Browse Lots

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Agostino Carracci (Bologna 1557-1602 Parma)
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION
Agostino Carracci (Bologna 1557-1602 Parma)

Portrait of Olimpia Luna as Judith and Melchiorre Zoppio as Holofernes

Details
Agostino Carracci (Bologna 1557-1602 Parma)
Portrait of Olimpia Luna as Judith and Melchiorre Zoppio as Holofernes
signed 'A. CAR. BON.' (lower left) and inscribed 'ECCE CAPVT HOLOFERNES' (lower left)
oil on canvas
48 x 34 5/8 in. (121.9 x 87.9 cm.)
Provenance
Acquired from the artist by Professor Melchiorre Zoppio (d. 1633), Bologna, by whom bequeathed to his brother-in-law in his will, 12 December 1633 ('Item ligavit Per. Ill. D. Antonio Lunae eius cognato imaginem Ill. Donae Olimpiae Lunae eiusdem D. Testatoris primae coniugis cum suis ornamentis', in Atti Norarili of Giovanni Albani, Archivio di Stato, Bologna).
Antonio Luna, Bologna.
Lorenzo Pasinelli (1629-1700), Bologna.
Bonfigliuoli House, Bologna, c. 1840.
Bartolomeo Musotii, Bologna, c. 1840-41.
Private collection, U.S.A.
with Mattheisen Fine Art Ltd., London, from whom acquired by the present owner.
Literature
'Oratione di Lucio Faberio Academico gelato in morte d'Agostin Carroccio', in B. Morelli, Il funerale d'Agostin Carraccio fatto in Bologna sua patria da gl'Incaminati Academici del Disegno, Bologna, 1603, pp. 37-39; reprinted in C. Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, Bologna, 1678, I, pp. 429-430.
D. DeGrazia Bohlin, Prints and Related Drawings by the Carracci Family, Washington, 1979, p. 56.
J. Anderson, "Portrait of Olimpia Luna as 'Judith' and Melchiorre Zoppio as 'Holofernes'", in Around 1610: the Onset of the Baroque, London, 1985, pp. 18-25, no. 4.
E. Waterhouse, "Introduction", in Around 1610: the Onset of the Baroque, London, 1985, pp. 8-9.
N. Turner, "Early Baroque Paintings at Matthiesen, London", The Burlington Magazine, CXXVII, no. 989, August 1985, p. 548.
J. Parry, Times Literary Supplement, 12 July 1985 (review of the Matthiesen exhibition).
E. Young, Apollo, July 1985, p. 70 (review of the Matthiesen exhibition).
G. Andrisani, Il Seicento napoletano: riflessioni sulle mostre del 1985 e relativa iconografia francescana, Gaeta, 1986, p. 59.
J. Anderson, "Portrait of Olimpia Luna as 'Judith' and Melchiorre Zoppio as 'Holofernes'", in Paintings from Emilia, 1500-1700, exhibition catalogue, Newhouse Galleries, New York, London, 1987, pp. 64-70.
J. Anderson, "The Head-Hunter and Head-Huntress in Italian Religious Portraiture", in W. James and D.H. Johnson, eds., Vernacular Christianity: Essays in the Social Anthropology of Religion, New York, 1988, pp. 66-68, fig. 8.
R. Zapperi, Annibale Carracci: Ritratto di un artista da giovane, Turin, 1989, pp. 31, 41-42, note 15.
E. Negro and M. Pirondini, La Scuola dei Carracci: i seguaci di Annibale e Agostino, Modena, 1995, p. 20, as "il cosidetto Ritratto di Olimpia Luna Zoppi".
A.C. Danto, Encounters & Reflections: Art in the Historical Present, Berkeley, 1997, p. 91.
R. Morselli and A.C. Sones, eds., Collezioni e quadrerie nella Bologna del Seicento: inventari 1640-1707, Los Angeles, 1998, pp.373, 375 note 3.
A. Summerscale, Malvasia's Life of the Carracci: Commentary and Translation, University Park, 2000, pp. 204-205, note 260, 320, note 571.
D. Benati, Figure come il naturale: il ritratto a Bologna dai Carracci al Crespi, Milan, 2001, p. 49 note 86.
D.M. Stone, "In Figura Diaboli: Self and Myth in Caravaggio's David and Goliath", in P.M. Jones and T. Worcester, eds., From Rome to Eternity: Catholicism and the arts in Italy, ca. 1550-1650, Boston and Leiden, 2003, p. 27.
C. De Capoa and S. Zuffi, Old Testament Figures in Art, Los Angeles, 2003, IV, p. 284.
B. Uppenkamp, Judith und Holofernes: In der italienischen Malerei des Barock, Berlin, 2004, pp. 144, 214 note 22, fig. 73.
A. Modesti, Elisabetta Sirani: una virtuosa del seicento bolognese, Bologna, 2004, p. 231.
T.F. Earle and K.J.P. Lowe, Black Africans in Renaissance Europe, Cambridge and New York, 2005, p. 147 note 64.
D.M. Stone, "Self and Myth in Caravaggio's David and Goliath", in G. Warwick, ed., Caravaggio: Realism, Rebellion, Reception, Newark, 2006, p. 44 note 36.
C.L. Fiorato, 'Giuditta o la politica delle ombre. Sulla fruizione figurativo-letteraria del Liber Iudith nel Rinascimento', in L. Borsetto, ed., Giuditta e alter eroine bibliche tra Rinascimento e Barocco, Padua, 2006, p. 36.
L.H. Zirpolo, Historical Dictionary of Baroque Art and Architecture, Lanham, 2010, p. 121.
Exhibited
Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Age of Correggio and the Carracci: Emilian Painting of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 10 September-10 November 1986, 19 December 1986-16 February 1987, and 26 March-24 May 1987, pp. 258-259, no. 81, as Agostino Carracci, Portrait of a Woman as Judith (entry by D. Benati).
Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, on loan 1988-2013.

Condition Report

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

In 1985, Jaynie Anderson identified the present painting as Agostino Carracci's lost portrait of Olimpia Luna, a work that was celebrated by the artist's earliest biographers. The portrait was commissioned by her husband, Melchiorre Zoppio, professor of moral philosophy at the University of Bologna, and one of Agostino's friends and best-known patrons. Zoppio was co-founder of the Accademia dei Gelati, the most distinguished literary academy in 16th-century Bologna. Prior to painting Olimpia's portrait, at Zoppio's request Agostino had provided engravings for some of this group's publications of poetry, and the artist himself became a member of the Accademia around 1590 (A. Summerscale, op. cit., p. 167, notes 193-4).

The earliest and most complete description of this painting comes from Lucio Faberio's oration given at Agostino's funeral service, which was held on 18 January 1603 at the church of the Ospedale di Santa Maria della Morte in Bologna. Faberio (1550s-1610)--the notary of the Bolognese Company of Painters--lavished praise on the artist, and in particular singled out the portrait of Olimpia Luna as one of his greatest achievements. Faberio explained that the portrait was especially impressive as Agostino had never seen Olimpia:

There was, for instance, the portrait he made of Signora Olimpia Luna, the deceased wife of the Most Excellent Melchiorre Zoppio, on the basis of the description given to him by her husband--a portrait that was so excellently painted that the figure seems alive, while also revealing, to the eternal praise both of Olimpia Luna and of the painter, her modesty, her wisdom, beauty, and chastity--rare qualities that made her worthy of such a fine man (ibid., p. 204).
Faberio's description of the painting does not specify that Agostino represented Olimpia in the guise of Judith, nor that he included a portrait of Zoppio as Holofernes's decapitated head (see below). As Anderson has argued, however, visual clues within the painting itself allow us to identify it as the picture in question (1985, op. cit., p. 19 ff.). Judith's distinctive face, with her double chin, narrow mouth and large eyes, was clearly intended as a portrait of an individual. The key to her identity is her extraordinary gown, which is ornamented with celestial motifs. Encrusted with pearls and extensively embroidered in gold brocade, the dress features a pattern of full moons with rays surrounded by a diamond pattern of pearls. Blue sapphires are sewn at the corners of these lozenges, with emanating rays denoting falling stars among the constant celestial bodies. This heavenly design is perfectly appropriate for the name Olimpia, which as Melchiorre himself often observed in his writings, is derived from the word Olympus and thus denotes a celestial place. The central motif of the moon alludes to her family name, Luna, which is of Spanish origin. Zoppio would write of his wife in a 1634 poem, "The world calls you moon, but to me, you seem the sun" (see ibid., p. 25).

Olimpia was the daughter of Francesco Luna, a member of the Tribunale di Bologna, and of Flaminia Bolognini. Her marriage to Melchiorre was brief. They wed in 1591 and she died on 1 November 1592, presumably while giving birth to twins. Following her death, she became the Laura to Zoppio's Petrarch, often appearing in his literary works. Most relevant to present painting, as Anderson has noted, is Zoppio's Consolatione di Melchiorre Zoppio Filosofo Morale nella Morte della Moglie Olimpia Luna Z (Bologna 1634), in which the poet recounts how Olimpia visited him in a dream to converse on the subject of death (op. cit., 1985, p. 24). While lying in his bed, overcome with grief due to the loss of his wife, Zoppio sees a radiant woman with a complexion like the Milky Way, who proclaims herself to be his Olimpia. Melchiorre's description of her is strikingly similar to that of the woman in our picture: "Her dress was stormed with pearls, divided by little flames denoting the falling stars, which move from place to place among those that are fixed, and everything about her was heavenly" (J. Anderson, op. cit., 1987, p. 67).

Further evidence that this is a disguised portrait of Olimpia is the head of Holoferenes, whose features correspond to those of Melchiorre, as seen in an engraved portrait of the poet from the Collezione dei Ritratti in the Biblioteca Comunale dell'Archiginnasio (fig. 1). The two faces share the same curly hair and beard, thick eyebrows, and full lips, though in Agostino's painting his features are somewhat idealized. Being shown in this way would have appealed to Melchiorre, who would have been familiar with the humanist conceit of being undone by love. Moreover, the choice of Judith was especially appropriate, as according to the biblical account, Judith visited Holofernes's tent during a full moon.

Malvasia, the great biographer of the Carracci, saw this painting when it was in the collection of the painter Lorenzo Pasinelli (1629-1700), and mentions it in his Felsina pittrice. Although he does not write that the portrait showed Olimpia as Judith, Malvasia's description is crucial, in that he specifies that Zoppio's likeness was included in the painting. Malvasia writes that Agostino painted for Melchiorre "a portrait of his wife, already dead and buried, from memory, with a small portrait of Zoppio himself in her hand" ("...con un ritrattino di lui stesso in mano") (C. Malvasia, Felsina pittrice, Bologna, 1678, I, p. 100).

While there was a longstanding tradition of using biblical stories for disguised portraits, for the present picture Agostino was most directly influenced by the art of Paolo Veronese, which he would have seen during his 1587-89 visit to the Serenissima. As Anderson has observed, the two painters knew each other, and many passages in Agostino's painting, such as the turbaned maidservant cast in shadow and the sophisticated treatment of light in the landscape seem to derive from his works. Veronese painted the subject of Judith on several occasions, with the versions in the Palazzo Rosso, Genoa and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna being particularly close to Agostino's portrait. Daniele Benati has also commented on this painting's strong connection to Veronese, praising its "taut and luminous forms, dimly lit, [which] have a severe and turgid eloquence" (loc. cit., 1986). While Benati fully accepts the Judith as an autograph work by Agostino, he has expressed some reservations as to the sitter's identification as Olimpia, preferring to leave the question open. Both Benati and Anderson date the present painting to shortly after Agostino's return to Bologna from Venice, in the early 1590s.


(fig. 1) Portrait of Melchiorre Zoppio. Founder of the Accademia dei Gelati. Engraving. From Biblioteca Comunale dell'Archiginnasio, bologna, Collezione dei Ritratti, 54, LXI, No 1554.

More from Old Master Paintings Part I

View All
View All