This painting takes in smaller size the famous composition of Pierre de Cortone preserved in the Barberini Palace.
The large painting is cited by Pascoli with St Michael Archangel, as a gift made by the painter to Alexander VII Chigi, wishing to show his gratitude to the pontiff who had awarded him the Golden Spur in 1656. But this hypothesis is refuted by the publication of Ozzola in 1908 of a payment by the pope of five hundred crowns to Peter of Cortona for the two paintings in July 1656.
This reduced version appeared on the art market with an attribution to the great Baroque master, indeed one can quote G. De Marchi who mentions in an exhibition to San Salvatore in Lauro, in 1704 "pensiero e sbozzeto dell'Angelo Custode, fatto dal quondam Sr. Pietro da Cortona, who has the gift of Sr. D. Agostino "(referring to the painting now preserved in the Galleria Nazionale di Roma, Palazzo Barberini).
By the high quality of the work and the many repentances found in it, we would be almost tempted to attribute it to the master himself, a possibility admitted by E. Schleier, but dismissed by JM Merz, each after examination of an ektachrome.
After a comparison with the Cortona painting, we propose more cautiously to recognize in our version, the hand of his best pupil Ciro Ferri whose great qualities of sweetness and sensitivity are here admirably exploited through a fast, fluid and cleverly control. The talent of Ciro offers us a work freed from the shackles of a copy, free and vibrant. Making Pascoli's words tangible "No pupil followed the style of Cortona any more than Ciro, no one approached as much as he did the beauty of his art or the originality of his invention."
A preparatory black chalk drawing for this composition is preserved in the Royal Windsor Castel Collections.
A print of Guillaume Chasteau around 1656-1663 taking the composition in the same direction has largely contributed to the fortunes of this composition.
Anna Lo Bianco, Pietro da Cortona 1597-1669, Milano 1997, p. 372-373, n°56.
G. De Marchi, Mostre di quadri a San Salvatore in Lauro (1682-1725). Stime di collezione romane, Rome 1987, p.188.
A. Blunt et H. L. Cooke, The roman drawings of the XVII & XVIII centuries in the collection of Her Majesty The Queen at Windsor Castel, London 1960, p.79, n°604 (inv.4519).
M. Fagiolo dell’Arco, Pietro da Cortona e i cortoneschi, Milano 2001, pl. LXXII, n°119.