Before it came to Christie’s, experts had thought this piece to be the work of Carlo Maratti, the Italian painter who worked in Rome in the 17th and 18th centuries. Our research, however, revealed something unexpected: the drawing wasn’t the work of Maratti, but a study for a larger work by one of his most celebrated pupils, the Sicilian artist Giacinto Calandrucci.
‘When I saw this I had doubts about its traditional attribution to Carlo Maratti,’ comments Old Master Drawings specialist Furio Rinaldi. ‘The style of the outline, which is neat and sharp, is typical of Calandrucci’s draughtsmanship, as is the use of red chalk.’ When Rinaldi contacted Professor Simonetta Prosperi Valenti Rodinò, a world expert on Maratti who is based in Rome, she confirmed his suspicions, confidently attributing the work to Calandrucci.
Other elements helped the specialist to unravel the true history of the drawing, An Allegorical Design with Fame Crowning Homer, which is offered in our Old Master Drawings sale in New York on 24 January.
‘What’s interesting about this drawing is that it has a pen and ink border, which suggests that it had been used as the basis for a printed engraving,’ says Rinaldi. ‘I started to look at Calandrucci’s printed works and came across this same drawing, used as a frontispiece for a book by Giovanni Pietro Bellori, published in Rome in 1685.’
Jacques Blondeau (Flemish, 1655-1698), after Giacinto Calandrucci, frontispiece for Giovanni Pietro Bellori’s Veterum Illustrium Philosophorum, Poetarum, Rhetorum, et Oraturum Imagines (Rome, 1685)
Bellori’s book, the Veterum Illustrium Philosophorum, Poetarum, Rhetorum, et Oraturum Imagines, was a celebrated collection of images of Classical poets and philosophers published in homage to Queen Christina of Sweden. ‘When I saw the engraving at the very beginning of the book I was 100 per cent sure it was by Calandrucci, as it had been signed at the bottom,’ says Rinaldi, who describes the find as ‘the smoking gun’.
‘Calandrucci’s drawing is very dynamic — your eye never rests,’ the specialist continues. ‘Homer is presented in the background, with Socrates at the centre accompanied by figures representing Rhetoric, Geometry and Grammar.’
The composition itself offers a fascinating insight into how some of Rome’s greatest artists perceived one another’s works. References to Raphael’s famous Vatican fresco The School of Athens point to Calandrucci’s admiration for the Renaissance master, who worked almost a century before him. That admiration was shared by Maratti, as well as the book’s publisher, Bellori.
‘For Bellori, Raphael really represented art at its peak — more so than any other classical sculptor or Renaissance artist. It would have been very important for him to have a visual reference to Raphael, and that’s probably why he selected Calandrucci’s work,’ Rinaldi explains. ‘Bellori was working at a time when Rome was the centre of the art world, and history was being made. This is a drawing that threads together all of these fantastic personalities active in Rome in the 16th and 17th centuries.’