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Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple
oil on canvas
68 5/8 x 86 3/8 in.
(Possibly) Manzitti collection, Genoa.
Anonymous sale; Christie’s, Rome, 7 April 1987, lot 130, as Nicolas Tournier.
Art market, Spoleto, 1987.
Private collection, Turin, where acquired by the present owner.
M. Bonzi, 'Un quadro del Palazzo Mari', [?], 30 April 1934, p. 1, illustrated, as possibly by Valentin de Boulogne (according to Franits 2013).
B. Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, Turin, 1989, 2nd ed., revised and enlarged by L. Vertova, I, p. 93; III, fig. 1029, as ‘Caravaggesque Unknown, South Netherlandish (between Rombouts and Baburen)’.
L.J. Slatkes, 'Bringing Ter Brugghen and Baburen Up-To-Date', Bulletin du Musée National de Varsovie, XXXVII, 1996, pp. 204-205, note 29.
N. Hartje, Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582-1622): Ein Nachfolger Caravaggios und seine europäische Wirkung: Monographie und Werkverzeichnis, Weimar, 2004, p. 153, note 582.
L.J. Slatkes and W. Franits, The Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629), Philadelphia, 2007, p. 165, under no. A53.
W. Franits, The Paintings of Dirck van Baburen, ca. 1592/93-1624: Catalogue Raisonné, Philadelphia, 2013, pp. 95-96, 276, no. A5, plate 5.
G. Capitelli, ‘Dutch Caravaggists in Rome’, in Caravaggio and the Painters of the North, exhibition catalogue, Madrid, 2016, p. 37, as possibly a 'mélange' drawn from the oeuvre of Baburen and Ribera.
Utrecht, Caravaggism and Europe, B. Ebert and L.M. Helmus, eds., exhibition catalogue, Utrecht and Munich, 2018-2019, p. 184.
Sale room notice
This Lot is Withdrawn.

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Lot Essay

Though Dutch by birth, Dirck van Baburen spent the majority of his short but productive career south of the Alps. He is recorded as a pupil of the Utrecht portrait and history painter Paulus Moreelse in 1611 and likely departed for Italy shortly thereafter. While it is not known if he arrived in Italy around 1612/13 or a year later, he was certainly resident in Parma by 1615, as attested by documentary evidence relating to a signed and dated altarpiece depicting the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (lost) from that year. Later that year he settled in Rome, where he would curry the favor of patrons like Vincenzo Giustiniani and Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and began a collaboration with the Amsterdam-born artist David de Haen for the decoration of the Pietà Chapel of San Pietro in Montorio, Rome. The two artists were evidently close, for in 1619 and the spring of 1620 they were recorded as living together in the Roman parish of Sant' Andrea delle Fratte.

It is not altogether clear when van Baburen returned to his native Utrecht, though all evidence suggests he probably left Italy at some point in the summer of 1620. The style and cool colors of the artist’s Youth playing a small whistle of 1621 (Centraal Museum, Utrecht) strongly suggest it was painted in Utrecht; moreover, the inquiry following de Haen’s death in the Palazzo Giustiniani in Rome in August 1622 made no mention of his compatriot and former roommate. Upon his return to his native Utrecht, van Baburen rapidly became one of the most influential members of the so-called Utrecht Caravaggisti, though his brilliant career was prematurely cut short by his untimely death in late February 1624.

Seldom encountered in works of art before the Counter-Reformation, the biblical drama in which Christ drove the money changers from the temple gained increased currency in post-Tridentine Europe. The story, recounted at the end of each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; and Luke 19:45-48) and the beginning of the Gospel of John (John 2:13-16), relays how Christ, who had recently arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, went to the temple and cast out those who were engaging in commercial activity. Having made a ‘scourge of small cords’, he ‘overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves’. His point to the merchants was clear: ‘My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves’ (Matthew 21:11-13 and John 2:14-16).

This dramatic confrontation between Christ and the sinning masses proved enduringly popular with Caravaggio’s followers in the early decades of the seventeenth century, having been treated by, among others, the Italians Bartolomeo Manfredi and the anonymous Cecco del Caravaggio; the Frenchman Valentin de Boulogne, who painted it on at least three occasions; and the northerners Matthias Stom and Dirck van Baburen. As Annick Lemoine pointed out in her recent entry on Valentin’s earliest depiction of this subject, the starting point for many of these compositions was Caravaggio’s Martyrdom of Saint Matthew in San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome (fig. 1; see A. Lemoine in A. Lemoine and K. Christiansen, Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio, exhibition catalogue, New York and Paris, 2016-2017, p. 126, no. 17).

This powerful composition is a relatively recent addition to van Baburen’s corpus and one of only half a dozen paintings from the artist’s Italian period in private hands. When the painting came to public attention in 1987, it bore an attribution to the French Caravaggesque painter Nicolas Tournier. Less than a decade later Leonard J. Slatkes, the eminent scholar of Dutch Caravaggism, recognized in it the hand of van Baburen, dating it to circa 1617-18 (loc. cit.). Slatkes further associated this painting with Manfredi’s painting of the same subject (fig. 2; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Libourne). The date of Manfredi’s painting has been the source of some debate. Nicole Hartje proposed a comparatively early date of circa 1610-12 (op. cit., p. 135-137, 304-308, no. 8), while Rossella Vodret more recently proposed a somewhat later dating of circa 1616-17 (R. Vodret, ‘Bartolomeo Manfredi (Ostiano 1582-Roma 1622)’, in I Caravaggeschi; percorsi e protagonisti, A. Zuccari, ed., II, Milan, 2010, p. 525). In any event, Manfredi’s painting was presumably well on its way, if not completed, by the time van Baburen set brush to canvas.

On account of the Italian biographer Giovanni Pietro Bellori, we know something about the early provenance of Manfredi’s painting. In 1672, Bellori recorded having seen the work in the Palazzo Verospi (G.P. Bellori, Le vite de pittori scultori e architetti moderni, I, ed. E. Borea, Torino, 2009, p. 234). The painting had probably been acquired several decades earlier by Cardinal Fabrizio Verospi (1571-1639), who had it installed in his palace, which was located on the Via del Corso, only about three blocks from that of van Baburen’s patron, the Spanish diplomat Pietro Cussida (d. 1622).

In light of the geographic proximity of Manfredi’s painting, it would seem all but assured that the young Dutch artist closely studied the Italian painter’s work. He may even have personally known Manfredi, who was resident in the same Roman parish as van Baburen from at least 1619. Manfredi’s continued influence on van Baburen can likewise be seen in the Dutch painter’s two depictions of Christ Crowned with Thorns, datable to circa 1621-22 (Catharijneconvent, Utrecht and Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City), which also show a clear debt to Manfredi’s interpretation of Caravaggio’s style and subject matter. In the present painting, van Baburen has adapted Manfredi’s basic compositional schema and light effects. As in Manfredi’s painting, Christ stands at left dressed in a crimson red shirt and blue mantle while the money changers recoil around a table at right, vainly attempting to avoid his wrath. While the disposition of the figures around the table differs slightly in the two works, both include the biblical detail of the woman with a basket of birds atop her head, visible at far right. However, van Baburen created a heightened sense of animation by torqueing the figure of Christ, who wields his lash with increased fury, and adding the disheveled male figure, who almost jumps out of his clothes as he flees the scene.

Valentin’s earliest depiction of this subject further attests to the rich artistic dialogue then taking place among Caravaggio’s diverse group of followers in Rome (fig. 3; Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini, Rome). Traditionally dated to circa 1618 or a few years later, the painting suggests an awareness not only of Manfredi’s composition but, in all likelihood, van Baburen’s as well (for the dating of the painting, see M. Mojana, Valentin de Boulogne, Milan, 1989, pp. 68-69, no. 8, where dated to circa 1618; see also A. Lemoine, ibid., who proposed a slightly later date of circa 1618-22). Valentin’s Christ, like that of the Dutch master, conveys a stronger sense of dynamic movement than is evident in the Italian painter’s work. Moreover, the Frenchman, like van Baburen, depicts the woman with a basket of birds frontally, as if she's looking out at the painting's viewer, while she appears in profile in Manfredi’s work. So close is Valentin's painting to van Baburen's that in the first half of the twentieth century Mario Bonzi attributed the present painting to Velentin (loc. cit.).

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