Lot 48: Massimo Stanzione (Orta di Atella c. 1585-1656 Naples) and Luca Forte (Naples c. 1600-before 1670)


January 23, 2004, 12:00 AM EST
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Description: Putti arranging garlands of flowers in a landscape
oil on canvas
47 1/4 x 70 3/4 in. (120 x 180 cm.)
Artist or Maker: Massimo Stanzione (Orta di Atella c. 1585-1656 Naples) and Luca Forte (Naples c. 1600-before 1670)
Notes: The present painting is a hitherto unknown example of collaboration between Massimo Stanzione and Luca Forte. The attribution to Stanzione for the figures is based on comparisons with several of his works datable to around 1640-50, such as the Rest from the Flight to Egypt (Sarasota, John and Mable Ringling Museum; S. Schütze and T.W. Willette, Massimo Stanzione. L'opera completa, Naples, 1992, p. 87, color plate XXV; p. 231, no. A83). The face of the putto embracing his companion at the centre of the present composition is a variant of the face of a cherub flying towards the Holy Family in the Sarasota painting.

The facial type of the putto to the far left side of the present painting is close to that of the Infant Jesus in Stanzione's Madonna of the Purgatory Souls (Naples, Church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco), commissioned in 1638 and probably finished in 1642 (see. E. Nappi, 'La Chiesa delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco nei secoli XVII-XVIII', in Ricerche sul '600 napoletano, 1996-1997, Naples, 1998, pp. 157, 169, 174). Stanzione painted children in a great number of works, and the figures in the present lot also compare to the grisaille frescoes (fig. 1) in the passage between the Sacristy and the Tesoro Nuovo in the Certosa of San Martino (Naples, documented in 1644; S. Schütze and T.W. Willette, op. cit., pp. 223-4, A69; pp. 344-50, fig. 237 and 257). This work, documented in 1644, is among the most important commissions awarded to Massimo Stanzione in his long activity for the Charthusian monks in Naples.

The intense blue drapery and its shimmering tones are rendered by using an ochre preparation and a layer of white paint under the precious lapis lazuli pigments. The same technique is visible in the Madonna's mantle in the Sarasota painting, as well as in the Madonna and Child (Tokyo, Ishizuka collection, S. Schütze and T.W. Willette, op. cit., p. 90, color plate XXVI; p. 231, no. A84, p. 363, fig. 283). Thus, a likely dating for the present painting is circa 1645-50.

The importance of the still life elements is particularly interesting. In Stanzione's oeuvre this occurs in many cases: for instance in the Saint Dorothea (Buenos Aires, formerly in the Mauro Herlitzka collection), in the Last Supper (Naples, Certosa of San Martino) or in the Annunciation (Florence, Church of Santo Stefano al Ponte) (respectively S. Schütze and T.W. Willette, op. cit., p. 51, color plate XVII; pp. 207-8, no. A41; p. 309, fig. 166; p. 55, color plate XIX; p. 212, no. A53; p. 321, fig. 190; p. 232, no. A52, p. 320, fig. 159; p. 219, no. A63; p. 338, fig. 227). The vase of flowers in the Annunciation has been attributed to Giacomo Recco by G. De Vito ('Un diverso avvio della natura morta a Napoli', in Ricerche sul '600 napoletano, Milan, 1990, pp. 123 and 153, fig. 34, p. 154, color plate VII), while the Woman in a kitchen (private collection) has been ascribed to a collaboration between Stanzione and Giovan Battista Recco (L. Salerno, La Natura Morta Italiana, 1560-1805, 1984, pp. 114 and 119, fig. 29.8. The attribution to Stanzione for the figure has been rejected by S. Schütze and T.W. Willette, op. cit., p. 253).
In this particular instance, the most likely and convincing attribution for the flowers is in favour of Luca Forte, one of the pre-eminent specialists in this field in 17th century Neapolitan painting (see, for example, A. Tecce in La natura morta in Italia, Milan, 1989, II, pp. 872-9; M. Gregori, 'Qualche nota aggiuntiva a Luca Forte', in Ricerche sul '600 napoletano, 1994-1995, Naples, 1998, pp. 175-81; and G. De Vito, 'Una nota per Luca Forte', in Ricerche sul '600 napoletano, 2000, Naples, 2001, pp. 18-35).

The apples and cherries in the centre background of the present lot recall the ones in Forte's Garland of fruits (private collection: see A. Tecce in La natura morta italiana da Caravaggio al Settecento, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 2003, pp. 245-6, illustrated) and in the Cherries, strawberries and other fruits (Naples, Museo Duca di Martina: A. Tecce, op. cit., p. 873, color plate 1039). The silky quality of the reflected light and the lacquered rendering of the shadows of the tulips and roses recall Forte's works such as the Roses, anemones, pomegranates, lemons, cedars and birds formerly with Patrick Matthiesen, the Fruits, cedars, lemons, and a vase of flowers in a private collection, and the signed Vase of flowers with grapes and a pomegranate, formerly in the Cyril Humphries collection (A. Tecce, op. cit., p. 875, color plate 1043; p. 879, figs. 1051 and 1052; G. de Vito, 'Una nota per Luca Forte', op. cit., pp. 18 and 23, fig. 2). Forte is well known for his depiction of tulips, as demonstrated by two rediscovered canvases - one of them signed - showing tulips springing from the ground (M. Gregori, 'Qualche nota aggiuntiva a Luca Forte', op. cit., p. 178).

Forte closely collaborated with figure painters like Aniello Falcone. G. De Vito ('Una nota per Luca Forte', op. cit., p. 35) related the Concert by Aniello Falcone in the Louvre to a 1655 inventory document ascribing a painting of the same subject to Falcone and Forte. Thus, although the present picture is the only known example of collaboration between Forte and Stanzione, such partnerships were not uncommon for Forte, known for his intense activity in the Neapolitan artistic milieu. The bright palette used for the flowers and the precision in the chiaroscuro rendering, typical of what is considered Forte's mature style, also confirm a dating of the painting to around 1645-50.

The childhood theme developed in the present painting is unique in Stanzione's career. Since Titian's 1519 Worship of Venus (Madrid, Prado Museum) and Agostino Carracci's prints, classical subjects based on childhood became a constant exercise for many 17th century painters. Rubens painted a Garland of fruits and flowers carried by putti (Munich, Alte Pinakothek, circa 1620; see M. Jaffe, Rubens, Catalogo completo, Milan, 1989, p. 249, n. 538, illustrated). Pietro Testa used childhood themes as allegories of human emotions in some of his most important prints, such as The Garden of Charity, The Garden of Venus, and Venus and Adonis (see E. Cropper et al., Pietro Testa, 1612-1650 - Prints and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, 1988, pp. 17-22, nos. 9-11; pp. 22-7, nos. 13-14; pp. 27-36, nos. 15-17). Besides the two Putti Bacchanals (formerly in the Incisa della Rocchetta collection, Rome, see J. Thuillier, L'opera completa di Poussin, Milan, 1974, nos. 27-28, pp. 86-7), Nicolas Poussin treated the subject numerous times. Furthermore, he is believed to have provided ideas and drawings for Jacques Stella's book of engravings Les Jeux et Plaisirs de l'Enfance, Paris, 1657 (see S. Appelbaum (ed.), Games & Pastimes of Childhood, New York, 1969, (reprint)). Despite the fact this book was published one year after Stanzione's death, there is evidence that Stella's preparatory drawings for the engravings were already known among Neapolitan artists in the early 1650s. Bernardo Cavallino cleverly employed Stella's plate Le jeu de pet en gueule for his Game of putti before a statue of Bacchus (Copenhagen, private collection; see N. Spinosa, 'Altre aggiunte a Bernardo Cavallino e qualche precisazione sui rapporti con Nicolas Poussin e la sua cerchia', in Paragone, 1990, XLI, no. 485, pp. 43-61). Spinosa dates Cavallino's Putti to around 1650, and points out the affinities between the Neapolitan master and Poussin's works of 1630-40. He also relates Cavallino's composition to another series of putti games by Giacinto Gimignani, printed in 1647. It is likely that not only the series by Gimignani but also Stella's and Poussin's drawings were available in Naples. Indeed, after the 1640s the influence of Poussin, and of Roman classicism in general, spread dramatically amongst Neapolitan painters such as Aniello Falcone, Andrea de Lione, Domenico Gargiulo, Francesco Guarino and Niccolò de Simone (see S. Schütze, 'Exemplum Romanitatis. Poussin e la pittura napoletana del Seicento', in O. Bonfait, C.L. Frommel, M. Hochman, S. Schütze (eds.), Poussin et Rome, 1996, pp. 181-200).

The present painting reveals that Stanzione also reacted to this increased interest in Roman classicism. If Spinosa (op. cit., p. 48) has noticed the 'joyful sensuousness and subtle eroticism' of Cavallino's Putti, here Stanzione prefers a more intellectualized interpretation. His putti pose as serious gardeners, absorbed by their task. The erotic allusions are suggested by the delicate attitude of the two putti to the right, while the three others seem to be calmly discussing flower arrangements. Stanzione freely draws inspiration from Gimignani's and Stella's prototypes, and with Forte's contribution, shows a full awareness of the decorative possibilities of this theme.

We are grateful to Professor Riccardo Lattuada for the above entry.
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January 23, 2004, 12:00 AM EST

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