Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 163

Three Procaccinis at Colnaghi
Of course not all large Passion scenes painted by
Procaccini can have formed part of Pedro de Toledo’s
commission. A Mocking of Christ at Dallas and a
Christ Taken down from the Cross formerly with Patrick
Matthiesen, London, and now at Sydney, Australia,
which have a different format, but appear to be of
the same date, ca. 1616-1618, may have been in
the collection of Procaccini’s other great patron,
Gian Carlo Doria, who had been told of the Toledo
commission by Fabio Visconti in a letter dating from
January 1616 and who would in any case surely have
been informed by the artist.8
The smaller Colnaghi picture considered here, Christ
Meeting his Mother on the Road to Calvary (fig. 5), also
has a firm Genoese provenance, from the collection
of Giovanni Battista Raggi, since as early as 1658;9
and it was later noted there by Ratti (1780)10 and
Alizeri (1847).11 This striking work, also perhaps
dating from ca. 1618, is of particular interest since
whereas the series of vertical full-length Pedro de
Toledo pictures has a strong narrative emphasis,
especially the Christ on the Road to Calvary (Christie’s
2015), the present smaller interpretation, with halflength figures, freezes the narrative action, closes
in on the principal protagonists, and invites us to
contemplate their emotional situation. Procaccini
does the same thing with other religious themes. For
instance a small and profoundly intimate Annunciation
from the Koelliker Collection in Milan, of ca. 1612,12
is distilled from the dramatic full-length altarpiece
at San Antonio Abate, Milan, of ca. 1610-12, so
that again we focus our emotions on empathy with
the Virgin rather than simply witnessing a dramatic
event. This tender, introspective painting is far
removed from the hyper-dramatic exaggerations of
Morazzone’s frescoes of the Passion at Varallo and
Varese, or even the raw emotion of Cerano’s late
Crucifixion at Seveso.
Fig. 5 / Giulio Cesare
Procaccini, Christ Meeting
his Mother on the Road
to Calvary, oil on canvas,
145.2 x 109 cm, acquired
from Colnaghi in 2016 by
a Private Collector.
Procaccini leaves us here hovering at the edge of a
breakthrough into a new Baroque style, but he did
not pursue it in his final years when, instead, he often
regressed to a more classical and academic manner
that reflects not only his Emilian roots but above all
the conservative aesthetic aspirations of Federico
Borromeo’s Academy at Milan, ca. 1620. We can
see this process at its very best in the third picture
presented here, Colnaghi’s recently discovered Holy
Family with Two Angels (fig. 6) which has no traceable
Three Procaccinis at Colnaghi
This picture, previously unrecorded, appears to be
a fully autograph work by Giulio Cesare Procaccini,
dating from 1620 or a little later. During the early
years of his activity as a painter from 1600 onwards
Procaccini often painted the Madonna and Child, but
usually in large altarpieces. Smaller more intimate
pictures of the Holy Family are relatively rare,
although there are notable exceptions at Munich,
Alte Pinakothek (inv. 450 ), dating from ca. 1612 or a
little later, executed in a bright-toned Correggesque
manner; at Naples, Capodimonte, executed in a
freely-sketched technique suggestive of an abbozzo
and perhaps dating from the middle of the second
decade; at Florence, Uffizi, a small painting on wood
in the manner of an abbozzo, that the current author
dated 1620-1625 in the New York 2002 exhibition
catalogue but which might also be as early as ca. 1615;
at Edinburgh, a Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John,
on wood, that might also date from 1615 (although
the attribution is disputed); at Kansas City, a larger
scale work, painted with equal freedom and energy
and little obvious preparation, the brushwork wet into
wet, and perhaps dating from ca. 1615-1616; and at
Schleissheim (Munich inv. 521), a Holy Family with Saint
Anne executed ca. 1618-1620 in a Rubensian manner,
with ample softly-modelled forms and a far more
spacious design than in the earlier works.
After 1620 and in the final five years of his life Procaccini
painted far more pictures of this kind. If this was a
response to market demand from private clients outside
the charmed circle of his principal patrons, Gian Carlo
Doria in Genoa and the Spanish Governor of Milan,
Pedro de Toledo, it may also reflect his desire to meet the
aesthetic challenge of Federico Borromeo through the
Academy he founded at Milan in 1620. The simplified
subject matter offered the perfect means of exploring
form and reinventing classical prototypes along the
prescribed academic lines of the Academy, focused on
direct communication, without the stylistic exaggerations
associated with Procaccini’s earlier work from the time
of the Acerbo chapel (1610-12) in San Antonio Abate,
Milan, onwards.
It is interesting to compare the figure of the Madonna in
the Colnaghi picture with a Madonna in an apparently
unfinished picture or else a large oil sketch of the Holy
Family with an Angel (123 x 98 cm), probably datable ca.
1615-1620, last recorded by this author in 2002 in a
Roman private collection and previously published by Roberto
Longhi in 1966 as in the Viezzoli Collection, Genoa.13


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