Completed Continental European before 1800, Yorkshire, The Humber and North East England: Artists and Subjects 52 Can we resolve iconography issues with this painting, and suggest a possible artist?

Topic: Subject or sitter

This is a St Anthony of Padua, and should be designated as such. I'm afraid ‘Cupid and Monk’ is not only inaccurate but rather inappropriate. If anything, it is a cherub or putto-type angel, but is it even that, really?

St Anthony is often depicted with the Child Jesus, of which there are numerous examples, and the Child is typically touching or caressing his face, neck or habit

So what is going on here, since this Child is apparently winged and seems to be piercing the Franciscan's heart with an arrow? Neither feature fits.

I suppose the altered image of what was surely a standard St Anthony with the Child Jesus could be read as an allegory of a holy man being ‘smitten’ by divine love, but again, that is a deviation from the standard iconography.

In Catholic terms, what this picture purports to depict, the piercing of a human heart with a divine arrow, is technically called transverberation, which is only associated with St Teresa of Avila, as in Bernini's famous statue of her and an arrow-bearing angel. This is not the same as stigmatization, as in the case of St Francis of Assisi and other saints.

Perhaps someone consciously decided to conflate St Teresa with St Anthony, but I do not think it was the original painter--and the arrow gives the game away. See also other examples |

The NICE Paintings entry description of this picture says the saint ‘is being embraced by a golden-haired angel or putto whose arrow pierces the saint's breast; this is probably symbolic of divine love." It does not say the child is Cupid, which would be completely incongruous and even blasphemous. Presumably the Cupid notion was prompted by the arrow and the age of the angel (assuming the arrow and the wing were always there), but that assumption simply will not stand up to scrutiny.) [Group leader: Xanthe Brooke]

Jacinto Regalado, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. Previously catalogued as an Italian School ‘Cupid and Monk’, this has been identified an autograph work by Carlo Francesco Nuvolone (1609–1662), the prime version of which is in the sacristy of the basilica on the Isle of San Giulio in Lake Orta, Piedmont, north-western Italy. The wings to the Christ Child’s back and an arrow piercing the saint’s robe are now recognised as later additions. The title has been updated to ‘Saint Anthony of Padua with the Infant Christ’.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


The Collection has commented: ‘We have added St Anthony of Padua as an alternative title on our database and would be happy for it to be added this on Art UK to fit with NIRP. We have no further info on the cupid aspect – We think a public discussion could be interesting in this case. We see that the NICE Paintings entry also has a note on the possible artist [In 1969, the Director of the Museum for Medieval and Modern Art in Parma and Piacenza, Dr Augusta Quintavalle, suggested that this might be the work of an artist in the circle of Federico Baroccio], so perhaps this would also be worth bringing in to a public discussion, as well as the iconography?

Dr Marion Richards, Art Detective Manager, has observed: ‘Just a quick observation before we start the discussion. The arrow does have fletching, but it's hard to see. I've attached an image.’

1 attachment
Jacinto Regalado,

The child's right hand is drawn to depict caressing the monk's habit or neck, and it does not look anatomically correct to be grasping an arrow, whose fletching is either missing or scarcely apparent, and whose length seems inordinately short.

Everything in this picture fits a St Anthony of Padua except the arrow and the wing on the child, hence my suspicion that the picture has been altered after the fact.

Jacinto Regalado,

As for the suggested association with Federico Barocci (1535-1612), his work was more delicate, more elegant and more Mannerist than this picture strikes me as.

Marcie Doran,

Here is an extract from the ‘Sheffield Independent’ of July 4, 1934, that discusses the collection of Graves and suggests that a 17th century ‘Cupid and Monk’ painting in gallery two of the Public Library in Sheffield was Spanish.

Jacinto Regalado,

Marcie, you are referring to a different St Anthony, known as St Anthony Abbot or St Anthony the Great, who is typically depicted as an old man and who was tempted by the pleasures of the flesh, hence the appropriate inclusion of Cupid as a tempter.

Jacinto Regalado,

The attribution to Spanish School, however, is reasonably plausible, though the picture could still be Italian. It does look 17th century.

Kieran Owens,

I wonder if this is St. Anthony. As a Franciscan he should be depicted with a tonsure. Irrespective of that, it is much more likely to show St. Francis of Assisi and the angel, imagery that features widely in Christian art history. The presence of the skull on his rope cincture also suggests that this is St. Francis and is a motif that appears widely in paintings and images of him. The saint received from the Seraphim through an angel the stigmata of nail prints in his hands and feet and a wound piercing his side from which blood flowed. An open or closed book also appears in many paintings of the saint.

The attached detail from a painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo shows much the same collection of elements.

Jacinto Regalado,

The arrow element fits neither St Anthony nor St Francis. It is not related to the latter's stigmata. The angel typically shown with Francis is young but not a child/cherub/putto as here. Both Franciscan saints should have a tonsure, but I have linked above at least one depiction of St Anthony which clearly does not have one and others where the tonsure is not overt or appreciable.

Sufficient attributes of Anthony of Padua are there: he is a young man, with book, and infant (Christ). He is not always shown tonsured, particularly in later images (17th and 18th c.). The addition of wings and arrow, to turn the Christ child into Cupid must be either deliberate (a change of subject) or a mistake (a copyist misunderstanding the iconography).

In fact looking closely, the Christ child is not actually holding tha arrow - his fingers are not closed round it. The wings and arrow must surely be a later addition, for whatever reason, to a conventional composition of St Anthony. The wings might overpaint the usual lilies - the painting looks cropped all round.

Nicholas De Gaetano,

as for subject, yes i agree that it's St Anthony of Padua, with the wings and arrow added on later... Christ didn't have wings and the position of cherub's fingers indicate that they were never intended to hold the arrow or put pressure the Saint's habit.. moreover, the finely painted wings contrast a great deal with the rest of the painting, which is more Nuvolonesque and sfumato.. probably 19th century additions.. worth cleaning

Jacinto Regalado,

The relation of hand to arrow is clearly contrived and simply does not look right. It looks clumsy and awkward, basically forced. The child cannot be Cupid in this context and period, and again, an angel piercing a saint's heart with an arrow is peculiar to Saint Teresa.

Perhaps someone, possibly in the 19th century, thought altering the picture would make it more interesting and/or appealing and thus enhance its sale potential as well as price. Does the collection know any more about its provenance, such as when and from what source Graves acquired it?

Jacinto, According to the NICEPaintings entry Alderman J.G. Graves acquired it in 1920 from 'Prince Belosselsky' presumably Prince Sergei Konstantinovich Belosselsky-Belozersky (1867-1951), who having fought for the White Russians against the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Revolution, retired to Tonbridge in Kent.

Jacinto Regalado,

Thank you, Xanthe. I suppose the prince could have bought the picture in Italy.

Martin Kemp,

I have little to contribute to this, but there seem to me to be affinities with Bartolomeo Schedoni.

Jacinto Regalado,

Nuovolone's style is more precise and academic. He was known as the Guido (Reni) of Lombardy in his day, which is apt. Still, this could be by a follower. I do think it is more likely to be Italian than Spanish, especially going by the handling of the child.

Jacinto Regalado,

The only element "missing" for a St Anthony of Padua is the lilies, but they are not always present, so that is not a problem.

Nicholas De Gaetano,

Would be interesting to see what this painting looks like under xray/IR.. was the Saint's right hand initially positioned near Christ's feet?

Marcie Doran,

A much larger work by Nuvolone on artnet, 'Sant' Antonio da Padova e il Bambino Gesù', includes a nearly identical Saint Anthony of Padua.

An image of the Nuvolone work 'Sant'Antonio da Padova con Gesù Bambino' on the website of the Fondazione Federico Zeri - Università di Bologna has many similarities to 'Cupid and Monk', including: Saint Anthony of Padua's hands, the open book, the robe and the similar cross (although there is no skull). Note that this work contains numerous background elements that might help to decipher the unknown background elements in the Art UK work.

I have attached composites for ease of comparison.

Nicholas De Gaetano,

The first one is an excellent comparison, must be by Nuvolone :) Good wishes for the week ahead

Jacinto Regalado,

There is practically no question this is a St Anthony of Padua which has been altered, which could be discussed in a note added to the Art UK entry. I would suggest the title be changed to "Saint Anthony of Padua (formerly called Cupid and Monk)"

Given Marcie's findings on Artnet, the picture could plausibly be listed as "style of," "circle of" or "follower of" Nuvolone. I suppose one could attribute this picture to him, depending on the collection's preference, but that seems somewhat riskier.

Here is another St Anthony of Padua by him:

Marcie Doran,

How would you refer to the child in the updated title, Jacinto? It seems the Italian titles include the name of the saint first. Should the title be “Cupid and Saint Anthony of Padua (formerly called Cupid and Monk)" or “Saint Anthony of Padua and Cupid (formerly called Cupid and Monk)"?

Jacinto Regalado,

Marcie, the Cupid business is spurious. I suggested a title in my preceding comment as well as a note to explain the problem. Saint Anthony of Padua is never depicted with a Cupid but with the Christ Child. That was a chief point of this discussion.

Marcie Doran,

Yes, but I recall another discussion, Jacinto, in which you asked that a person not named in the title be added. Perhaps the title should be “Saint Anthony of Padua and Christ Child (formerly called Cupid and Monk)".

Jacinto Regalado,

That would be acceptable, Marcie, but it is up to the collection. This is obviously a special case, and the distinct iconographic irregularity has to be addressed and explained.

I wonder how accurate the collection record is in stating that 1920 was the year in which Graves acquired the painting from Prince Belosselsky? Could it have been 1921? In that year two sales including pictures belonging to Prince [Sergei Sergevich] Belosselsky-Belozersky [1895-1978] were conducted in London by Robinson, Fisher & Harding. The first, on 27 January, comprised pictures from several owners; the second, on 28 April, offered pictures, drawings and engravings etc. consigned exclusively by Belosselsky. Perhaps our picture was in one or other of the sales.

Catalogues for these sales seem to be rare but examples are held by the NAL at the V&A. Would anyone planning a Wednesday visit to the NAL (?Osmund) be able to check these items for the Graves picture, please? If not, I’ll submit an e-mail request.

Turning to the question of attribution, the relevant specialist would appear to be Francesco Frangi, whose areas of interest include Lombard painting of the seventeenth century and who contributed the substantial entry on Carlo Francesco Nuvolone to the 'Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani':{LPARENTHESES} Dizionario-Biografico)/

I shall attempt to contact Professor Frangi at the University of Pavia to see if he has a view on the closeness of our picture to Nuvolone himself. I note, meanwhile, that the life dates he gives for this artist -- 1608/09-1661 -- differ slightly from those on ArtUK (1608-1665).

Jacinto Regalado,

That sounds excellent, Richard, especially contacting Frangi.

Jacinto Regalado,

As for Nuvolone's dates, the Italian Wikipedia gives 1609-1662, as does Getty/ULAN.

Osmund Bullock,

Richard, I don't think I'll able to get to the NAL before early April, I'm afraid.

Thanks all for your comments.

With regard to the provenance I presume this has been taken from the inscription on the reverse, which reads: 'Prince Belosselsky Nov. 18th 1920'. This is also noted on the original catalogue card.

To add to the conversation around attribution, there is also a note in our object file which reads: 'Denis Mahon - Verbally 23rd May 1968 - suggests Parmese School'.

Thanks for the further information. I think it worth checking the two Belosselsky sale catalogues of 1921 in any case and have submitted an online request in this connection to the NAL.

I have also written to Professor Frangi, mentioning the hope of obtaining a higher-resolution image for him. I wonder if this would be possible, please -- Elizabeth or Marion/David?

I have received a full and very interesting reply, with two images, from Professor Francesco Frangi.

He writes that the Sheffield paining is a faithful replica of an ’invenzione’ [original composition] by Carlo Francesco Nuvolone known from a very dirty and poorly conserved canvas in the sacristy of the basilica of San Giulio on the Island of San Giulio (Lago d’Orta/Lake Orta between Piedmont and Lombardy). To ascertain whether our picture is an autograph work by Nuvolone or a workshop replica it would be necessary to see a photograph of better quality. However, he warns that the distinction between autograph works and studio replicas is not always easy to make in the case of the Nuvolone brothers. He confirms that the original subject was St Anthony of Padua with the infant Christ, the latter figure transformed into Cupid by the addition of wings – a subsequent intervention. The theme was treated many times by Nuvolone. His most important version of this subject is the altarpiece in the church of Sant’Anna in Bedisco di Oleggio (province of Novara) which shows variations in the poses of Christ and the saint.

I hope it will be possible for the collection or Art Detective to provide a high-resolution image of the Sheffield picture to be sent to Professor Frangi.

Jacinto Regalado,

That's excellent, Richard. The match between the San Giulio picture and ours is practically perfect except for the later alterations, which are an interesting curiosity but, ideally, would be removed by someone with suitable expertise if this is autograph Nuvolone.

With thanks to Anna Vlasova at the National Art Library, I am able to confirm that no painting entitled 'St Anthony of Padua with the Infant Christ' or 'Cupid and Monk' appears in either of the two sale catalogues of 1921 referred to above (06/03/2022). I think we should therefore accept the provenance as recorded by the inscription on the reverse: in other words our painting was acquired by Graves from Prince Belosselsky on 18 November 1920. The prince in question could have been either Prince Sergei Sergevich Belosselsky-Belozersky (1895-1978) of the 1921 sales or Prince Sergei Konstantinovich Belosselsky-Belozersky (1867-1951) previously mentioned by Xanthe (25/02/2022).

Richard, thank you for writing to Professor Francesco Frangi. Please pass on my most sincere thanks for his assistance. This is excellent news. I am sending you our TIFF this afternoon, which isn't great but is the best I can do unless the collection can provide a new photograph at proper high resolution. I will ask.

Anton Zakharov,

''It does not say the child is Cupid, which would be completely incongruous and even blasphemous''. According to Barbara Newman the certain associative connection between Christ and Cupid has been fairly well established in art since the Late Middle Ages.

Jacinto Regalado,

The chief point in this case is that, as initially suspected, and as later confirmed by Professor Frangi, this picture has been altered by the addition of a wing and a clumsy arrow, which was neither done nor intended by Nuvolone. Thus, the "Cupid" element is spurious here. What Nuvolone painted and intended was a perfectly conventional Saint Anthony of Padua with the Child Jesus.

Jacinto Regalado,

It's a pity it was altered. The added elements are not only spurious but visually distracting, and draw the eye away from the central element of the picture, the interaction between the two figures.

I expect it is at least studio of Nuvolone, but if it is thought to be autograph by Professor Frangi, it should be worth restoring to its original state in terms of the composition, as there are only two other pictures by him in UK public collections.

Marcie Doran,

Last week's Christie's auction included the Nuvolone work 'Saint Anthony of Padua with the Infant Christ'.

I imagine it is the work that you linked to, Jacinto, on 28/02/2022 03:23.

I alerted Professor Francesco Frangi to the new images, kindly provided by Elizabeth and posted by Marion, and have received from him a helpful and positive response.

On the basis of these images he believes it can now be established that the Sheffield picture is an autograph replica by Carlo Francesco Nuvolone of the prime version of the composition in San Giulio ad Orta. Certain areas of the painting appear to be below Nuvolone's standard of execution (particularly so in the case of the book in the foreground). However, he believes this is the result of old restorations undergone by the panel. That the painting has been reworked over time is demonstrated by the incongruent addition of the wing to the shoulders of the infant Christ. As the new images confirm, the handling of this is different from the painting of the two figures.

Jacinto Regalado,

Thank you, Richard. That about settles it, I think, so now it is up to Xanthe to wrap things up.

Art UK was asked to untangle the iconography and suggest an attribution for this Sheffield Museums painting which had been described as a 17th-century Italian School ‘Monk with a Cupid’, though the ‘Monk’ had subsequently been identified as probably St Anthony of Padua. I would like to recommend to Art UK that as a result of the welcome interventions of Professor Francesco Frangi of Pavia University that the Sheffield painting can now be identified as an autograph replica by the Milanese artist Carlo Francesco Nuvolone of St Anthony of Padua with the Infant Christ the prime version of which is in the church on the Isle of San Giulio in Lake Orta in Piedmont, north-western Italy. Unfortunately, it has suffered later inappropriate additions notably wings to the Christ Child’s back and an arrow piercing the saint’s robe. I should also like to thank Richard Green for contacting Professor Frangi, Nicolas De Gaetano for first suggesting Nuvolone as a likely attribution, and Sheffield Museum’s curatorial assistant Elizabeth Lindley for helpfully providing detailed photographs which helped Prof. Frangi come to his conclusions. The photographs also confirmed that the painting was acquired by J.G. Graves from Prince Belossevsky on 18 November 1920 (as ?lot 134), who could be identifies as either Prince Sergei Sergevich Belosselsky-Belozersky (1895-1978), or Prince Sergei Konstantinovich Belosselsky-Belozersky (1867-1951), who died in Tonbridge Kent.