GIULIO CESARE PROCACCINI (Bologna 1574-1625 Milan)
GIULIO CESARE PROCACCINI (Bologna 1574-1625 Milan)
GIULIO CESARE PROCACCINI (Bologna 1574-1625 Milan)
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GIULIO CESARE PROCACCINI (Bologna 1574-1625 Milan)

Judith with the Head of Holofernes

GIULIO CESARE PROCACCINI (Bologna 1574-1625 Milan)
Judith with the Head of Holofernes
inscribed on the reverse (transcribed from the original canvas): G.C. Procaccino / + / M.A.D.
oil on canvas
52 5⁄8 x 38 7⁄8 in. (133.7 x 98.7 cm)
Commissioned by Giovan Carlo Doria (1576–1625), Genoa, by 1617-21, and by descent to his son,
Agostino Doria (1615–1640), Genoa, 1625-40, and by inheritance to his paternal uncle,
Marcantonio Doria (1572–1651), Genoa (his initials inscribed on the reverse of the original canvas), 1641, and by descent to his son,
Niccolò Doria (1599–1688), Genoa, 1651, and by inheritance to,
Marcantonio IV Doria (1765–1837), Prince of Angri, Genoa, by 1780, and by descent to his son,
Francesco Doria (1797–1874), and by descent to his son,
Marcantonio V Doria (1824–1870), and by descent to his son,
Ernesto Doria (1863–1933), and by descent to his son (with his first wife Anna Rosa Bues [1872–1906]),
Marcantonio VI Doria (1904–1985).
Private collection, Geneva, until,
[‘The Property of a Gentleman of Title’]; Sotheby's, London, 8 July 1992, lot 89.
with Whitfield Fine Art, London, 1994, from whom acquired in 1995 by the following,
Mark Fisch and Rachel Davidson; [Fisch Davidson Collection], Sotheby’s, New York, 26 January 2023, lot 2, where acquired.
C.G. Ratti, Instruzione di quanto puo’ vedersi di piu’ bello in Genova in pittura, scultura, ed architettura ecc., Genoa 1780, p. 332.
H. Brigstocke, ‘Book Reviews: L'Attività Scultorea di Giulio Cesare Procaccini. Documenti e testimonianze, by Giacomo Berra: Procaccino. Cerano. Morazzone. Dipinti lombardi del primo Seicento dalle civiche collezioni genovesi ed. by C. Di Fabio’, in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 136, no. 1090 (January 1994), pp. 34-35, illustrated fig. 36.
H. Brigstocke, Procaccini in America, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2002, pp. 41, 98-101, 130-131, 137, 139, 191, cat. no. 10, illustrated p. 41 plate 76, p. 191, and in colour p. 99.
V. Farina, Giovan Carlo Doria, Promotore delle arti a Genova nel primo Seicento, 2002, pp. 201 and 207.
F.M. Ferro, 'Postille a Giulio Cesare Procaccini', in Arte lombarda del secondo millennio: Saggi in onore di Gian Alberto Dell'Acqua, F. Flores d'Arcais, M. Olivari, L. Tognoli Bardin (eds.), Milan, 2003, p 43.
V. Farina, ‘Gio. Carlo Doria (1576-1625)’, in L'età di Rubens: Dimore, committenti e collezionisti genovesi, exhibition catalogue, P. Boccardo (ed.), Milan, 2004, p. 191, illustrated fig. 2.
F. Frangi, Daniele Crespi: La giovinezza ritrovata, Segrate, 2012, p. 80, footnote 19.
A. Morandotti, in Museo Lechi, primi studi e riscoperte, P. Boifava, F. Frangi, and A Morandotti (eds.), Brescia, 2012, p. 60, under cat. no. 14.
O. D’Albo, ‘Sulla fama del ‘Correggio Insubre’. Un primo squardo alla fortuna di Giulio Cesare Procaccini nelle collezioni europee tra Seicento e Ottocento’, in Lombardia ed Europa: Incroci di storia e cultura, D. Zardin (ed.), Milan, 2014, p. 205;
O. D’Albo, Giulio Cesare Procaccini, per un catalogo dei dipinti, Ph.D. diss., Università Cattolica di Milano, 2016, p. 280, cat. no. 96, illustrated.
H. Brigstocke and O. D’Albo, Giulio Cesare Procaccini, Life and Work, Turin, 2020, pp. 41, 354, 372, 437-438, cat. no. 104, illustrated in colour on p. 137.
O. D'Albo, 'Giulio Cesare Procaccini e Genova, in Napoli, Genova e Milano. Scambi artistici e culturali tra città legate alle Spagna (1610-1640)', in Atti del convegno di studi di Torino e Genova, Milan, 2020, pp. 259-260, 265, illustrated fig. 7.
A. Orlando, Giulio Cesare Procaccini. La 'Giuditta Doria' e Genova, (privately printed) 2023.
New York, Hall & Knight, Procaccini in America, 15 October-23 November 2002, no. 10.
Sale room notice
Please note the provenance of this lot has been updated. To view the updated provenance, please see online.

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Lot Essay

This magnificent picture is a masterpiece by the Italian baroque painter Giulio Cesare Procaccini (fig. 1). It is a formidable example of Procaccini’s characteristically ‘sculptural’ handling of paint and clearly demonstrates the artist’s talents at a time when he was at the height of his powers. Executed in the latter half of the 1610s, it was in the collection of the Genoese nobleman Giovan Carlo Doria, who ‘devoted much of his energy to the promotion of the arts, becoming one of the leading collectors in early seventeenth-century Italy’ (D’Albo, in Brigstocke and D’Albo, op. cit., 2020, p. 791). The larger-than-life figure of Judith is shown in suspended animation as she turns to confront the viewer, her beguiling face in contrast to the decapitated head of Holofernes beside her. Procaccini’s tightly-cropped composition and the theatrical lighting both enhance the scene’s emotional charge, resulting in a supremely powerful and timeless image.

The story of Judith and Holofernes is taken from the Old Testament Apocrypha. It tells how Judith, a Jewish widow, saved the city of Bethulia from the Assyrians by killing their general, Holofernes. With her city under siege, Judith dared to enter the enemy camp. She did so dressed up in all her finery and Holofernes, captivated by her beauty, invited her to dine with him in his tent. When he had drunk too much and fallen asleep, Judith seized the moment: she picked up the general’s sword, decapitated him and then made off with his severed head. She and her maidservant successfully escaped the camp, returning victorious to Bethulia with their bloody booty. Through her act of bravery Judith became a popular heroine and was frequently represented in painting and sculpture, particularly in the baroque era when artists such as Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi were able to exploit the subject’s dramatic possibilities.

Procaccini has chosen to depict the moment immediately after the beheading, just as Judith and her maidservant are preparing for their clandestine escape from the enemy camp. The scene is set at night, with the two women cloaked in darkness and a stark lighting enhancing the sense of drama. By cropping the figures at three-quarter-length Procaccini gives us the impression that we are inside the tent with the two women, involving us in the narrative and bringing their plight vividly to life. The color palette is dominated by browns, ensuring that the rich primary colors of the women’s draperies stand out, as does the maidservant’s white headcloth. The wide-eyed fear and concentration of the maidservant as she hurriedly wraps Holofernes’s head, contrasts with Judith’s contented expression and knowing smile. The heroine’s commanding presence is emphasised by her turning to make eye contact with the viewer – we are unable to avoid her gaze and have become complicit in her act of violence.

The picture is painted with astonishing freedom and confidence. Procaccini modifies his handling of the paint to guide our eye around the picture: Judith is more solidly modelled, her smooth flesh, pink cheeks and rosy lips being the main focus of the painting. Her yellow dress and blue drapery around her waist are ‘sculpted’ to create a volumetric effect – the brushstrokes appear almost like chisel marks along the highlights of the folds. Hugh Brigstocke first noted the picture's sculptural qualities, drawing attention to 'its tight design, shallow relief, strongly modelled figures and faceted draperies' (op. cit., 1994, p. 35). The maidservant is executed in a far more abbreviated manner – her left hand (at the lower edge) and red drapery at right are so sketchy as to appear unfinished – and this coarser handling suits both her advanced age and the fact that she is a secondary figure in this drama. Indeed, her right hand, which holds the cloth in which the women are about to wrap the bloodied head, is more smoothly painted since it lies at the very heart of the composition.

Judith with the Head of Holofernes is a work of Procaccini’s maturity, painted in the second half of the 1610s, around the time of the painter’s documented presence in Genoa in 1618. Although chronology is extremely difficult to establish in Procaccini’s oeuvre, the compact composition built along strong diagonals and the overall subdued tonality of the picture have much in common with other works painted around the same time, namely Christ and the Adulteress (c. 1616-18; Durazzo Pallavicini collection, Genoa; Brigstocke and D'Albo, op. cit., 2020, p. 348, cat. no. 93). The vigorous brushwork and use of impasto, particularly in the draperies, shows the influence of Peter Paul Rubens, whose paintings for Genoese patrons Procaccini would have known at firsthand.

Giulio Cesare Procaccini is an artist who defies categorisation. Though he was born in Bologna and never forgot his Emilian roots – Correggio remained a persistent influence in his work – he spent most of his career in northern Italy, especially in Milan, and is considered one of the leading exponents of the Lombard School. His career straddled the last quarter of the sixteenth and first quarter of the seventeenth century; thus he can be described as both a Mannerist and Baroque painter, adopting the dynamism and sensuousness of the former whilst embracing the powerful naturalism of the latter. Although Procaccini came from a family of painters – his father Ercole and brother Camillo were also painters – he started his career as a sculptor, before turning to painting around 1600, and this may go some way in explaining why his pictures retain a strong sculptural sensibility.

Judith with the Head of Holofernes was in the illustrious collection of a prominent member of Genoa’s wealthiest and most influential family, Giovan Carlo Doria, whom Procaccini met in 1611. Doria’s outstanding collection included masterpieces by the leading painters of the age: he was famously painted on horseback by Peter Paul Rubens in 1606 (Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola, Genoa; fig. 2). Doria owned works by the most important Lombard and Genoese contemporary painters – Bernardo Strozzi, Luca Cambiaso, Luciano Borzone and Cerano, amongst others – but Procaccini was undoubtedly the best represented painter in the collection (as noted by Farina, op. cit., 2004, p. 191). Indeed, by 1616 Giovan Carlo Doria already owned twenty-six paintings by Procaccini, including oil sketches, modelli and ricordi. The painting is first recorded - a 'Giudita del Prochacino … 30 [scudi]' - in Giovan Carlo Doria’s inventory, drawn up between 1617 and August 1621, which lists the paintings in his father’s house in Genoa (Archivio di Stato, Naples (Archivio Doria d’Angri, parte I, 52, busta 7, ff. 2-22), 1617-21 inv., no. 223 [Getty Provenance Index]; see Farina, op. cit., 2002, p. 201, no. 401). Although the palazzo no longer exists, it once stood on 'caruggio del Gelsomino' (today the vico Monte di Pietà) and the painting hung there well into the seventeenth (and possibly into the eighteenth) century (Orlando, ibid., pp. 1, 15-19).

The painting next appears in Giovan Carlo’s posthumous inventory - ‘Giudit del Procaccino …. L. 160’ - as hanging ‘In the bedroom to the right on entering the room’ (Archivio di Stato, Naples (Archivio Doria d’Angri, parte I, 52, busta 7, ff. 32-59), 1625-41 inv., no. 62; ibid., p. 207, no. 114). As noted by Anna Orlando, Giovan Carlo's inventory demonstrates a clear predilection for the theme of Judith and Holofernes, with examples by Luca Cambiaso, Daniele Crespi and Domenico Fiasella all named in his collection (op. cit., 2023, p. 4). This may have been owing to the presence in Genoa of Caravaggio's celebrated Judith beheading Holofernes, today in Rome, Galleria d'Arte Antica a Palazzo Barberini, but in fact painted for the Genoese banker Ottavio Costa (1554–1639). Orlando has argued that Procaccini's own Judith with the head of Holofernes would have been seen by artists and collectors in the Doria collection, thereby inspiring subsequent variations on the subject by, amongst others, Simon Vouet and Orazio Gentileschi (ibid., pp. 5-6).

The painting subsequently passed by inheritance to Giovan Carlo’s son Agostino, named after his grandfather (Giovan Carlo’s father) who had been doge of the Republic of Genoa in 1601-3. When Agostino died intestate in 1640, the picture passed to his uncle, Giovan Carlo’s elder brother Marcantonio Doria, whose initials were inscribed on the reverse of the original canvas in a seventeenth-century hand (see fig. 3). Brigstocke notes that ‘we cannot exclude the work having been directly commissioned by Marcantonio’ (op. cit., 2020, p. 354), though this seems unlikely given the presence of a picture matching this description in the earlier inventories of Gian Carlo Doria; a point most recently reinforced by Anna Orlando (ibid., p. 17). Even if the painting was not a direct commission from Marcantonio, Procaccini's powerful imagery would have sat comfortably alongside works already in the collection; such as Caravaggio's Martyrdom of Saint Ursula of 1610 (Gallerie d'Italia, Naples; with Marcantonio Doria's initials similarly inscribed on the reverse) and works by other Caravaggesque painters (Battistello Caracciolo, Jusepe de Ribera). In Marcantonio's collection Procaccini was the artist best represented, with no less than eleven paintings hanging in a single room on the piano nobile of the palazzo, testimony to the high regard in which the painter was held (ibid., p. 18).

Judith with the Head of Holofernes remained in the family into the eighteenth century, when the writer and painter Carlo Giuseppe Ratti recorded the picture's presence in the ‘Palazzo del Sig. Marcantonio d’Oria’; that is, in the residence of Marcantonio IV Doria, Prince of Angri (op. cit., 1780, p. 332: ‘Una Giuditta, del Procaccino’ hanging in the ‘Salotto primo’). All trace of the picture is lost, with no further mention of the work in any sources, but Orlando has convincingly reconstructed its descent through the Doria family until the turn of the twentieth century when the picture most probably made its way to France and then Switzerland with Ernesto Doria and his son by his first wife, Anna Rose Bues, who died in Basel in 1906 (ibid., p. 1).

The painting's appearance at auction in 1992 happily coincided with a reevaluation of Procaccini, whose works were beginning to attract international scholarly attention. Indeed, the catalogue accompanying a seminal exhibition in New York a decade later (in 2002) went a considerable way in clarifying Procaccini’s output, with its author Hugh Brigstocke including the first comprehensive checklist of the artist’s works. It was not until 2004, however, that a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s drawings appeared and not until very recently (2020) that the first monograph was published, finally giving Giulio Cesare Procaccini – one of the most virtuosic and idiosyncratic painters of the Italian Baroque – the attention he deserves.

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