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Matthias Stomer (Amersfoort c. 1600-c. 1652 Sicily or Northern Italy)
The Society of Jesus Trust
Matthias Stomer (Amersfoort c. 1600-c. 1652 Sicily or Northern Italy)

Christ before Pilate

Matthias Stomer (Amersfoort c. 1600-c. 1652 Sicily or Northern Italy)
Christ before Pilate
oil on canvas
61 x 82¼ in. (159.4 x 208.9 cm.)

(Possibly) Principe di Avellino, Naples: ‘un quadro di p.[almi] 4 x 5: Nostro Signore avanti a Caifas de Stemen’.
with Thomas Jenkins (1722–1798), Rome, between 1757 and 1779, and from whom purchased by the following,
James Hugh Smith-Barry (1746–1801), Belmont and later Marbury Hall, Cheshire, and by descent to
Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry, 1st Baron Barrymore (1843–1925), Marbury Hall, Northwich, Cheshire; his sale (†), Sotheby’s, London, 21 June 1933, lot 20, as ‘Gerard van Honthorst’.
Anonymous sale [A. Manning Davies, Llandudno]; Christie’s, London, 18 December 1936, lot 77, as ‘G. van Honthorst’ (12 gns. to the following).
Bertram Bisgood, by whom presented to the present owner.

A catalogue of paintings, statues, busts, etc. at Marbury Hall, the seat of John Smith Barry, Esq., in the county of Chester, Warrington, 1814, p. 7, no. 156, as ‘G. Della Notte’.
G. Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain, Supplement, IV, London, 1857, p. 413: ‘Gerard Honthorst. - 3. Christ before Pilate by candlelight. 4. Peter delivered from prison by the angel. Both good pictures.’
H. Pauwels, ‘De Schilder Matthias Stomer’, Gentse Bijdragen tot de Kunstgeschiedenis, XIV, 1953, p. 162 and 187.
R.E. Spear, Caravaggio and His Followers, Cleveland, 1971, p. 168, under no. 64.
B. Nicolson, ‘Caravaggio and the Caravaggesques: Some Recent Research’, The Burlington Magazine, CXVI, 1974, p. 615.
B. Nicolson, ‘Stomer Brought Up-to-Date’, The Burlington Magazine, CXIX, 1977, p. 239.
B. Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement, Oxford, 1979, p. 94.
B. Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, I, Turin, 1989, p. 183.
Birmingham, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Matthias Stom, Isaac blessing Jacob, 29 October 1999-16 January 2000, no. 7 (catalogue entry by Richard Verdi).

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Lot Essay

Hailed as an ‘outstanding example of Stom[er]’s unabashedly theatrical style’ by Richard Verdi (op. cit.), the drama of this Biblical subject is heightened through Stomer's dynamic composition, intense chiaroscuro and array of expressive figure types. The picture’s quality led to its early attribution to Stomer’s celebrated predecessor Gerard van Honthorst, also called Gerardo della Notte due to his fondness for dramatically lit nocturnal scenes. The painting’s true authorship was however soon acknowl-edged and it was included in the earliest corpus of Stomer’s oeuvre established by Henry Pauwels in 1953. The attribution subsequently met with consensus and was notably embraced by Benedict Nicolson.

Originally from the Netherlands, Matthias Stomer, following in the footsteps of many Northern painters of his day, travelled to Rome where he is first recorded in 1630, aged 30. This journey South of the Alps, probably initially envisaged as a formative experience by the young painter, eventually became permanent and the artist never made the trip back home, moving instead to Naples around 1633 and after 1640 to Sicily, before eventually settling in Northern Italy. Stomer belongs to a generation of Netherlandish painters on whom the work of Caravaggio made a profound and enduring impact. Discarding the artificiality of late Mannerism, these artists adopted an uncompromising realism, employing powerful close-up compositions and Caravaggio’s celebrated tenebrism or dramatically contrasted treatment of light and shade.

Christ before Pilate displays the spirited brushwork and broad, painterly approach that is so characteristic of Stomer’s style. Recent research suggests that the painting may have belonged to a cycle on the Passion of Christ which Stomer famously painted for the Capuchin Church of S. Efremo Nuovo in Naples (ibid.). This is consistent with stylistic analysis, as Nicolson noted that in this canvas, Stomer moves away from Honthorst’s dominant influence and shows stronger artistic identity and maturity, thus placing the work in the artist’s later, Neapolitan period. The identification of the regally seated figure to whom Christ is being presented has been the object of debate: he has been identified both as the High Priest Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate. The latter identification seems the most likely, partly due to the fact that he is dressed in a similar fashion to Stomer’s Pilate Washing His Hands in a painting in the Louvre, Paris (fig. 1). Added to which, his attitude betrays astonishment and indecision rather than accusation and condemnation (traits which would be better suited for the figure of Caiaphas).

The picture’s well-documented and distinguished provenance offers a valuable insight into the history of late 18th-century British collecting. It is first recorded in an undated drawing by Nicolaus Mosman, a German pupil of Anton Raphael Mengs. The artist had been commissioned by Cecil Brownlow, 9th Earl of Exeter (1725-1793), to produce a set of 227 drawings (London, British Museum) after notable works of art in Roman private collections. The series is said to have cost him the substantial sum of £2,000. The drawing after this picture records that it was in the collection of the famous antiquity and picture dealer Thomas Jenkins. Nicknamed the cicerone-inglese and a presumed Hanoverian spy against the Jacobite exiles in Rome, Jenkins was a colourful character and a major supplier of works of art of various kinds to English gentlemen on the Grand Tour. One of his numerous clients was the extravagant James Hugh Smith-Barry. In a letter of 1772 to Charles Townley, Jenkins expressed his hopes regarding the young traveller: ‘this Gentleman is well disposed and has a Spirit to pay for fin things’. Smith-Barry did not disappoint, and upon staying at Jenkins’ villa at Castel Gandolfo, he is recorded as having spent £12,000, eliciting the following comment from Fr. John Thorpe in a letter of 1775 to Lord Arundell of Wardour: ‘Jenkins makes his new country seat to be a sort of trap to such gentlemen’ (G. Vaughan, ‘Thomas Jenkins and his International Clientele’, Antikensammlungen des europaïschen Adels im 18. Jahrhundert, Mains am Rhein, 1996, pp. 20-30; B. Ford, ‘Thomas Jenkins: Banker, Dealer and Unofficial English Agent’, Apollo, June 1974, pp. 416-25). Jenkins did not profit much from the unruly Smith-Barry, however, as the young gentleman’s persistent refusal to pay his debts almost led the dealer to bankruptcy and the two eventually ceased all business in 1779 (G. Vaughan, ‘James Hugh Smith Barry as a Collector of Antiquities’, Apollo, July 1987, pp. 4-11). Christ before Pilate must then have been acquired between Smith-Barry’s arrival in Rome in 1771 and 1779. It is recorded, along with three similarly-sized paintings attributed to Honthorst (a lost Liberation of Saint Peter; The Arrest of Christ, Ottawa, The National Gallery of Canada; and The Agony in the Garden, Berlin, Gemäldegalerie), in the first catalogue of Marbury Hall, published in 1814 by the Hon. John Smith-Barry, and subsequently by Gustav Waagen in 1857.

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