Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 156

Three pictures by G.C. Procaccini at Colnaghi:
The Agony in the Garden; Christ Meeting his Mother
on the Road to Calvary; The Holy Family
Giulio Cesare Procaccini,1 one of the most versatile and
technically- varied artists of the seventeenth century in
north Italy, began his career in Milan as a sculptor at
the Visconti villa at Lainate and only took up painting
ca. 1600, an occasion he appears to have marked by
creating a portrait of himself, ca. 1602-1603, holding
a brush and palette (Milan, Koelliker Collection).2 He
was one of a small group of artists who benefited from
an extraordinary burst of artistic patronage that took
place in Lombardy from the years ca. 1600-1630, while
Milan was firmly under Spanish rule, when Cardinal
Federico Borromeo was Archbishop there, and which
also marked the canonization of Carlo Borromeo in
November 1610. Of the three painters who initiated a
distinctive movement, Cerano who was probably born
near Novara in 1573, remained closest to the intense
religious morbidity of the Milanese tradition; while
Morazzone (1573-1626?) encompassed a more Valesian
orientation, inspired by the art of Gaudenzio Ferrari
and the dramatic realism and popular piety of the Sacri
Monti at Varallo, Varese and Orta; whereas Procaccini,
who was born in Bologna in 1574, exploited his
Emilian origins in an imaginative response to Correggio
and Parmigianino which he combined with influences
from the seductive tenebrism of Leonardo and Luini.
Fig. 1 / Giulio Cesare
Procaccini, Agony in
the Garden, signed,
oil on unlined canvas,
216 x 147 cm, acquired
from Coll & Cortés in
2013 by the Museo del
Prado, Madrid.
After an early commission (starting in 1602 and
extending throughout the decade) at Santa Maria
presso San Celso to produce frescoes in two chapels
and three altarpieces, Procaccini went on to produce
six tempera paintings in the Duomo in Milan, showing
Miracles of San Carlo, and then decorated the Acerbi
chapel in San Antonio Abate, in 1610-1612.
From about 1611 he enjoyed continuous patronage
from Gian Carlo Doria in Genoa and, inspired by
Rubens, in particular the Circumcision in that city, went
on to produce, ca. 1616-1620, more spacious and
monumental work: at Modena 1613-16 (Circumcision),
at Milan, Sant’Angelo ca. 1616 (Dead Christ with
Magdalene), Cremona 1616 (Death of the Virgin), Parma
1617 (Marriage of the Virgin), Genoa ca. 1618-1620
(Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew) and many others.
Above all during the long period when he was under
Doria protection he began to experiment with highly
imaginative and artistically-bold oil sketches and
wash drawings, explicitly exploring a fa presto manner
inspired perhaps by other pioneers of this technique,
Tintoretto, Castiglione, and Rubens. There is a selfregarding delight in the act of painting for its own sake
that appears to have been a source of mutual enjoyment
for both the artist and his supportive patron. Jonathan
Bober has speculated that this self-consciousness
regarding the process and substance of painting may
arise from Procaccini’s previous training as a sculptor
and his sense of emancipation through a technique that
not only utilized but actively celebrated the medium and
material possibilities of painting.3 As he wrote:
Few painters have taken more obvious delight
in the sheer beauty of pigment and the variety
with which it can be laid upon canvas. At
times distracting from the ostensible subject,
his sinuous impasti, broadly hatched modelling
(as of a chalk study), and rare tonalities –
saturated primaries, high-key tertiaries, in


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