Jean - Luc Baroni Ltd

Il Volterrano


Baldassare Franceschini

Volterra 1611-1690 Florence

Ganymede, Cupbearer to the Gods, with a Golden Vase and Crystal Tazza: a Portrait of a Page to the Medicean Court, probably Count Bruto di Tebaldo Annibaldi della Molara





Oil on canvas.
96.3 x 76.8 cm (37 7/8 x 30 ¼ in.)

Provenance: Recently identified (see Literature) as perhaps commissioned by Grand Duke Ferdinando II de’ Medici as a portrait of his page Count Bruto di Tebaldo Annibaldi della Molara; possibly then purchased by Marchese Carlo di Ottavio Gerini, from whom received as a posthumous gift in 1672 by Ottavio di Tommaso Ximenes Aragona; by 1982, private collection, Norfolk; Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd.; private collection. Alternatively identified as the painting of Hylas discussed by Baldinucci, commissioned circa 1640 by Francesco Parrocchiani, a gentleman in the service of Leopoldo de’ Medici.

Literature: formerly identified as the painting of Hylas mentioned by Filippo Baldinucci, in Notizie dei Professori del Disegno da Cimabue in qua, Florence 1681, republished 1847, Vol. V, p. 161: ‘per Francesco Parrocchiani figurò un Ila colla tazza e col vaso d’oro: e per questo si servì dell’effigie al naturale del marchese Altoviti …’; A. Grassi, Il Volterrano. Le ragioni di una forma tra alcune vocidella Firenze seicentesca’, doctoral thesis, Università degli Studi di Firenze, Florence 2012, pp.41-42 and 110 (as the painting of Hylas mentioned by Baldinucci); Maria Cecilia Fabbri, Alessandro Grassi and Riccardo Spinelli, Volterrano, Baldassare Franceschini (1611-1690), Florence 2013, cat.46, pp.184-187 as Ganimede con vaso d’oro e coppa de cristallo, [Ritratto del conte Bruto di Tebaldo Annibaldi della Molara (1639-1685)?], possibly painted for Grand Duke Ferdinando II de’ Medici.  

Described in the 2013 monograph as a sensational and most valuable addition to the catalogue of the artist’s work, Volterrano’s graceful and sensuous portrait belongs to the convention of depicting a beautiful sitter in the guise of a classical figure. The vase and tazza have led to identifications as both Hylas (companion to Hercules who whilst fetching water was abducted by a river nymph) and Ganymede (admired and abducted by Jove to become his cupbearer), two figures whose beauty changed their fate – Hylas to abandon Hercules and Ganymede to be made immortal. Volterrano is recorded in contemporary sources as having painted both subjects. The sophistication of this painting and its highly evolved style, have encouraged the most recent scholarship to identify it as possibly being a work commissioned by the Grand Duke Ferdinando II de’ Medici, to depict his page and lover, the Roman count, Bruto di Tebaldo Annibaldi della Molara (1639-1685)1.

As noted by Gerard Ewald, the conceit of the beautiful page ‘dressed up in mythological attire .. as Ganymede or Hylas’  was a popular one amongst Volterrano’s patrons2 and Baldinucci, Volterrano’s biographer lists a number of such works including three specific paintings of Hylas:.‘Per Cosimo Citerni dipinse a olio in un ovato un Ilo col vaso: per Francesco Parrocchiani figurò in un quadro a olio un Ila colla Tazza e col vaso d’oro: e per questo si servi dell’effigie al naturale del marchese Altoviti, che allora dello stesso principe era paggio di Valigia, stimato uno de’piu leggiadri giovani, che vedesse quell’età; onde io diro cio, che in altro caso disse il Caro, che per eccellenza dell’opera, e per la bellezza del rappresentato, scorge, chi guarda questa pittura, due maraviglie in un tempo stesso and somewhat later in his text, Iacopo del Turco ebbe un Ila con vaso storiato, che poi fu del marchese Carlo Gerini3.

The first work mentioned by Baldinucci is an oval oil painting of Hylas with a vase4 and the third describing Hylas as holding a vase illustrated with the theme (storiato) has been identified as the painting now in the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart5, in which the decorative frieze around the body of the vase depicts Hylas being dragged away by nymphs. Baldinucci’s second picture, painted for Francesco Parrocchiani, is described as showing the Marchese Altoviti, a page to Leopoldo de’ Medici, posed as Hylas with a cup and a golden pitcher, and painted al naturale, meaning lifesize, a description which matches the present work. Baldinucci also records Leopoldo’s delight in this painting (Leopoldo de’ Medici was known as a scholar, connoisseur and patron of the arts and became a Cardinal in 1667), which caused him to remark that the excellence of the work and the beauty of the sitter allow two marvels to be appreciated at once.

Whilst the case for this painting being identified as Parrocchiani’s Hylas is extremely strong, Maria Cecilia Fabbri has recently (see Literature loc. cit.,) argued most convincingly that the classical figure represented is more correctly identified as Ganymede. Fabbri argues that in any case, Baldinucci, suppressed the correct title of Ganymede for the Parrocchiani painting (which she identifies as a work in the collection of Luigi Koelliker) thereby hoping to censure the obvious homoerotic qualities of the myth of a youth abducted for the pleasure of a God (this argument seems plausible except for the fact that the myth of Hylas, Hercules’s protégé, surely also has homoerotic overtones); Fabbri also suggests that Hylas is generally associated only with a vase while Ganymede has both vase and cup as dispenser of Ambrosia on Olympus, allowing her to identify both the Parrocchiani painting and the present work as Ganymede. The identity and historical importance  of Annibalda di Molara, have come to light through recent studies of  the Medici archives and other contemporary documents; his beauty was reknown and his success in Ferdinando II’s household notorious as he rose through the ranks to become the ‘cameriere segreto di Sua Altezza Serenissima’ and treasurer of the Grand Ducal chambers. On the Grand Duke’s death in 1670, however, for having given deep offence to Vittoria della Rovere, Molara was immediately stripped of his honours and privileges and forced to flee Florence permanently.

The fact that Baldinucci does not mention any such depiction of Ganymede or Hylas painted by Volterrano for Ferdinando II could again be an attempt by the biographer to suppress the scandalous evidence of the Grand Duke’s long homosexual love affair. Fabbri proposes that this painting can thereafter be identified as the Ganimede owned by one of Volterrano’s most enthusiastic patrons, the marchese Carlo di Ottavio Gerini (1616-1673) and that Gerini, more moved by the quality of the picture than concerned about the disgrace of the sitter, had offered to buy the work from the Medici family, thereby relieving them of the embarrassment of its presence in the Ducal collections. In his wills, Gerini asked his sons and heirs to present a painting of their choice as a sign of gratitude and courtesy to ‘Sig.r Ottavio XImenes’ his nephew. This said Ximenes then records in a receipt that he has received ‘un quadro di mano del Sig.r Baldassar d[etto] il Volterrano entrovi un Ganimede con suo ornament dorato. Ximenes committed suicide in 1677 and trace of the Ganymede is lost, unless the picture can be identified, as Fabbri suggests, with the Ganimede by Volterrano which Antonio Citerni, exhibits in the chiostro grande of Santissima Annunziata in 1706.

The Stuttgart painting of Hylas, from the del Turco-Gerini provenance, which depicts Hylas in a static pose, was included in the exhibition Il Seicento Fiorentino held at Palazzo Strozzi in 1987. The catalogue records the picture’s history and its subsequent related literature noting that Gerhard Ewald described it as being permeated with a sense of melancholy and sadness and as having sober colouring. These characteristics were considered to support a dating to the 1670s although the 2013 monograph suggests a date of around 1657. In the present painting, the swaying pose, the vivid, sumptuous blue of the young man’s robe, the placing of the purple silk ribbon against his bare skin and the open curve of the ewer’s handle suggest a very different, considerably more sensuous mood. Unlike the Stuttgart Hylas who stands upright, as in a formal portrait, Ganymede, as we shall call him, poses here as if in arrested movement, the robe floats behind him, one shoulder lifts, the hand holding the goblet appears to enter the viewer’s space, a strong light catches glints of copper hair and flushed cheekbones while the neck is thrown into deep shadow. Such qualities suggest a slightly earlier dating for this painting than the Stuttgart picture is given. The particular nature of Ganymede’s pose, at once informal and provocative, is a recurrent motif in Volterrano’s paintings and echoes most strikingly that of the figure of a cupbearer in the scene illustrating The Future Grand Duke, Cosimo II de’Medici Receiving the Knights of St. Stephen, in the Petraia fresco cycle of I Fasti Medicei which was completed in 16486. A drawing in black chalk, clearly preparatory for the present picture is in the Uffizi (Fig.2)7..

The rediscovery of this exceptional picture and the scholarly discussions about its early history would surely have been of enormous interest to the Volterrano scholars Charles McCorquodale and Gerhard Ewald, both of whom discussed the artist’s easel paintings (considered rare survivors outside of the Medici collections into which so many were absorbed)8 and both of whom did much to re-instate the artist’s reputation as one of the finest and most distinctive of Florence’s seventeenth century painters.

The main source for Baldassare Franceschini’s biography is Baldinucci and he himself complained of having little information beyond the evidence of the artist’s work9. Son of a sculptor, he came to be known by the name of his native town and was first apprenticed there to a local painter, Cosimo Daddi. Encouraged to move to Florence he entered the studio of Matteo Rosselli and, in his early twenties worked with Giovanni da San Giovanni in the Sala degli Argenti of the Pitti Palace. His evident talent led to conflict with the older, then gout-ridden artist, perhaps exacerbated by the attention of his first important patron Don Lorenzo de’ Medici, who subsequently commissioned Volterrano to take over work on the cycle of frescoes for the Loggia of the Villa Petraia depicting the history of the Medici family. Volterrano not only painted the magnificent figurative scenes but designed the elaborate stucco work also. Becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms of movement and spatial depth, this project continued over the next ten years interspersed with other commissions and in 1640 a journey round northern Italy sponsored by another of his patrons, the Marchese Filippo Niccolini. Volterrano visited Bologna, Ferrara, Modena, Venice, Parma and probably also Rome. Subsequent work shows clearly the influences of Correggio, Michelangelo and Raphael. During the 1640s, he seems also to have been the only artist working in Florence to have encountered the innovations of Pietro da Cortona10. In this decade he painted a series of splendid frescoes including the Glory of Santa Cecilia in the SS Annunziata in Florence and the ceiling fresco illustrating Vigilance and Sleep in the Villa di Castello. Having finally completed the Petraia cycle in 1648, Volterrano had time to take on more commissions for oil paintings as well as decorative work. Again the influence of Pietro da Cortona is visible, and now also of Bernini. The vault frescoes dedicated to St. Lucy of the Colloredo Chapel of SS. Annunziata and the Aurora ceiling of the Palazzo del Bufalo strongly suggest a further visit to Rome in the period of 1651-2. In 1663, his reputation firmly established, Volterrano travelled to Venice with the Archduke Ferdinand Carlo of Austria. Further decorations for SS.Annunziata had been completed in 1661 – including the dome and pendentives of the Niccolini Chapel – and his work there culminated in the huge and extremely demanding commission to fresco the vault and tribune of the nave during the 1670s (the artist worked by torchlight and balanced on an immensely high wooden platform)11.  Volterrano was clearly an ambitious and determined figure and alongside his intense programme of fresco projects, he worked consistently for his noble patrons on commissions for portraits and cabinet paintings. He was elected to the Accademia del Disegno in 1652 and became a full academician in 1654. A most elegant artist and greatly esteemed in his lifetime, Volterrano, with the survival of much of his graphic work, has become known as one of the most exceptional draughtsman of the seventeenth century. He was also a sophisticated and vivid colourist. Charles McCorquodale wrote that Volterrano ‘had no Florentine rivals in his field during his lifetime and his approach, which was less insular that that of most of his native contemporaries, gained him the extensive patronage of the Medici12.

1.    An examination of the court of Ferdinand II centred on the discoveries concerning Annibaldi della Molara was published in 2008: Walter Bernardi, Il Paggio e l’anatomista; Science, Sangue e Sesson alla corte del Granduca di Toscana
2.    Gerhard Eward, Unknown works by Baldassare Franceschini, called Il Voterrano (1611-1689), in Burlington Magazine, vol.115, no.842, (May 1973), p.283.
3.    Filippo Baldinucci, op. cit., under Literature, p.177, “For Cosimo Citerni he painted in oil an oval with Hylas with the vase: for Francesco Parrocchiani he made a painting in oil with Hylas with the cup and golden vase: and  for this he used the lifesize likeness of the Marchese Altoviti, who was then a valet to the abovementioned prince, and considered one of the most graceful young men of the time: therefore I will quote, what on another occasion, the dear Prince said, that, for the excellence of the work and the beauty of the sitter, the viewer, on looking at this picture, discovers two marvels simultaneously” and somewhat later in his text: Jacopo del Turco had a Hylas with a vase, decorated with the theme, which then went to the marchese Carlo Gerini”.
4.    Possibly identifiable with a painting exhibited at the Milan International Antiques Show, April 2000 (see advertisement Burlington Magazine, CXLII, no. 1164, March 2000).
5.    10. See, Maria Cecilia Fabri in Il Seicento Fiorentino, Pittura, 1987, cat. I.229, p. 413. A copy of this painting was sold at auction, Florence, Case d’aste Pitti, 17 November 1988, lot 672.
7.    See Il Seicento Fiorentino, Pitture, op.cit., p. 412. Uffizi, inv. No. 15382 F).
8.    See Erward, op. cit., 1973, p. 276.
9.    Filippo Baldinucci, Notizie dei Professori del Disegno da Cimabue in Qua,…  Florence, Ed. 1847 (V. Batelli e Compagni), vol. V, p. 177
10.    Mina Gregori, Il Volterrano (Baldassare Franceschini), in Il Seicento Fiorentino, Arte a Firenze da Ferdinando I a Cosimo III, Biografie, Florence, 1987, p. 190.
11.    4. See Mina Gregori, op.cit., 1987, p. 193.
12.    See Charles McCorquodale, In the Light of Caravaggio, Trafalgar Galleries, London 1976, p. 49.

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