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Pietro Testa (Lucca 1611-1650 Rome)
Pietro Testa (Lucca 1611-1650 Rome)

The Prophecy of Basilides

Pietro Testa (Lucca 1611-1650 Rome)
The Prophecy of Basilides
inscribed by the artist in black chalk 'palmo' (to the right of Christ's foot), and in pen and brown ink a line indicating the scale of 1:10 'palmi a basso nel' opera crescero mezo, sopra tre. slargherò per lunghezza/ tre due [crossed out] palmi le figure come + e così dalla testa/ slargherò quattro palmi si che le figure verranno 9 palmi' and in faint red chalk 'slarga' (on the figure of Justice), the squares at the top numbered '3' to '27', and with number '199', with a very faint cross in black chalk on the sole of Christ's foot and another on the drapery above
black chalk and traces of red chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash on grey-green prepared paper, on two sheets vertically joined at the centre, squared in red chalk
14 3/8 x 23 3/8 in. (36.7 x 59.5 cm)
Sir Joshua Reynolds, London (1723-1792) (L. 2364).
Sir Thomas Lawrence, London (1769-1830) (L. 2445).
Samuel Woodburn, London (1786-1853), from the Collection of Sir Thomas Lawrence; Christie's, 4 June 1860, lot 15 'death of a saint, P. TESTA'; and four others (16s. to Bloxam).
M.H. Bloxam, by whom given to Rugby School Art Museum; with his initials 'M:H:B', inscription and attribution 'Rugby School Art Museum e dono Matt: H: Bloxam/ Testa Pietro a.d. 1611-1650 Roman School/ Collections Sir J Reynolds - Sir T Lawrence' (on the mount).
Anne Popham, typescript catalogue, no. 52.

T.S.R. Boase, 'A Seventeenth Century Carmelite Legend Based on Tacitus', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, III, (1939-1940), p. 111, note 3.
A. Sutherland Harris, ‘The Decoration of San Martino ai Monti – I’, Burlington Magazine, CVI, no. 731 (February 1964), p. 66.
E. Cropper, Pietro Testa 1612-1650. Prints and Drawings, exhib. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art and Harvard, Arthur Sackler Museum, 1988-1989, no. 110, ill.
N. Turner and R. Eitel-Porter, Italian Drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Roman Baroque Drawings, c. 1620 to c. 1700, I, London, 1999, p. 209, under no. 316.
E. Pagliano, De Venise à Palerme: dessins italiens du Musée des beaux-arts d'Orléans, XVe-XVIIIe siècle, exhib. cat., Musée des beaux-arts d'Orléans, 2003, p. 158, n. 220.
G. Fusconi & A. Canevari, Pietro Testa e la nemica fortuna: Un artista filosofo (1612-1650) tra Lucca e Roma, exhib. cat., Instituto Nazionale per la Grafica, Rome, 2014, p. 257, under no. IV.20.
Sale Room Notice
Please note that while not accepted by Ann Sutherland Harris in 1967 on the basis of a black-and-white photograph (see A. Sutherland Harris, ‘Notes on the Chronology and Death of Pietro Testa’, Paragone, XVIII, no. 213 (November 1967), p. 51, n. 19) Sutherland Harris now joins Elizabeth Cropper in accepting the drawing as by Pietro Testa.

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Phoebe Tronzo
Phoebe Tronzo Sale Coordinator

Lot Essay

This iconographically complex drawing relates to a painting by Testa, now in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples; an etching in the same direction by Testa’s nephew, Giovanni Cesare Testa (Fig. 1); and a fresco in the Carmelite Monastery of San Martino ai Monti, Rome, by Gaspard Dughet, completed in 1651 (E. Cropper, op. cit., no. 110).

According to Giovanni Passeri, Testa’s biographer, Antonio Filippini, Prior of San Martino ai Monti, commissioned some 'little canvases' from the artist (Passeri, Vite de pittori, scultori ed architetti, 1679, p. 187; E. Cropper, op. cit., p. 238). The picture now at Capodimonte, for which the present sheet is a compositional study, could be one of these 'little canvases'. Passeri’s comment seems to imply that Filippini commissioned Testa to make small ricordi, or in fact modelli, for frescoes that the artist was supposed to execute. Owing to the artist's untimely death, however, the frescoes were finished by Dughet in 1651, and he may have based his Prophecy of Basilides on the painting made for Filippini.

The present drawing shows the figure of Justice appearing at the altar of Basilides on Mount Carmel. To her left is the priest, who is divining the fate of the Roman warrior, identified by the inscription on the print as Emperor Titus. Justice is shown pointing to a vision of the dead Christ, with God the Father above who reaches out to the torches that he will light against Jerusalem to bring divine Justice against the Jews in retribution for the death of Christ. The presence of Titus was of particular importance to Filippini, as the Monastery of San Martino ai Monti was built on the site of the Baths of Titus, who was thought to have been a Carmelite priest. As such, the story was a fitting addition to the frescoes that Filippini commissioned for San Martino ai Monti (ibid., p. 241).

While Harris considered this sheet an early falsification of a Testa drawing (op. cit.), Cropper notes that it is 'unquestionably by Testa […] and [that] the notes concerning the enlargement of the images are in his hand' (op. cit., p. 238). The notes on the drawing provide instructions about how Testa wished to adjust the scale of the composition, probably with the fresco in mind. The soft use of the chalk which is reinforced with wash and the finely contoured figures are trademarks of the artist’s later work. They can, for example, also be found in the study for The Miracle of Saint Theodore, at Chatsworth (inv. 604; ibid. no. 89). and in The Education of Achilles, also etched by Giovanni Cesare Testa, in the Louvre (inv. 1897; ibid. nos. 119, 120). Cropper dates that drawing to circa 1648-1650, close to the date of circa 1647-1648 that she suggests for the present drawing.

Cropper argues that the refinement seen both in the drawing and the print indicates that the latter was based on the former. The main difference between the drawing is that the print extends to the right, suggesting that the drawing has been trimmed. There are two other drawings in red chalk relating to this composition; one in the British Museum (inv. T,11.13; ibid., fig. 112a) that shows a study for the body of Christ, and the other is a study for the figure of Titus in Musée des beaux-arts, Orléans (inv. 1578; see Pagliano, op. cit., no. 72, ill.).

Fig. 1. Giovanni Cesare Testa, The Prophecy of Basilides, etching.

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