The Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds (active Naples, first half of the 17th century)
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The Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds (active Naples, first half of the 17th century)

The Sense of Hearing: A man playing a lute

The Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds (active Naples, first half of the 17th century)
The Sense of Hearing: A man playing a lute
oil on canvas
41 1/8 x 31 in. (104.5 x 78.7 cm.)
Mont Collection, New York, 1957.
Rovin Müller, London, by 1984.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 13 December 1985, lot 85 (£11,880).
Dr. Carlo Croce, Philadelphia, by 1989; Christie's, New York, 14 January 1993, lot 110 ($165,000).
with Mathiessen Fine Art, London, 1993, where acquired by the present owner.
J. Pereira, ‘Bartolomé Passante y el “Maestro del Anuncio a los pastores”’, Archivo Español de Arte, XXX, 1957, p. 220, pl. V.
G. de Vito, in Painting in Naples, 1606-1705: from Caravaggio to Giordano, exhibition catalogue, London, 1982, p. 194, under no. 84.
G. de Vito, in La peinture napolitaine de Caravage à Giordano, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1983, p. 232, under no. 42.
John P. O’Neill (ed.), The Jack and Belle Linsky, Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984, p. 46.
R. Enggass, ‘Review of the Exhibition in Naples, The Seicento’, The Burlington Magazine, CXXVII, 983, February 1985, p. 121 (incorrectly identifed as no. 2.144).
F. Navarro in Battistello Caracciolo e il primo naturalismo a Napoli, exhibition catalogue, Naples, 1991, p. 336, under no. 2.109.
G. de Vito, ‘Variazioni sul nome del Maestro dell’Annuncio ai pastori’, in Ricerche sul ‘600 napoletano. Saggi e documenti 1996-1997, Naples, 1998, pp. 30 and 47, fig. 24, as ‘Giovanni Dó’.
Naples, Museo di Capodimonte, Civilità del Seicento a Napoli, 24 October 1984-14 April 1985, no. 2.147 (lent by Rovin Müller).
Northampton, Massachusetts, Smith College Museum of Art, Baroque Painters in Italy, 17 November 1989-8 February 1990 (lent by Dr. Croce).
Wilmington, Delaware, Delaware Art Museum, Mostly Baroque: Italian Paintings and Drawings from the Carlo Croce Collection, 24 April-14 June 1992.
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Lot Essay

The Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds was a major figure in Naples in the early to mid-17th century. The artist was first identified in the eponymous picture in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, a work that was once given to Velázquez, but whose attribution was questioned by August Mayer in 1923. It was not until 1958 that Ferdinando Bologna suggested naming the anonymous master after the Birmingham picture and, in the years since, the artist’s oeuvre has grown substantially, with several hypotheses being put forward for his identity. He has been recognised in the past as Bartolomeo Passante, or Bassante (1618-1648), a documented artist who is the author of a signed picture in the Prado, a work that has since been distanced from the style of the present artist. More recently the theory has been advanced that he should be identified with Juan (or Giovanni) Dò, originally from Valencia, but known to be working in Naples in the 1620s. The association of Juan Dò with The Master of the Annunciation has gained a greater degree of approval and prompted claims that the mystery has been resolved. However, the hypothesis has not gained universal support. Others have seen Genoese influence in his handling of paint, with an association made with Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione and his treatment of animals. It remains uncertain, despite his work in Naples, whether he was of Spanish or Italian origin (for the most recent summary of the intricate debates surrounding the artist’s identity see N. Spinosa, Pittura del seicento a Napoli: da Caravaggio a Massimo Stanzione, Naples, 2010, pp. 326-8).

This picture, which most probably dates to the 1630s, may have formed part of a series representing allegories of the senses - in this case, hearing. Other candidates for this group include two works by the Master, whose present whereabouts are unknown, showing half-length figures: a Portrait of a bearded man holding a mirror, an allegory for the sense of sight, and Portrait a woman with a rose, for the sense of smell. These two pictures are of closely matching dimensions to our picture. Giuseppe de Vito, though, in the catalogue to accompany the Naples exhibition in 1984-85, did not believe the pictures to be part of the same group or commission (Civilità del Seicento a Napoli, p. 344). In this present work, the lutist leans forward as he plays, or perhaps tunes, the instrument, his raised eyebrow betraying his concentration. With its compelling realism and subtle, silvery light, the picture is highly characteristic of the Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds.

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