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This lot will be removed to our storage facility a… Read more The Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection

Christ at the Column

Christ at the Column
dated 'M.DCIII' (lower left)
oil on canvas
79 1⁄8 x 41 3⁄8 in. (201 x 105.1 cm.)
(Possibly) John (Jan) Hope (1737-1784), Amsterdam.
Thomas Hope (1769-1831), Duchess Street, London and Deepdene, Surrey, and by descent to the following,
Henry Thomas Hope (1808-1862), and by inheritance to his wife,
Anne Adèle Hope (d. 1884), and by inheritance to her grandson,
Lord Francis Pelham-Clinton, later Lord Hope and 8th Duke of Newcastle (1866-1941), by whom sold in the following,
The Hope Heirlooms; Christie’s, London, 20 July 1917, lot 85 (7 gns. to Moore).
with Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, by 1966.
The Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection, acquired in 1985.
C.M. Westmacott, British Galleries of Painting and Sculpture Comprising a General Historical and Critical Catalogue, London, 1824, p. 227.
J. Weale, ed., London Exhibited in 1852, London, 1852, p. 411.
B. Nicolson, ‘Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions’, The Burlington Magazine, CVIII, no. 758, May 1966, p. 269.
M. Waddingham, ‘A 1603 Domenichino’, The Burlington Magazine, CVIII, no. 759, June 1966, pp. 308-11.
R.E. Spear, Domenichino, London, 1982, pp. 129-30, pl. 8.
D.S. Pepper, Guido Reni. A complete catalogue of his works with an introductory text, Oxford, 1984, p. 215, under no. 16, fig. 23.
R.E. Spear, ‘Domenichino’s Study for “Christ at the Column”’, Master Drawings, XXXV, no. 2, Summer 1997, pp. 189-91.
London, Hazlitt Gallery, Italian and the Italianate, May 1966.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Naples, Museo di Capodimonte, The Age of Caravaggio, 5 February-30 June 1985, no. 36.
Warsaw, The Royal Castle, Opus Sacrum, 10 April-23 September 1990, no. 33.
Monaco, Musée de la Chapelle de la Visitation, Opus Sacrum. The Collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, 1995.
Rome, Palazzo Venezia, Domenichino 1581-1641, 10 October 1996-14 January 1997, no. 5.
Special notice
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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Director, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Once part of the prestigious collection of the great designer and collector Thomas Hope, this picture was displayed in the early nineteenth century amongst other Italian and Dutch masterpieces in the house designed by Robert Adam at Duchess Street, London. The work is one of four important pictures by the great Bolognese master that is dated 1603, the others being: the Portrait of a Man (Darmstadt, Landesmuseum); the Pietà (New York, Metropolitan Museum); and Susanna and the Elders (Rome, Galleria Doria Pamphilj). It was a critical year in the blossoming of Domenichino’s career, shortly after he had moved to Rome and fallen under the powerful influence of Annibale Carracci. Prior to this move, relatively little is recorded of his life and work, though it is known that after a brief and, according to his biographer Baglione, less than happy spell in Denys Calvaert’s studio in Bologna, Domenichino switched camps to work under Ludovico Carracci in, or shortly after 1595. The thriving Accademia of the Carracci promoted classical academic training, but it also encouraged broader knowledge of the sister arts of music and architecture, which was thoroughly in tune with Domenichino’s own reflective personality. But it was when he followed his close friend Francesco Albani to Rome in 1602 that artistic progress quickened: he began to serve powerful patrons, such as Giovanni Battista Agucchi, he collaborated on the Palazzo Farnese decorations and soon won major solo commissions in the city, notably for the garden loggia at Palazzo Farnese (1603-4), and for Sant’Onofrio (1604-5).
By 1603, Domenichino was living with Albani and Guido Reni in quarters provided by Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrato, the nephew of Pope Gregory XIV, at Santa Prassede, near the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome. Since the thirteenth century, Santa Prassede had housed the column that was venerated as the one to which Christ was tied before being flogged and tortured: this same pillar very likely served as the model for Domenichino in the present work. And, at a time when church relics were encouraged to be more frequently depicted, it may also have been the model for the Flagellation, with Christ tied to the column, thought to be by Giulio Romano, which still hangs in Santa Prassede, and for Guido Reni, who painted the same composition in 1604. Pepper notes that Reni was most likely commissioned by Cardinal Sfondrato, and given that Domenichino was co-habiting with Reni at the time, it is plausible that Sfondrato also ordered the present picture. In addition to the relic of the column, Domenichino also includes the former papal palace, the Patriarchio, in the background, which stood on the site of the present day San Giovanni in Laterano: like Santa Prassede, it was a place of holy pilgrimage, housing the Holy Stairs, or Scala Santa. So whilst Domenichino imagines a divine, otherworldly Christ, he surrounds him with reminders of tangible relics from the story of His life that were deposited in Rome.
When this picture resurfaced at Hazlitt in May 1966, it sparked some excited coverage in the Burlington Magazine. Benedict Nicolson, in his brief overview of the summer offerings at London galleries, put the picture at the top of his wish list: ‘From the Hazlitt Gallery … one would order the Domenichino Christ at the Column of 1603 without further ado though this might swallow up most of one’s inheritance’ (op. cit.). While in the following issue, Malcolm Waddingham wrote up an article supporting the attribution to Domenichino and remarking on two discrepancies from the Hope sale in 1917: first, he noted that the sale catalogue had omitted to mention the picture was dated; and second it recorded the measurements as 81 x 471⁄2 in., which it transpired included nineteenth-century additions. As Waddingham explained, these later additions were removed before the 1966 exhibition at Hazlitt. It is possible that the picture’s size had been altered to fit the aesthetic of the hang at Duchess Street: it is recorded as being positioned next to a ‘companion’ of a Saint Sebastian, also listed as by Domenichino, whose dimensions closely matched that of the enlarged painting (Westmacott, op. cit.).
The presumed study for the picture is kept in the Royal Collection. In his 1952 catalogue of the drawings by the Carracci at Windsor, Wittkower hesitated in his attribution of the sheet, which he believed to be a depiction of Saint Sebastian, noting that the style of execution was reminiscent of Agostino, but the unerring quality put it close to Annibale. Later, Aidan Weston-Lewis made the link with the present painting, and Richard Spear upheld the attribution of the study to Domenichino, explaining how, in his view, the drawing reveals the degree to which Domenichino was schooled in Annibale Carracci’s method - conceiving of an idealized body, with sculptural form and classical intent (R.E. Spear, ‘Domenichino’s Study for “Christ at the Column”’, in Master Drawings, XXXV, no. 2, Summer 1997, pp. 189-91).
The sculptural idealisation of Christ’s body is one of the most striking aspects of the picture and demonstrates the subtle changes that occurred in Domenichino’s style after a short spell in Rome. He seemingly borrows from the vigour of Annibale’s figures in the decorative cycle of Palazzo Farnese, but also acknowledges a clear debt to Raphaelesque modelling. Annibale himself, in fact, had encouraged Domenichino to go back time and again to the Vatican to see Raphael’s frescoes during his spell at Santa Prassede, training his eye and informing his intellect. Annibale recognised a true successor in Domenichino, and by all accounts he was his favoured pupil, one whom he defended against accusations of slow paced work from Antonio Carracci and Sisto Badalocchio. Annibale valued the polished quality of pictures, rather than speed of production. Domenichino was meticulous, and a believer in the primacy of invenzione, of allowing the idea of a composition to form fully in the mind before setting to work. Yet his will for perfection meant he could often end up changing his mind in the late stages of compositions. The present canvas is a case in point: there would seem to be a pentimento to the lower left leg, which was originally placed further out to the right.
The decision to focus on the single figure of Christ, bound to the column and gazing heavenward, is quite unusual. Domenichino chose here not to portray the moment of flagellation itself, or depict any other figures, preferring this distilled devotional image. He triggers emotional engagement not via a re-imagining of Christ’s torture, but through Christ’s tears. This emotional engagement, similarly evident in the Pietà of the same year, may also have been acquired from his exposure to Annibale’s Roman style. In idealising Christ in this manner, Domenichino could not show a greater contrast with Caravaggio’s naturalistic rendering of the same subject. The result here is that Christ appears as an icon, and his unblemished features create, as Spear notes: ‘a cool, timeless, spiritual presence’ (Age of Caravaggio, op. cit., p. 140).
A note on the provenance
Hanging in the main ‘Picture Gallery’ at Duchess Street, the present lot formed part of what must have been a spectacular suite of galleries, created under the refined guidance of Thomas Hope, one of the leading designers, collectors and tastemakers of the Regency period. Westmacott describes the room in which this picture was displayed: ‘decorated in a fashion inspired from antiquity, it was adorned with classical pediments and Ionic columns, conforming to a sense classical unity, with a re-creation of the Temple of Erechtheum – an ideal setting for this highly classical and sculptural depiction of Christ’ (op. cit.). The picture, listed as ‘Our Saviour’ by Domenichino is described as a ‘companion’ to a Saint Sebastian, also by him. By 1852, the picture was moved to a new house in Piccadilly, after the Duchess Street residence was sold by Thomas Hope’s son, Henry, who had inherited the picture collection, as well as other outstanding sculptures, objects and jewellery, including the renowned ‘Hope Diamond’. The picture may have then moved to Deepdene, the Surrey seat of the family, before it was sold by Lord Francis Hope as part of the ‘Hope Heirlooms’ in 1917. The history of the picture before entering Thomas Hope’s hands is not clear, it may have been inherited from his father, John (or Jan) Hope, as part of the large collection amassed by the banking empire Hope & Co. The wider Hope & Co. collection was divided amongst other members of the Hope family when the banking business ceased to operate, with a significant part going to a Dutch partner in the firm, Adriaan van der Hoop. Upon his death he bequeathed his collection to the city of Amsterdam, including several masterworks, amongst them Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride and Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, both of which are now at the Rijksmuseum.
Please note that this painting has been promised for the exhibition Guido Reni: The Divine, which will open at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt on 23 November 2022 and move to the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid in 2023.

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