrusted.
The masterly lesson of this judgment is to detach oneself from the seemingly satisfactory equality in order to seek true justice. Analysis of the emotions that led to the dispute (jealousy in the case of the non-mother, maternal instinct in the case of the mother) is more important than material evidence. Appeasement of the parties, the consequence of true justice, is based on the analysis of the underlying emotions. The real mother keeps her child, the jealous one is punished: evil intentions are defeated, love is rewarded. This story was often used to illustrate the precept that justice is not equality, sometimes in secular settings.
3. Drawing description
Although we consider the two scenes to be of equal interest, the drawing comes from an earlier collection in which it had received a window mount. The uneven tear of this mounting (which has been preserved) on the right indicates that this drawing was then presented with the signed side on the recto, and we have therefore retained this denomination, even if the drawing on the verso may seem more accomplished (and better centered!).
The fascinating feature of this drawing is that it is double-sided, "pivoting" (as we shall see) around the figure of the jealous mother, who is depicted from the front, arms outstretched to her left. This same figure is to the left of the soldier holding the child in the composition on the recto, and to the right of Salomon on the verso.
It seems to us that these two studies are like two moments in the same narrative: in the first instance (verso), the two women stand before King Solomon, seated on his throne, his arms outstretched in an imperious gesture. The standing woman is in an accusatory posture, while the other, crouching with one knee on the ground, is in a position of humble supplication.
The difference between these women's positions sheds light on the nature of the protagonists, and we recognize in this humble gesture the child's true mother, ready to do anything to save her child while the other mother slanders her.
In the scene depicted on the recto, the newborn's head has replaced Solomon's hand in the center of the composition. He is held by one leg by a soldier depicted in contrapposto.
Still kneeling, the real mother is now facing the soldier, whose arm she stops, while at the same time casting an imploring glance at Solomon on her right. The meaning of this gaze can only be understood in reference to the previous scene (it would have been more logical for her to be looking at the soldier), and we can imagine that the artist was looking for the layout of a large composition in which this group of two women with symmetrical movements would have been framed on her left by the soldier and on her right by Salomon.
4. Related artworks
Unfortunately, our research has not turned up any other work by Cantarini dealing with the same subject, as Old Testament subjects are quite rare in his graphic work. The artist's great ease in this drawing leads us to see it as a mature work (circa 1643 - 1648), when, having returned to Bologna after the death of Guido Reni, he ran a prosperous studio.
This drawing perfectly reflects the cross-over resonance, highlighted by Marina Cellini in her book on the Horne Album drawings , between Baroque heritage and the influence of Raphael, whose drawings he collected. Raphael’s influence is perceptible here in the "angelic" figure of the soldier.
The figure of Solomon and the torsion of the woman's back at the soldier's feet, with one bare shoulder, may evoke Valentin de Boulogne's Judgment of Solomon, painted around 1627 -1629 (two versions exist: one in the Louvre, the other in the Galleria Barberini in Rome), which Cantarini may have seen during his stay in Rome.
5. Simone Cantarini's graphic work
Simone Cantarini was a prolific draughtsman, and his numerous drawings are held in major public collections around the world. The red chalk technique used in the drawing presented here is typical of the artist, as illustrated by the drawing of Venus and Adonis in the Musée du Louvre reproduced below.
A particularity of Cantarini's drawings is that they were often preserved in albums, like the sheet we are presenting here. The drawings from his Bolognese studio were purchased en bloc by a number of local collectors, while others were inherited by his family in Pesaro and then sold as a group to local collectors. These collections have been subsequently dismembered.
In her book on the Horne Album (a set of 44 drawings, mostly by Cantarini, probably bought in England around 1818-1820 from Marquis Antonio Antaldi and since reassembled in a single album now owned by the Horne Foundation in Florence), Marina Cellini mentions a number of important historical collections that have partly survived in public collections: that of the Pesaro library (also said to have come from Marquis Antaldi’s), that of the Rio de Janeiro Museum (!), purchased en bloc by José da Costa e Silva from the Fava family of Bologna, or that of the Pinacoteca Brera in Milan, which came from the collector Filippo Acqua (1737-1808), who himself acquired them from one of Cantarini's heirs.
Our sheet features various annotations in the upper margins, which may shed light on its provenance by comparison with other drawings with similar annotations (unfortunately, none of the above-mentioned collections have been digitized to date).
This red chalk drawing has been framed in a 17th-century Bolognese frame. The mount is double-sided, allowing the drawing to be displayed either on the verso or on the recto, while the unexposed side, also protected by glass, can be seen on the back of the frame.
Main bibliographical references :
Carlo Cesare Malvasia. Felsina Pittrice. Vite de Pittori Bolognesi con aggiunte correzioni e note inedite dell'autore di Giampietro Zanotti e di altri scrittori. 2 vols. La publication originale date de 1688. Bologna, 1841.
Marina Cellini - Designi di Simon da Pesaro - L'Album Horne - Silvana Editoriale 1996
(A cura di) Andrea Emiliani/ Anna Maria Ambrosini Marsari/ Marina Cellini/ Raffaela Morselli Simone Cantarini nelle Marche - Marsilio 1997
(A cura di) Andrea Emiliani - Simone Cantarini detto il Pesarese (1612 - 1648) - Electa 1997 Milano
Catherine Loisiel - Dessins Bolonais du XVIIème siècle Tome II - Officina Libreria, Milan 2013
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