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Attributed to Sir Anthony van Dyck (Antwerp 1599-1641 London)
Property from a Private European Collection
Attributed to Sir Anthony van Dyck (Antwerp 1599-1641 London)

The Crucifixion with Saint Rosalia

Details
Attributed to Sir Anthony van Dyck (Antwerp 1599-1641 London)
The Crucifixion with Saint Rosalia
oil on canvas, unframed
34 7/8 x 23 ¾ in. (88.7 x 60.4 cm.)
inscribed with inventory number '195' on the reverse (upper centre)
Provenance
In the family of the present owner since the 19th century.
Literature
(Possibly) S.J. Barnes, et. al., Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 157 and 235, under nos. II.11 and II.A3, as a lost painting.

Brought to you by

Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair

Lot Essay

This hitherto unpublished painting of Christ on the Cross with Saint Rosalia, the Patron Saint of Palermo, dates from van Dyck’s sojourn in Sicily (1624-1625). Van Dyck is known to have painted the subject of the Crucifixion for several patrons during his time in Sicily, including two for Hendrich Dyck, the Flemish Consul (see S. Barnes, in Barnes et. al, Van Dyck, A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven & London, 2004, p. 235, under no. II.A3). However, despite the considerable number of existing copies that attest to the apparent success of the composition, no autograph work has survived. Barnes (ibid.) records a number of ‘fine copies’, including those in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, and the church of San Zaccaria, Venice, but neither work includes the kneeling figure of Saint Rosalia with the attending child.

The dark layers of old varnish in the present work, which is executed on a coarse canvas, obstruct a full appreciation of the artist’s technique, but the energetic application of paint in passages such as Rosalia’s fair hair and Christ’s beautifully fluid loincloth are characteristic of van Dyck’s style from this period. Moreover, the presence of an extravagant pentimento in the loincloth seemingly excludes it from being another straightforward copy after the lost composition. The current attribution has been tentatively supported by Dr. Christopher Brown, but rejected by Dr. Susan Barnes, after both independently inspected the picture first-hand.

Van Dyck travelled from Genoa to Sicily in the spring of 1624, probably at the request of the Viceroy, Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy (1588-1624), whose portrait the artist painted later that summer in Palermo (London, Dulwich Picture Gallery). In mid-May 1624, a plague broke out, forcing the city into quarantine. The despairing residents prayed to Palermo’s patroness Rosalia, a medieval hermit, who was venerated as the city’s patron saint after her long-lost remains were discovered in a cave on Mount Pellegrino during the epidemic.

Van Dyck, who was trapped in the city during the quarantine, executed five recorded pictures of the saint, which played a key role in forming her modern iconography: Saint Rosalia in Glory Interceding for the Plague Victims of Palermo (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art), which was acquired by the great seventeenth century Sicilian collector Don Antonio Ruffo; two versions of Saint Rosalia Interceding for Palermo (1624-5; Ponce, Puerto Rico, Museo de Arte de Ponce; and c. 1625; Houston, The Menil Collection); Saint Rosalia crowned with roses by two angels at Apsley House (London, Wellington Museum); and Saint Rosalia in the Prado (c. 1625; Madrid). The artist’s pictures of the saint painted after his return to Antwerp, notably The Mystic Marriage of Saint Rosalie (1629; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), illustrate the promotion of her cult in northern Europe.

In this picture, the plague is represented by the naked child holding the crown of roses, Rosalia’s traditional attribute, and a skull, a memento mori and symbol of those who perished. This symbolic figure reappears in van Dyck’s magnificent altarpiece, painted for the Oratorio del Rosario in Palermo, of the Madonna of the Rosary, arguably the masterpiece of his Italian period, which he completed in Genoa on the eve of his return to Antwerp in 1627. In these pictures, van Dyck displays not only the fruits of his study of Renaissance and contemporary painting in Italy – the compositional fluidity learnt from Titian and the dramatic staging of Caravaggio – but also, a religious fervour that was clearly fired by his year in Palermo.

We are grateful to Dr. Christopher Brown and Dr. Susan Barnes for their thoughts on the picture.

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