CIRCLE OF MICHELANGELO MERISI DA CARAVAGGIO (MILAN 1571-1610 PORTO ERCOLE)
CIRCLE OF MICHELANGELO MERISI DA CARAVAGGIO (MILAN 1571-1610 PORTO ERCOLE)
CIRCLE OF MICHELANGELO MERISI DA CARAVAGGIO (MILAN 1571-1610 PORTO ERCOLE)
CIRCLE OF MICHELANGELO MERISI DA CARAVAGGIO (MILAN 1571-1610 PORTO ERCOLE)
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Property from a Private Collection
CIRCLE OF MICHELANGELO MERISI DA CARAVAGGIO (MILAN 1571-1610 PORTO ERCOLE)

The Cardsharps: I Bari

Details
CIRCLE OF MICHELANGELO MERISI DA CARAVAGGIO (MILAN 1571-1610 PORTO ERCOLE)
The Cardsharps: I Bari
oil on canvas, formerly laid on panel
41 1⁄4 x 52 in. (104.7 x 132.2 cm.)
in a mid-eighteenth-century English carved, gilded and pierced frame
Provenance
(Possibly) Exported from Rome by Christopher Norton in 1769, see infra.
Surgeon Captain William Glossop Thwaytes (d.1965), Maulds Meaburn, near Penrith, and by inheritance to the following,
Lancelot Thwaytes (b.1961); Sotheby's Olympia, London, 5 December 2006, lot 424, as 'Follower of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio'.
Literature
D. Benati, 'Caravaggio a Forli'; M. Gregori, 'Un altro autografo dei Bari di Caravaggio'; M. Marini,' "Tre giocatori del Caravaggio, quadro annerito e patito", da Roma a Londra nel 1769'; T.M. Schneider, 'll materiale pittorico, il suo modo di applicazione e il perché delle "incisioni" nei dipinti di Caravaggio'; and D. Bussolari, 'Relazione tecnica', in I "Bari" della collezione Mahon, exhibition catalogue, Forli, 2008, passim, figs. 3, 5-22, 24-33 and 35-8.
T. Foakes, Treasures of the Gate, Highlights from the Collection of the Museum of the Order of St John, London, 2019, pp. 88-89.
R.E. Spear, Caravaggio’s Cardsharps on Trial: Thwaytes v. Sotheby’s, London, 2020.
Exhibited
Trapani, Museo Regionale Conti Agostino Pepoli, Caravaggio, L'immagine del divino’, 14 December 2007-14 March 2009.
Forli, Museo San Domenico, I "Bari" della collezione Mahon, 5 April-22 June 2008.
Cento, Pinacoteca Civica, July 2008-May 2012, on long-term loan.
London, Museum of the Order of St. John, January 2013-June 2021, on long-term loan.
Sale room notice
Please note that Antonio Paolucci has subsequently revised his opinion and no longer believes the painting to be by Caravaggio, and Daniele Benati has never expressed a definitive opinion on the attribution.
Schneiders observations about the incisions in the preparatory layer and the colour of the ground layer have been questioned subsequently by restorers.
Please also see Richard Spear's book, as cited in the literature.

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Lot Essay

The first connoisseur in recent times to study this picture was the brilliant dealer David Carritt, who in 1952 drew it to the attention of Denis, later Sir Denis, Mahon, at the time of his discovery of Caravaggio's early masterpiece, the Concert (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), which was also in the collection of Surgeon Captain Thwaites. After its sale in 2006, the picture was published as an autograph work of Caravaggio himself by Daniele Benati, Mina Gregori, Maurizio Marini, Antonio Paolucci and Thomas M. Schneider, a view subsequently accepted by David Bull.
The composition corresponds closely with that of the masterpiece of 1595-6 - and thus also an early work - acquired by the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth in 1987, published by Mahon, which can be securely identified as the picture of the subject supplied to Cardinal del Monte and subsequently in the Barberini and Sciarra collections. This, to judge from the number of extant early copies, was hugely admired from an early date: early documentary references to some of the copies are published by Gregori (op. cit., pp. 21 and 25-7).
Gregori, who analysed the several relatively minor differences between the two compositions, argued that there are slightly different perspective points in these two works; and considered that this picture was the earlier of the two, a view shared by Roberta Lapucci. Schneider noted the presence in the picture of the 'marks made with a pointed object (the tip of a brush) in the preparation layer when it was still fresh' (op. cit., p. 66), the incisions that were central to Caravaggio's technique, very probably because of his use of mirrors, but were not in general use. This evidence and the fact that, like the Fort Worth picture, the Mahon version is on a grey ground both support the view that, if not by Caravaggio himself, the latter was painted by an artist with a close understanding of his technique and thus more or less at the same time. Partly because of del Monte's advocacy, the originality of the young artist must have been quickly recognised in Roman artistic circles; and there is evidence that other works of the 1590s were copied soon after they were painted.
It has been suggested that this picture may be that described as 'tre giocatori di Caravaggio, quadro annerito e patito' ('three cardplayers by Caravaggio, a darkened and neglected picture'), in a document of 18 April 1769 relating to its export from Rome by Christopher Norton (Marini, op. cit., p. 50; see also L. Stainton, ‘Notes on Christopher Norton (c. 1738-1799)' in the same catalogue, pp. 60-3), the agent who worked with and shared the house of James Byres and was presumably acting for a client.

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