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Allegory of the birth of Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII

ANDREA SACCHI (NETTUNO 1599-1661 ROME) Allegory of the birth of Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII with number '20' (verso) red chalk, red wash, watermark fleur-de-lys 6 7/8 x 9 ½ in. (17.5 x 24.1 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 26 January 2005, lot 65, where acquired by the present owner.

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Lot Essay

Finely executed with a polished red-chalk technique, this highly finished drawing presents an allegorical image of the birth of Pope Urban VIII, Maffeo Barberini (1568-1644), and relates to a celebratory engraving by Charles Audran (1594-1674). It was commissioned around 1634-35 by the Pope’s brother, Cardinal Antonio Barberini (Fig. 1). The present sheet records an important preparatory step towards Sacchi’s final design, which was later developed into a red chalk sheet in the collection of Mathias Polakovits published by Ann Sutherland Harris ('New Drawings by Andrea Sacchi: Addenda', The Burlington Magazine, CXX, no. 906, September 1978, pp. 600-2). Unlike the Polakovits drawing and its related final print, the present study still includes important variations, like the goat, prominently shown at left while feeding the child. It is a remarkable quotation from Giulio Romano’s Jupiter suckled by the Goat Amalthea, engraved by Bonasone, which was ultimately discarded in the final engraving. This motif makes even more explicit Sacchi’s association of Maffeo Barberini to the mythical origins of Jupiter, nourished at his birth by the goat Amalthea. Related to the same legend is the Capricorn, seen at top right. Despite the drawing’s highly finished state, Sacchi’s pentimenti and changes are largely visible in the poses of the dancers’ legs and in the storm of bees that approaches the newborn, a clear reference to the Barberini family coat of arm.

We are grateful to Professor Ann Sutherland Harris for confirming the attribution to Andrea Sacchi.

Fig. 1. Charles Audran after Andrea Sacchi, Allegory of the Birth of Maffeo Barberini, Engraving

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