Giovanni Lanfranco emerged as a singular talent at the turn of the seventeenth century. He was apprenticed to Agostino Carracci in Parma, when the latter was in the service of Ranuccio I Farnese, Duke of Parma. According to Bellori, he made his way to Rome after Agostino’s death in 1602, to work under Annibale, entering a workshop brimming with talent that would dominate the scene of the Roman Baroque over subsequent decades. Lanfranco, together with his fellow Parmese Sisto Badalocchio, worked under Domenichino and Francesco Albani, and latterly Guido Reni. He assisted on the grand fresco cycles of the time, including Palazzo Farnese and key projects for Scipione Borghese, such as the decoration for San Gregorio Magno and San Sebastiano fuori le Mura.
After Annibale’s death in 1609, Lanfranco returned to Emilia, working independently and receiving numerous commissions, particularly in and around Piacenza. In 1612, he returned to Rome, where he began to truly develop his own style, one that would evolve over time, marked early on by the influence of Orazio Borgianni and Annibale, before moving into a ‘neo-Venetian’ phase in the 1620s. In an era of intense competition in Rome, Lanfranco was in high demand: he became the preferred artist of Pope Paul V, winning a commission ahead of Orazio Gentileschi for the proposed (though never realised) decoration of the benediction loggia of St Peter’s. He remained in Rome until 1634, when he went south to Naples, receiving significant commissions from the Viceroy of Naples, the Count of Monterrey over the course of a twelve-year stay at the end of his illustrious career.
His working practice and artistic profile was not necessarily in line with the often meticulous study of the antique that characterised the Carracci workshop. Rather, he showed a spirited spontaneity and unconstrained freedom, such that he was said to be possessed, in Ilaria Toesca’s words, of ‘a facility that is entirely painterly’ (R. Spear, ‘Lanfranco. Colorno, Naples and Rome’, The Burlington Magazine, CXLIV, February 2002, p. 127).
Such sensitivities can be seen in this picture, with a fluid and free manner that is quite typical of the later phase of his career. It was first recognised by Roberto Longhi in 1952 as a Neapolitan period work by Lanfranco. There are several comparable figures in other pictures and frescoes of the time: the executioner’s pose, for example, is mirrored in that of the figure in the Martyrdom of Saint Paul in the right transept of the church of Santi Apostoli in Naples, made between April 1638 and 1641, and a similarly half-turned figure, with the face seen in profile, appears on the right of The Disembarkation of Saint Paul at Pozzuoli (Naples, Castel Sant’Elmo). Although the candlelit staging of the subject, with its resulting sense of heightened drama, is evidently Caravaggesque, Lanfranco’s Emilian heritage can be strongly felt in the forms and rich colours punctuating the dark space, that echo Schedoni in particular.
We are grateful to Erich Schleier for his assistance in cataloguing this picture.