Photo credit: City & County of Swansea: Glynn Vivian Art Gallery Collection
This has the look of a mystic marriage picture, specifically that of St Catherine of Alexandria. In any case, the saint is an important part of the composition and must be mentioned in the title, such as ‘Virgin and Child with a Female Saint (possibly Saint Catherine)’ [The record was altered to ‘Virgin and Infant Saviour with a Female Saint’]
Alistair Brown of Art UK added: ‘I note the NICE entry quotes the provenance as: Purchased from Christie, Manson and Woods, 1886 (lot 638); (Blenheim Palace, Duke of Marlborough's collection).
It appears it may have been lot 639 - see attached.’
Yes, Alistair, the picture matches Lot 639, including the measurements; the NICE entry must be mistaken or a typo.
Can you tell me please, why does it say in the title
“An alteration to the title agreed”?
Has there been another discussion on this painting?
and what was it previously known as?
There was no prior public discussion, but I submitted a proposal to modify the title, which was "Virgin and Infant Saviour" without mention of the female saint.
Apologies Elin, I should have been clearer.
There may be condition problems that get in the way here, and ideally an Italian expert would come forward, but a Carracci attribution may indeed be doubtful, as noted in the NICE Paintings entry. I am not an expert, but I think the drawing is not firm and prominent enough for a Carracci work. For comparison, here is a Mystic Marriage of St Catherine by Ludovico Carracci:
Here is one by Annibale Carracci:
I wonder if this could be Florentine work.
Composition-wise, the closest comparison, although not very close, may be Giorgio Ghisi’s engraving, “The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine”, after Francesco Primaticcio, c.1555, as attached. Note the folded arms of the kneeling St Catherine and the way that the Madonna looks in the opposite direction.
I agree about the composition, Jacob, but Primaticcio's figures are sharply outlined and more mannered.
Might a figure of the infant John the Baptist have long ago been painted out bottom right?
The lower right is occupied by an empty cradle.
Might a figure of the infant John the Baptist have long ago been painted out and replaced by a cradle bottom right?
Trying to make sense of the composition.
It is possible, Jacob, but why would the figure have been removed?
The cry goes out from time to time on Art Detective, sometimes with more reason than others, that a picture needs cleaning. Of all the pictures that I have looked at on Art Detective, I think that this one is a painting that really needs cleaning. And preferably an x-ray at the same time to see if there are lurking forms hidden away.
I quite agree, Jacob. It is a fine picture, and certainly deserving.
No need for apologies, I have a little more context now.
Thanks very much.
This appears to be quite a small painting for a subject such as this, 13 x 11 in, but perhaps this would reduce any costs for cleaning and restoration.
I think that this is one of the really exciting finds, so far. And it has a very strong provenance, having belonged to the Dukes of Marlborough. .
It isn't a Carracci.
I believe that what we are looking at is a tiny little Tintoretto.
1. The setting and lighting is unusually dramatic- but fairly typical of Tintoretto. This includes a feature uncommon in painting of this date, having the face of one of the main players turned into the shadow. The heavy cast shadow of the Child's head, falling on his shoulder is dramatic and unusual.
2. The face of the Madonna with the heavily lidded eyes, the profile of the female saint, the proportions of the baby including the chubbiness of the baby's breasts.
3. The expertly painted draperies including the folds of the bodice and sleeves on the Virgin, and the fall of the Saint's robe in the foreground.
4. The little flecks of white with which the painting is enlivened, including the shine on the edge of the nose of the saint, and the upper lip of the child.
5. The wispy white veils of both women are typically Tintoretto, and add to the white accents.
6. The skilful painting of the Christ Child's golden hair. Tintoretto's Baby's generally had blonde curls like this.
7. Last but not least, the painting of the Saint's left hand is broad, as one might expect, but it is superbly well lit, modelled in part by the light which falls between the fingers. The observation of light, and the use of it in this manner indicates a truly great artist for whom the play of light, even in this, the tiniest of paintings, is a dramatic element of major importance.
The dramatic lighting of the Virgin's hand here is significant.
This is an amazing painting because both the Virgin and Christ Child are leaning forward into shadow.
Note the similarity of the hand of the Christ Child to the one in the small painting.
Note also the extreme attention to the details of the dramatic lighting on the hands and feet of the saints, even down to the streak of light enhancing the projection of one toe.
I am including this as and example of the dramatic power of Tintoretto's work, achieved by lighting
Here for comparison is a picture of approximately the same size by Titian.
Well, Tintoretto (or Venetian School) seems more plausible than a Carracci/Bolognese School--although, as usual in Old Master work, ideally we would get input from a relevant expert. It is a remarkably fine picture for its size, which presumably means it was meant for private devotion. The lighting is indeed a critical element, and the Saint Catherine (?) is especially well done.
Can someone from the National Gallery be asked about this?
Tamsyn’s comparators clearly prove that our portrait is NOT by Tintoretto. His style is very, very, different.
As to consulting an expert at the National Gallery about a relatively minor picture, I suggest that we should rather look inhouse to the group leader, Xanthe Brooke.
I agree with Jacob's comment (24/07/21) - it would be worthwhile cleaning & a technical examination – perhaps on one of Bendor’s ‘Hidden Masterpieces’ programmes!
In the meantime it might be worthwhile investigating the 19th-century archives of the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim to see whether they have any provenance before 1886 or any reason for the Ludovico Carracci (or Agostino Carracci as it says on the reverse of the panel according to the NICE Paintings entry).
Through the dirty varnish the landscape appears to me more likely to be Venetian (perhaps 2nd half of the 16thCentury & the composition relatively traditional not the deliberately contorted poses often created by Tintoretto.
Presumably the attribution to Ludovico Carracci came from a loose analogy with the large canvas painting of his 'Dream of St Catherine of Alexandria' of c, 1593 in the National Gallery of Art Washington https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.41674.html and because the unusual motif of the Virgin turning her head away (to view an angel) appeared in a large-scale painting attributed to Lodovico Carracci when it was in the collection of Lucien Bonaparte (1775-1840) in c.1812, although according to the British Museum’s Prints & Drawings website it was not included in the 2001 Ludovico Carracci catalogue https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1856-0308-421 - see attached image.
Agostino Carracci also produced a drawing for a Marriage of St Catherine but its description on the British Museum’s website https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1922-0501-1-1 (there is no image) does not relate it to the Glynn Vivian painting.
I would describe this painting as a small painting, rather than a minor one. .
He had a working life of about 50 years, over which time, his paintings became generally broader, and contained more flickering white brushstrokes.
Here is a painting from his first decade-
Here is a later one-
The later Flight into Egypt shows a much closer connection with our present small work, including the landscape.
The Assumption, another late, large Tintoretto with some of the characteristics that I mentioned- breadth of painting, but with attention to details of lighting; the white streaks of paint typical of his late works; the shadowing of faces.
Here is a very broadly painted image of the Madonna of the Annunciation, from a panel of an organ case. The figure is similar to the Saint of the present painting, mirror image.
Here are some digitally adjusted images which show some of the details better
Those are interesting points, Tamsyn. I had already prepared the following note and will post it now since I believe it explains what might have been ‘removed’.
Please take a look at the final image on this website of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Cento. https://tinyurl.com/andwn2hs. It is a work by Emilio Savonanzi (Bologna 1580 – Camerino 1660),
''La Madonna col Bambino, Santa Caterina da Siena e San Carlo Borromeo'' 1616-1619. Olio su tela, cm 95,3 x 73,1
This painter would have been familiar with the work of Ludovico Carracci. Wikipedia quotes Luigi Lanzi as follows, “Savonanzi, a Bolognese noble, ... entered the school of Lodovico Caracci [sic] ...” (https://tinyurl.com/ydzf8nfn)
Jacob thought that a figure had been painted out of the Art UK work and replaced by a cradle. Perhaps there was originally a man on the right but, due to the limited space, he was left out of the final version.
I have attached a composite of the Art UK work and the Savonanzi work. Notice that in the Savonanzi work, the man is in ‘our’ saint’s place (and he is elevated) and the saint is on the right. The man’s hand on his chest is very similar to the saint’s hand in ‘our’ work. In both works, the saint’s face is very similar and the child is similarly robed. There are no halos.
Savonanzi is a later painter with a different style, closer to Guido Reni. He could, of course, borrow from earlier works.
This sort of small panel will be very difficult to document. If it can be traced at Blenheim, the record is unlikely to be revealing. Perhaps cleaning would help us understand the painting but this will not be achieved within the timescale of this discussion.
As such, I suspect it may be difficult to take this discussion further than attempting to identify the place and time of this work. ‘Italian school’ would be appropriate, or one might go further to ‘Possibly Venetian school’. As to time, ‘mid or late 16th century’ seems an option.
Yes, Jacob, I would agree. Barring input from a relevant authority, I doubt we will do significantly better than that.
With regards to Savonanzi, that is a very sweet painting, but No, his manner of applying the paint is not dynamic enough.
The question has been asked about whether the attribution to Carracci holds good. No it doesn't. This is a painting is almost certainly by Tintoretto. It is small, but it is a beautiful piece of work, dating from late in his long career of about fifty years.
Tintoretto's painting, from the outset, was dynamic and action packed. His figures, like those of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, show a tremendous variety in their postures. He was extremely good at painting interactions between figures, whether it was as slight as the touch of a hand or as significant as a slaying. Hands told a major part of every story.
Tintoretto's earlier works were painted in a manner that was quite highly finished, after the manner of Titian. Titian was thirty years older that Tintoretto and had completed his dynamic masterpiece, The Assumption of the Virgin, in the Frari Church, in the year that Tintoretto was born. When Tintoretto painted St Mark freeing the Slave, twenty years later, the homage it pays to that painting is obvious.
Tintoretto became the master of action. He could paint both huge historical scenes and Biblical narratives. To do so, his style became broader and broader, relying increasingly on the drawn outline and broad slashes and flicks of paint. His work is often finished with fine lines of white, defining edges and details in much the way an artist of the Byzantine school such as Cimabue, used fine lines of gold.
Compositionally, Tintoretto incorporated both built and natural landscape, as Giorgione and Mantegna had. Tintoretto set his scenes under brooding skies, and in dark smoky interiors.
On of his favourite compositional devices was to set a figure in a flowing, crumpled robe to mark the foreground nearest the viewer. The figure might be either seated, or standing, like the columnar figure of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, or in action like the running Princess in the St George painting in the National Gallery. .
The size of Tintoretto's painting varies from as huge as the Paradise painting in the Doge's palace, 74 feet across, to the Jupiter and Semele panel in the National Gallery which is only 25 inches wide and about 10 inches high.
In looking at a painting by Tintoretto, we can expect a variety of treatment in any given painting. He worked his brush with a huge flexibility of technique. He was capable of building up parts of a picture in successive layers of glazes , particularly in the more significant faces. But within the same painting there may be areas, particularly those that are shadowed, where the form is merely suggested by a painted outline.
1. Composite with the Flight into Egypt shows a typical landscape setting
2. Composite with Madonna playing with the Christ Child shows interaction
3 Composite shows figure in pink robe framing the composition in a manner typical of Tintoretto
4. Composite showing Madonna similar to the one in current painting
5 Composite showing Madonna similar to the one in current painting
6 Composite showing Madonna similar to the one in current painting
7. Composite showing Madonna similar to the one in current painting
8. Profile in Adoration
9. Profile in Adoration
I'll try to add those pics again
I repeat, Tamsyn’s comparators clearly prove that our picture is NOT by Tintoretto. His style is very, very, different. I fear that by persisting with an untenable attribution Tamsyn is wasting her time.
Jacob Simon, would you please give some support to the statement that Tintoretto's style is very different.
As Xanthe has suggested, this picture might conceivably interest Bendor Grosvenor for one of his programmes. Can he be asked about the matter so that he is at least aware of it?
When you look at Tintoretto's work, preferably the actual pictures rather than repros, it is immediately evident that his forms, his figures, his compositions and the scale of his work differ from the rather feeble small work under discussion, which lacks Tintoretto's dynamism and sense of movement.
(apologies for previous message, I was helping Oxfordshire County Council with their account and posted from their account by mistake)
Xanthe and Jacinto, I have just emailed Bendor and alerted him to the discussion, David
Thank you, David Saywell.
I have covered the points that you made, already. This is, after all, a very small painting, of a not particularly dynamic subject.
But "feeble" ?
Are you seriously telling me that the painting of the very natural figure of the Christ Child, the interaction between the child and Saint, the light that falls on those figures, particularly on the beautifully painted hands, is "feeble"?
No further response from me to this sadly unproductive exchange with Tamsyn (the first time I've said this in Art Detective).
Tamsyn, I respectfully suggest that you seem not to understand or to heed the nature of the Art UK discourse. Contributors to these discussions either present convincing evidence, verifiable proof, or at least tease out ideas through credibly informed and respectfully offered ideas based, in very many cases, on years of expert engagement with their particular fields of interest. From any quarter, condescending, belittling and dogmatic approaches do nothing but harm this magnificent enterprise and only result in the alienation of those for whom it has operated as an important collaborative means of reaching fact-based results. Ramming personal opinions down other's throats has never been of value in the past, is not so now, nor will it ever be in the future. If a contributor has factual evidence to present or a rationally well-informed direction to suggest, they should do so. In the absence of these, it does not help these discussions if personal opinions are forcibly presented as objective facts.
Well yes, I have to admit that I WAS a little offended. When I have said that a painting is exciting and possibly by a significant painter, and Jacinto Regalado has called it "a remarkably fine picture for its size, and we have both waxed lyrical over the lighting, to then have it dismissed as "minor" and "feeble" seemed rather challenging and offensive!
You ask that "Contributors to these discussions either present convincing evidence, verifiable proof, or at least tease out ideas through credibly informed and respectfully offered ideas based, in very many cases, on years of expert engagement with their particular fields of interest. "
I certainly don't have the verifiable proof, but I believe that I presented the "convincing evidence" and "teased out the ideas" in a "credibly informed" manner based on years of engagement.
I agree entirely with Jacinto Regalado's stated opinion that this is "a remarkably fine picture for its size" and I have sought to identify and define the reason why indeed this is the case.
To change the subject how much does it cost to have a painting a comparatively small painting such as this cleaned.
As Jacob Simon notes, 24/7, of all the paintings discussed on this Art Detective site this picture might benefit the most from cleaning to remove the grime and discoloured varnish.
I'd like to thank Kieran for his comments in support of Art Detective's aims and working method (after office hours yesterday). I hope this discussion will continue in the friendly and collaborative manner that we are used to and that we expect from all contributors.
Our Code of Conduct can be found here. https://bit.ly/2VRdzZE
I have emailed the archivist at Blenheim just in case they do have any information that might help elucidate the painting's earlier provenance or attribution.
In response to Howard's question, the cost depends on the conservator and what other work may need to be done. A straightforward cleaning can be a just a couple of hundred pounds, but the costs soon mount up if it requires relining, removing overpaint, touching up, varnish etc. If it needed the full works you'd be looking at a bill of around a thousand pounds from a decent conservator.
Hi all, Ellie Dawkins here from Glynn Vivian Art Gallery.
It’s wonderful that there is so much interest in this painting! Checking through our files, I see that Bonhams looked at the work a few years ago and suggested a possible attribution of Ippolito Scarsella, Lo Scarsellino (Ferrara c.1550–1620). Perhaps someone might have an opinion on this? We do have an oil paintings conservator here; Jenny may be able to examine the item (depending on workload – she’s only with us for two days a week, and has a number of ongoing projects), but I’ll ask her when she’s back from annual leave. She’ll be able to estimate the number of hours required to clean the painting. As Howard Jones previously mentioned, it is only a small work, so it may be possible to fit it into her schedule.
An expert on Scarsellino is Maria Angela Novelli:
I do not know how she could be contacted, but perhaps someone else does and can do so.
However, Novelli published an earlier book on Scarsellino, either in the 1950s or 1960s, which suggests she would be quite elderly now.
The painter was Ferrarese but influenced by various sources, including Venetian painting, especially Veronese.
There are contact details online for Prof. Catherine Whistler, who catalogued the Ashmolean's paintings by Scarsellino.
It may be possible to attach the picture reports for GV26 and GV27 created as part of the ACW Beacon Award Research Project, 2008–2010. Let's wait to hear from the collection.
GV26 is a copy after the original Scarsellino at the Ashmolean, which measures roughly 28 x 21 cm. The other Scarsellino at the Ahmolean is even smaller. Scarsellino made numerous small devotional works characterised by their intimacy and by the appearance of domestic detail, such as a cradle.
The Blenheim Palace archivist, who is about to go on a fortnight's annual leave from next week, hopes to supply us with the result of a trawl through the archives by the end of September.
I would be surprised if this was by Scarsellino, having done some research on him many years ago in Glasgow, which had a work far superior in quality to this, but I cannot say that I have kept up to date on him for the last 25 years
I should add that the painting in Liverpool which I also know well is surely by a much finer artist than this one
Scarsellino hit Venice in 1570, at the age of about 20, when Tintoretto was already a well established painter.
I have just looked at a whole lot of the Scarsellino pictures online. The large paintings don't impress me much. The application of the paint is smoother than here, the anatomy is rather poor, the dynamic is boring, and the Christ Child is generic and rather obese.
Then I looked at some of the smaller works., some of which are tiny. They have so much more charm, partly because in each case they are focussed on just one meaningful interaction.
They have much more of the Tintoretto dynamic The style is broader, and they have an altogether more lively and experimental quality than the bigger works.
I will do some cut and pastes tomorrow.
I think I would support the Scarsellino attribution, but it would be nice to see the Oxford paintings.
Like Martin (19 August), I would be surprised if this was by Scarsellino.
A quick update. The collection would be happy for us to attach the two picture reports, which I'll do during office hours tomorrow. I can give some context for them then too.
Kristine Dunthorne’s picture reports for GV26 (The Holy Family with the Young Saint John the Baptist) and GV27 (this discussion’s painting) are attached. They include proposed reattributions to Scarsellino (‘copy after’ and ‘attributed to’ respectively). Some of the queries raised in the discussion have been covered in the reports.
The report for GV27 identifies the artist as most probably Scarsellino following input from Dr Gian Paolo Cammarota, Dr Catherine Whistler and Andrew Mackenzie. It isn’t clear why the suggested reattribution wasn't adopted at the time.
When Alistair Brown, our Volunteer, put this forward for discussion, he wasn't aware of the picture reports. It’s been extremely helpful to have had the discussion and we’re grateful to Ellie Dawkins for bringing these reports to light. Further, the report for GV27 reinforces Jacinto’s recent suggestion that the title ‘Virgin and Infant Saviour’ could usefully include that it depicts a female saint, possibly Saint Catherine.
Although GV26 has been cleaned since the photo was put on Art UK, there is no more up-to-date, quality photo available at the moment.
The subject of the mystic marriage of St. Catherine does not always include her wheel or the placing of a ring on her finger. See below:
Is it unrealistic of me to wonder why, between Art UK and the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, the information now produced in Kristine Dunthorne’s picture reports could not have been made available at the outset of this discussion?
Hello Jacob, it’s a question of how much staff time there is at both ends to do research in advance. We launch the discussions, then it’s often the energy of the discussion itself that helps to bring documents to light. It’s quite often the case that delegation of initial Art Detective queries is assigned to non-curatorial staff (to answer your broader question).
In an ideal world we’d have a checklist of things to confirm before launching any public discussion, but more work here would prevent us getting through the huge backlog (we still have 3,300 submissions in progress that the public can’t see). We’d probably handle submissions and public discussions differently if we didn’t have thousands of the former and hundreds of the latter to process.
I appreciate this response. And I understand that launching discussions in a way which reduces Art UK and collection input can be justified. However, there is a flip side. In this case, there have been 59 contributions, some of them time consuming and problematic, before important information held on file emerged.
It seems to me that discussions on Art Detective involving 19th and 20th century genealogical and newspaper research do well on the whole. But “old master” discussions, where attribution is the subject, can suffer, as in this case, and perhaps deserve more work by Art UK and the collection before launching.
So where do these significant reports from more than 10 years ago leave us, when it comes to describing the artist of this picture?
Perhaps “Possibly after Scarsellino” or “Circle of Scarsellino”?
I doubt we can get much further unless the picture were to undergo restoration work, which seems unlikely for the time being. It appears that it currently stands attributed to Scarsellino and that everyone agrees the female saint could be St Catherine of Alexandria, in which case this would qualify as a mystic marriage picture. All of that should be reflected in the Art UK entry, but precisely how should be formally recommended by Xanthe for the gallery's consideration and approval or modification.
Before formally recommending there be a change of attribution to the painting I should like to wait until the archivist at Blenheim Palace replies to my query about there being any documentation, just in case there might be further provenance information that is worth forwarding to the Glynn Vivian in Swansea.
Professor Catherine Whistler (now Keeper of Western Art at the Ashmolean) did suggest to me last week, in a personal communication, that she thought it was more likely to be attributed to Scarsellino, but she stressed that this was not a considered response as she hadn’t had time to consult the library or her research material before going on a family holiday.
Hello Jacinto. You say above it is unlikely that any restoration work can be carried out on this picture. This may not be correct. The Vivian Gallery has a resident Conservator and hopefully some cleaning and restoration work for this small painting may be possible at some stage.
Yes, Howard; I had forgotten what Ellie Dawkins said previously regarding possible restoration. I hope that will happen.
For comparative interest, see below:
The picture linked in my last comment is also thought to be a mystic marriage of St Catherine. Again, the iconographic details can and do vary.
I have now heard from the Blenheim Palace archivist that they do not have any inventories of the collection before 1886. However, she did point out that the British Library’s collection of manuscripts and archives does hold inventories of Blenheim Palace and Marlborough House which were created between 1712 and 1740-41, reference: ADD MS 61473 BLENHEIM PAPERS. Vol. CCCLXXIII (1+ 15). The Glynn Vivian museum might be interested to follow these up in the future, especially if they do undertake to clean and conserve their painting.
In the light of the above information from the Blenheim Palace archivist and the previous comments made in 2009 by a number of experts: Dr. Gian Paolo Cammarota, of the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna; Andrew MacKenzie, Director of Old Master Paintings at Bonham; and Professor Catherine Whistler, at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which were incorporated into Kristine Dunthorne’s report on the painting, and suggested a relationship to the work of Ippolito Scarsella, Lo Scarsellino (Ferrara c.1550-Ferrara1620), I recommend that the painting should be attributed to Circle of Scarsellino and that it should be titled Virgin and Christ Child with a female saint (Catherine?)
To make the title less unwieldy, it could remain more or less as is, depending on the exact wording preferred by the collection, and a descriptive note could mention that the female saint is possibly St Catherine of Alexandria.
Xanthe, many thanks for this - I have emailed our Art Detective contact with this recommendation so that the Glynn Vivian can consider and respond to it. David