Antonio Calza (Italy, Verona, 1653– April 18, 1725)
Battle between Christian and Turkish cavalry with circular tower
Oil on canvas, 62 x 104 cm (without frame)
The painting depicts a bloody battle between the christian cavalry and the turkish cavalry. Characterized by dynamism, intensity of colour and light, the main scene occupies the lower horizontal section of the canvas, optically interrupted by some jagged flags, spears and swords that move the composition. On the right, in the second floor, partially hidden by the white and grey smoke of the clash, is a circular tower, while on the right in the distance you can see the fighting in action in the countryside, which fades to the horizon. In the foreground, lifeless bodies, wounded horses and scattered weapons and a drum exalt the drama of the clash.
The conciseness and expressive force, the intense chromatic range attentive to light conditions and the fine brushstrokes, decisive and dramatic, suggests the attribution to Antonio Calza, one of the most important painters of battles of the seventeenth century, excellent student and continuation of the greatest interpreter of the genre, Jacques Courtois called “Il Borgognone” or “Le Bourguignon” ('the Burgundian') (Saint-hyppolite 1621 – Rome 1676). Il Borgognone, although not having had a real school or direct students, stands as a primary point of reference by the Italian and foreign“battalists.
The genre of battle painting found great success in the collections of the Italian and European nobility of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The battles of the Italian Renaissance, in which the scene converged towards a precise protagonist, evolve towards a type of combat "without a hero”. The bloody realism of the details and the dynamic development of the narrative confuse the figure of the protagonist, when present, to give importance to the swirl of horses and armed fighters, among whom, moreover, does not emerge a winner.
The certain documents relating to the life and movements of Antonio Calza are scarce; it was equally difficult to reconstruct, from the critics, a catalogue of autograph works. Through paintings in private collections, in museums and paintings passed on the antique market it was possible to identify many works that can be traced back to his hand. The work of art historians and antiquarians in conferring just attributions in order to better delineate the figure of Calza, continues but studies are still in progress. In this sense, it is certainly worth noting the work of Giancarlo Sestieri, who investigated the artistic production of the Battalists and Calza, thus allowing the comparison of the numerous photographic works reported, to identify and recognize the stylistic qualities that distinguish the corpus of paintings assigned to him today.
Antonio Calza was born in 1653 in Italy, in Verona, and in 1664 he entered the school of Carlo Cignani in Bologna, dedicating himself to painting battles and landscapes. Then he perfected in Rome, where he knew the works of the then undisputed head of the school of the sector, Jacques courtois called Il Borgognone. In 1675 he returned to Verona and he married an 88-year-old widow who died and who left him a rich inheritance. Much appreciated by the nobility and the bourgeoisie, he received numerous commissions. Bartolomeo Dal Pozzo (“Le Vite de' pittori, de gli scultori et architetti veronesi”, 1718) praises "three great pictures of battles and countries" in the house cheerful and, at "Rizzardi sul Corso", four great landscapes, all gone dispersed. Following an involuntary murder, Calza takes refuge in Bologna, where he undertakes a flattering career.
Among the works that give him greater fame are some portraits also lost. Here he remarried, but soon remains a widower again. In 1706 he was in Venice, where in 1708 he married his third wife, Angiola Agnese Pakman, a flemish painter of flowers, fruit and animals, who became his collaborator. After 1710 he was in Milan, where he painted, assisted by two students, for the Austrian general Martini, "a picture of enormous size", portraying “La Battaglia di Torino”. Called in 1714 by Prince Eugene of Savoy in Vienna, he paints for him a “Belgrade Presa”, "a portrait of that prince on horseback with a battle in the background" (Dal Pozzo), and yet another, also equestrian, of the emperor with a hunting scene. There is no trace of these works either. He died in Verona, where he could return after absolution of his faults, on 18 April 1725. Through the continuous increase of his catalogue, this master has regained a position of prestige in the pictorial panorama of the genre of battle.
Calza from the start, while assimilating the lesson of the Il Borgognone, develops a personal style, based mainly on its unmistakable bright and lively chromatism, characterized by red and blue ringing, and the casual freedom of the figure. Its material drafting is quick and immediate, often with subsequent finishing.
This work presents the peculiar stylistic characteristics of Calza’s painting. The canvas also finds several possible comparisons with works belonging to his corpus, in which it is possible to identify recurrent figures and details also present in the canvas. An example of this is the knight in armor, on a stiff steed, who with his right arm holds a sword and, in twist, turns his head towards the enemy. The same figure is reproduced by the painter in different canvases, sometimes almost identical, sometimes mirror.
Significant is also the comparison with a group of turkish knights that Calza puts in the background scenes.
Equally, the fallen lives that the painter depicts in his clashes in the foreground are comparable to the subject present in the canvas in question. The bodies are positioned facing forward, the helpless arms drop their weapons and a turban rolls next to the body.
A detail is often present in the paintings of Calza: a drum, placed in the foreground, overturned and abandoned. The large number of works in which this is described, as a signature of the painter, and the stylistic proximity already analyzed, convince the attribution of’work to Antonio Calza.