One of the most idiosyncratic and extraordinarily imaginative artists of 17th century Italy, the Florentine Francesco Montelatici was known as Cecco Bravo. As one recent scholar has observed, his oeuvre shows a 'particular sensitivity to landscape, built up with rapid brushstrokes in an almost impressionistic manner' (see A. Barsanti in The Grove Dictionary of Art, ed. by Jane Turner, London, 1996, VI, p. 126). Cecco learnt his craft from Giovanni Bilivert, and by the early 1620s was working with Matteo Rosselli. His first recorded works are the frescoes of the Virgin, St. John and Angels of circa 1628/9 in the Florentine church of San Marco and a Charity in Santissima Annunziata in Florence. The success of these works led to a period of important commissions, such as his frescoes in the Salone degli Ambasciatori, in the Palazzo Pitti, painted for Grand Duke Ferdinand II de' Medici.
However, by the mid-1640s, when the present work was executed, Cecco Bravo was shunned by much of Florentine polite society, because of his implication in the Pandolfo Ricasoli scandal and Ricasoli's subsequent condemnation for heresy. This, as Francesco Solinas has noted, resulted in Cecco closing his workshop and fleeing the city to live some months in the Val di Pesa region to the southwest of Florence and in Pisa. The small, portable format of this Riposo is reflective of this disrupted period in the artist's life when, aided by some of his noble patrons and powerful acquaintances - such as the Frescobaldi family - who had their strongholds and villas in the region, Cecco was able to work on private and religious commissions, producing a series of small and strikingly poetic landscapes that he was able to sell to support himself.
Comparable examples of such small landscapes from this period by Cecco Bravo include a painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (inv. no. F1938-1-32; see fig. 1), and a pair of landscapes in the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (inv. no. 3394-5). As Solinas observes, these landscapes were partly inspired by the work of Filippo Napoletano and also recall the artist's friendship with Jacques Callot, while also showing the influence of Salvator Rosa and Giulio Parigi. The figure of Joseph leaning on his staff and the donkey, seen from behind, reflects the work of Napoletano, while the classical figure of the Madonna with the Christ Child hanging from her neck, is derived from the paintings of Andrea del Sarto and Pontormo. The sfumato effects of this landscape, with its dusky pink autumnal skies, and the twisting river, edged with rocky outcrops leading to a distant town, are framed by the dark tree trunks and branches of the foreground, all applied with a dry brush enlivened by rapid, almost nervous, highlights. This small canvas, is, as Solinas notes (loc. cit.) 'una prova magnifica dell'arte del Cecco e un saggio magistrale della pittura di paese del Seicento fiorentino'.
We are grateful to Francesco Solinas for his kind assistance in the cataloguing of this lot.