We are grateful to Prof. Giancarlo Sestieri for confirming the attribution to Rocca (private communication, 6 February 2008).
Michele Rocca was a talented artist who hailed from Parma and whose very brief biography was first recorded by Nicola Pio in his Vite (1724). Rocca was a pupil of Ciro Ferri in Rome by age 16, after which he returned to Parma to apply himself to study of Correggio. His paintings have historically been misattributed to his better known contemporaries, such as Solimena or Sebastiano Conca. Moreover his style - luminous, rich in painterly details, and often playful in subject - suggests an affinity with the emerging French Rococo, rather than the neo-Baroque style that was prevalent in Rome. Even sober subjects such as Rocca's only signed and dated work, a Saint Francis receiving the Stigmata in S. Paolo alla Regola, or a Saint Jerome in a private collection, are frequently enlivened by the addition of cheerful putti. The present pair of copper roundels, precisely the sort of small-scale cabinet pictures that best demonstrate Rocca's skill, are evidently two of a set of the four elements: Air, which the small putti play with soap bubbles, and Earth, featuring four putti crushing grapes to make wine. The soft brushy style and the swift, almost impressionistic passages that define the folds of drapery can be seen again in the irreverent small figures playfully passing a skull in the corner of the Saint Jerome.