Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 158



158
Three Procaccinis at Colnaghi
Three Procaccinis at Colnaghi
counterpoint with an opaque blue-black and a
white of startling purity – bespeak an unusual
awareness of and approach to painting on the
most elemental level.
During the early nineteenth century, neoclassical
Milanese artists such as Andrea Appiani and Giuseppe
Bossi attempted critically to define another aspect
of the Lombard Seicento by emphasizing the ideal of
beauty embodied in much of Procaccini’s mature work,
ca. 1616-1618, such as the elegant golden-haired angels
to be found in the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine
(Milan, Brera), Abraham and the Three Angels (Turin), as
an agreeable alternative to the intensity and violence of
Cerano and Morazzone.
However, in this definition Appiani and Bossi, and then
Frangi and Morandotti, in their realted exhibition at
Ajaccio, Corsica,4 have ignored another major aspect
of Giulio Cesare’s work: large narrative scenes of the
Passion, including the Agony in the Garden (fig. 1), with a
long Spanish provenance, presented here, which in their
range and extent find virtually no match, in iconography,
subject matter or style, in the output of other Seicento
Lombard artists, or indeed virtually any artist working
in Italy at this time.5 Here in marked contrast to
Procaccini’s preoccupation with technique and beautiful
figures, we find an artist deeply immersed in profoundly
serious and moving narrative subject matter.
Fig. 2 / Giulio Cesare
Procaccini, Christ on the
Road to Calvary, signed,
oil on canvas, 217 x 147 cm,
ex-Christie’s, London,
9 July 2015, lot 35.
It is important to emphasize that a large proportion of
Procaccini’s scenes from the life of Christ, including the
Agony in the Garden, apparently found their way to Spain
almost as soon as they were painted. The artist himself,
let alone his Milanese contemporaries, may never
have seen them all together. Recently Bosch Balbona
and Odette D’Albo have uncovered and published
important evidence that Pedro de Toledo Osorio y
Colonna, 5th Marchese di Villafranca del Bierzo, the
Spanish Governor of Milan, commissioned from G. C.
Procaccini, ca. 1616, a large series of pictures of the life
of Christ which were probably delivered by July 1618
or thereabouts when the patron returned to Spain.6
Although the documents only specify a few of the
subjects, and those particular pictures which show scenes
from the early life of Christ have yet to be identified or
published, two pictures are already known with a firm
Villafranca provenance, a Transfiguration in the church
at Whitehaven, Cumberland, that was bought in Paris
after the Napoleonic wars by the 3rd Earl of Lonsdale,
and a full length Christ on the Road to Calvary (fig. 2), that
surfaced at Christie’s London in June 2015 with a long
continuous Spanish provenance. On the strength of
these it seems highly probable, as D’Albo first suggested,
that a number of other seemingly related Passion scenes
of exactly the same size, for which art historians for
long have been seeking a common provenance because
of their striking stylistic similarities, belong to this very
same commission. They include a Baptism of Christ at
Bratislava; the Agony in the Garden described above and
recently acquired by the Prado, Madrid, from Coll &
Cortés; 7 a Capture of Christ on loan to the Worcester Art
Museum (fig. 3); a Flagellation at Boston; a Mocking of
Christ at Sheffield; and a Raising of the Cross at Edinburgh.
Two further pictures from this series, one from the early
life of Christ, have been discovered very recently by
D’Albo and will be presented in our jointly-authored
forthcoming Procaccini monograph to be published by
Allemandi, Turin, in 2018.
Considered together, they leave one with an overriding impression that Procaccini must have been to
the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice to prepare himself
for this challenge. Apart from an obvious reference to
Titian’s Mocking of Christ, readily accessible in Santa
Maria delle Grazie, Milan (now at the Louvre), reflected
in the Boston Flagellation and the Sheffield Mocking of
Christ, Tintoretto was surely the main inspiration for
the series, both in style and interpretation of the subject
matter, especially Christ on the Road to Calvary (Christie’s
London 2015) and the Raising of the Cross (Edinburgh,
National Gallery of Scotland) (fig. 4). Procaccini picks
up Tintoretto’s distinctive use of chiaroscuro to highlight
the key figures, while the incipient violence is contained
within the darkly-lit shallow space within which the
secondary figures act out a dramatic narrative. This
creates stability in the large groups of subordinate
figures, soldiers and onlookers, and structures each
composition. Perhaps for the first time in Procaccini’s
stylistic development the effect is Baroque not Mannerist,
the figures physically and emotionally involved, not just
self-consciously displayed. These techniques are also
applied to the Baptism of Christ (Bratislava), where the
emotional temperature is lower but the sense of drama
is almost artificially heightened. The Agony in the Garden
(Madrid, Prado), and the Transfiguration at Whitehaven
from the Lonsdale Collection, stand slightly apart.
Although the figure style is similar, in these two more
intimate pictures the lighting and colouring are far cooler
and less theatrical: silvery, visionary, evocative of actual
moonlight in the Prado picture, more abstract, mystical
and intangible in the Whitehaven picture.
159

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