The subject of this alluring canvas has often been described as depicting a procuress and her quarry, but closer inspection suggests the scene may be more allegorical in nature. At left, a young girl with a dreamy gaze holds a letter, while her forearm rests on a pile of gold coins on the table. Her other elbow rests on a plush velvet cushion, and she reaches up nonchalantly to brush her silken hair behind her shoulder. Her face, bathed in light, is porcelain-smooth, her rosy lips full, and a light blush spreads over her cheeks. By contrast, the profile of the older woman at right sinks into the shadows, her skin heavily wrinkled and hardened in the sun, and her hair gone grey. While some have suggested that the coins allude to a transaction the older woman is working to arrange, the presence of the letter and the meditative demeanor of the young lady suggest a different interpretation: the letter more likely alludes to the presence of a man in her life and the prospect of a good marriage and a comfortable life, as also suggested by the coins strewn about the table. While the girl daydreams about her happy future, her aged companion serves as a reminder of the passage of time and the transience of earthly goods. Her gesture – which shows she has clearly come to the third point in her monologue – suggests she may be talking about the three stages of life: youth, maturity, and old age, urging her tender young friend not to forsake the bounty of her current blessings.
Caroselli’s use of dramatic chiaroscuro enhances this reading by emphasizing the stark contrast between the soft, youthful figure at left and the more wizened character at right. Clearly influenced by the new naturalism of Caravaggio, who was active in Rome until 1606, Caroselli also responds here to the works of Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, who were also working in the Italian capital at the turn of the 17th century in a similar style. The present work dates to c. 1600-1615, and compares well with the artist’s canvas The Deception of Love, formerly at Downton Castle, Herefordshire (sold Christie’s, London, 4 May 1979, lot 87).
This Allegory of Youth and Old Age is mentioned for the first time in Florence in the posthumous 1673 inventory of the Marquis Carlo Gerini (1613-1673), a dignitary of the Cardinal Carlo di Ferdinando de' Medici, whose grand home in Via del Cocomero (now via Ricasoli) housed his magnificent collection of art. Gerini’s son Andrea, an intellectual and art patron, expanded on his father’s acquisitions, building an outstanding collection which is now represented in some of the most prestigious institutions across the world and included works by Guido Reni, Carlo Dolci, Jusepe de Ribera, and Raphael, to name only a few. The present work is also recorded inventories in 1713 and 1733, and remained in the Gerini family until the collection was sold by Carlo’s grandson Giovanni in 1825. In the mid-18th century the picture was engraved (fig. 1), and it was only by virtue of this black-and-white record that it was known until it reemerged at auction in 1958 in Vienna, sold from the Stroganoff collection. An 1829 Gerini record which notes that the present work was acquired in 1825 by a ‘foreigner’ suggests that perhaps it made its way into the renowned Russian collection at this time.
We are grateful to Dott.ssa Francesca Baldassari and Dott.ssa Maria Teresa Di Dedda for their help cataloguing this lot and for the new archival information included here. Dott.ssa Dedda will include the present work in her forthcoming book on the Gerini collections.