a painting in the louvre

Selected works from The Louvre: All the Paintings

Month: August, 2013

Agnese Dolci, in the Workshop of her Father

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Entry 22 August 11, 2013

One of the paintings I was looking at this week in The Louvre: All the Paintings, Christ Blessing, also known as The Institution of the Eucharist (ca. 1656), was attributed to the workshop of Carlo Dolci (1616-1686). I have come across references to artists’ workshops before when learning about Louvre painters, usually with respect to artists in training who are employed in another painter’s workshop, but very occasionally in the attribution of a painting: two of the Louvre’s works by Veronese (1528-1588), for example, are characterized this way and another as by Veronese and workshop, an interesting, subtle distinction; likewise, two of the Louvre’s works by Bassano (1549-1592) are “workshop of”, with a third labeled “follower of Bassano”. But Dolci’s workshop holds a special interest because it brought me very close for the first time to an attribution of a painting to a woman artist.

But only very close. I was excited for a while. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Carlo Dolci by Leigh Harrison Hunt states, “Agnese Dolci, who died the same year as her father, not only made marvellous copies of the master’s pictures, but was herself an excellent painter. Her ‘Consecration of the Bread and Wine’ is in the Louvre.” In the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, a painting called The Consecration housed at the Louvre is listed as a work by Agnese Dolci. But the Grove Dictionary of Art, the reference I have been relying on, does not treat any painting in the Louvre as the work of Agnese, saying instead of her that “no securely autographed painting is yet known, although a supposedly signed Self-portrait is known from photographs (Florence, Fond. Longhi). A Christ and the Samaritan Woman with St Teresa was auctioned in Florence in 1984; Dolci’s autograph study for the figure of Christ is in the Louvre, Paris, but the finished painting clearly includes the work of other hands.” Thus, the Grove Dictionary account agrees with the Louvre’s attribution of the painting of Christ to the workshop of Carlo Dolci, and not to Agnese in particular.

Although it is rather a non-story, I’ve gone ahead with writing about Agnese; there is clearly almost a story here about all the daughters and wives and other aspiring female painters to whom we are indebted for art that has reached us only under the signatures of their male masters and for whom we should mourn because of the paintings they might have done.

Did Agnese consider herself fortunate, I wonder, to have a father who would teach her and then allow her a place in his workshop, or was she frustrated that her talent was not acknowledged as uniquely her own? In blog post 5, I wrote that the early life of St. Louis of Toulouse, when he was sent to Spain as a hostage to gain the release of his noble father, would be a great subject for a novel. I feel the same way about Agnese.

For the present, at least, I appear to be alone in finding such potential in Agnese, but a quick check confirmed that I was definitely not the first to find the theme of early women painters a likely fiction subject. Another painter’s daughter, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653), whose career overlaps Agnese’s to some extent, was the subject of a novel by Susan Vreeland, The Passion of Artemisia, in 2002. On her website, Vreeland characterizes Artemisia as “the first woman to paint large scale historical and religious paintings, the first woman to be admitted into the Accademia dell’ Arte del Disegno in Florence, the first woman to make her living by her brush, the only female artist to adopt Caravaggism, and most significantly, one of the greatest artists of the Italian Baroque (17th century).” Artemisia’s father, Orazio (1562-1639), has two paintings in the Louvre’s collection, Rest on the Flight into Egypt and Public Happiness Triumphs Over Danger. Vreeland’s website includes the interesting story of her first encounter with Artemisia’s work: http://www.svreeland.com/gen-art.html.

The little I’ve read to date about Carlo Dolci suggests that Agnese probably had a difficult life, especially if she loved her father. He planned laboriously and painted very slowly, which meant that he was rarely chosen for large-scale church fresco projects. The speed with which his contemporary Luca Giordano (1634-1705) worked is said to have caused Dolci to fall into a depression from which he never recovered. At the same time, the Dolci workshop was a busy place, particularly in making copies of his works, a project that Dolci shared with his pupils, including Agnese. Perhaps she was content with the task, since it was one that her father also engaged in as part of the painter’s craft.

The gender imbalance among artists is not repeated in the images the artists painted. Men did the painting, but many of their subjects were women, and, of course, the models they worked with to create paintings of women were women. Carlo Dolci is identified as the creator of two Louvre paintings; one depicts the Virgin Mary and the other a very feminine-looking angel of the Annunciation. The painting produced by his workshop, and therefore probably, at least in part, by Agnese, is an image of Christ. I’ve included it in this post.

The Marble Knee of the Missing Left Leg of the Christ from Michelangelo’s Deposition

4340_s0002189_001Entry 21 August 1, 2013

I ended my last blog post with a preview of this one: I would report on some research that was inspired by Wikipedia’s entry on Daniele da Volterra, in particular, a brief comment that says the artist’s will names him as the owner of “the marble knee of the missing left leg of the Christ from Michelangelo’s Deposition.”

Da Volterra’s Wikipedia entry is not the first one I’ve looked at in connection with paintings in the Louvre. Although at first I planned to concentrate on what I could learn from the information in my Louvre book and its DVD, I soon found that the book rarely gives more than a bare identification—artist’s name, life dates, name of painting, date of composition, dimensions, medium, location in the museum, inventory number—of any painting that is the sole Louvre example of its creator’s work. I began Googling any unfamiliar artist’s name, which, not too surprisingly, took me to Wikipedia.

Indeed, that’s where my Google search for da Volterra took me. I encountered not only da Volterra’s role in altering Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (see blog post 20) but also the “marble knee of the missing left leg of the Christ from Michelangelo’s Deposition.” I immediately wanted to learn more. I felt that Wikipedia was implying something about da Volterra, but I couldn’t tell what: was the possession of the knee from the “missing left leg” a sign that da Volterra had committed a crime against his old friend, Michelangelo, a crime that would perhaps be consistent with his willingness to paint over his friend’s work? The word “missing” also suggested to me that there was some kind of mystery associated with the sculpture. I thought the will, mentioned as containing the reference to the knee, might help me, but Wikipedia did not say where I could find the will itself or anything written about the will. This was also true of the Wikipedia entry on the Deposition, to which there is a link in the da Volterra entry; moreover, neither the marble knee nor the missing left leg was even mentioned in the Deposition entry. In short, what Wikipedia said was not sufficient to satisfy my curiosity, nor did it give me much reason to think that I should expect to find more information elsewhere.

I was, however, helped very much by the bibliography included in the Wikipedia entry on the sculpture. Two sources were especially useful: Jack Wasserman’s Michelangelo’s Florence Pietà (Princeton University Press, 2003) and Leo Steinberg’s “Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà: The Missing Leg Twenty Years After.” Art Bulletin 71, 3 (1989): 480-505. Both of these sources refer to the Deposition by another name commonly applied to the piece, the Florence (or Florentine) Pietà. I recommend Wasserman’s book not only for its valuable commentary but also for the many beautiful photographs and informative analytical drawings of the sculpture. For a quick look at the Deposition, here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Deposition_(Michelangelo).

I will not attempt to summarize all the additional information I collected; I will limit myself to what I now feel I can be sure of about the knee. First, the possession of the knee is much more likely a reflection of friendship than a sign of betrayal; all the sources I consulted, including Wasserman and Steinberg, emphasize the close ties between the two men in the crucial years from when Michelangelo worked on the Deposition (ca. 1547-1553) through his death in 1564 (witnessed by da Volterra). Second, there is indeed a mystery associated with the “missing left leg”, but it has to do with the process by which the sculpture was created, not with a criminal act. The leg is missing in the sense that the figure of Christ in the Deposition has only a right leg, no left leg; in addition, scholars, among them Wasserman and Steinberg, have spent considerable energy in arguing over whether Michelangelo crafted a left leg and, if he did, what happened to it; this leg would presumably be the one from which da Volterra obtained the marble knee.

The attention paid to the absent leg stems in part from aesthetic considerations but also because the Deposition is one of the very last sculptures worked on by Michelangelo, and one prominent theory has him becoming so frustrated with the piece that he smashed it, something he is not known to have done with any other project. Wasserman and Steinberg disagree as to what happened; neither doubts, apparently, that da Volterra had a marble knee sculpted by Michelangelo, but Steinberg believes the knee came from the Deposition and was part of the refuse created when Michelangelo,particularly disturbed by the left leg he had created for the figure of Christ, made it a special target in his effort to destroy the piece. Wasserman believes that the knee in da Volterra’s possession may have come from another work, the Rondanini Pietà, in part because he believes problems in the marble prompted Michelangelo to remove the partially completed left leg from the Deposition as part of a plan for refashioning the sculpture.

Wasserman was helpful on the subject of da Volterra’s will. He points out that the will does not name the Deposition in particular, but rather refers only to a pietà; this name, then, could refer to the Rondanini Pietà instead of the Deposition. He also makes clear why a visit to the will is impossible: the 1866 article by Benvenuto Gasparoni, in which the text of the will was published, did not give the document’s location.

Not only was Wikipedia’s information incomplete as to da Volterra’s possession of the knee, but also Wikipedia should have acknowledged that there is significant disagreement as to the accuracy of the information it does provide.

I’ve included a photo of a sculpture by da Volterra in the Louvre’s collection. It falls outside my usual material, but it is of special interest for this post, because it’s a bust of Michelangelo.

I’m done at last with the knee, but I do wish that someone would have said something as to its current location. Alas, for some reason, no one seems as interested in that as I am.