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.