Carlo Dolci’s exceptional devotional pictures marked him out as one of the leading artists of seventeenth-century Florence. With his profound sense of piety, and detailed manner of execution, Dolci quickly became popular amongst collectors outside of Italy. Grand Tourists from England, especially, ‘cultivated a real passion for Dolci’s work’ (Baldassari, op. cit., p. 11) and his reputation remained elevated throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to the extent that his pictures featured in many of the most important English collections. This Saint Agatha, indeed, has a distinguished provenance, being for many years part of the historic collection at Osterley Park. It was listed, with the erroneous title of 'Saint Veronica', in the 1782 inventory of the house, made after the death of Robert Child by the upholsterer Israel Lewis and William Linnell. Osterley was bought by Sir Francis Child in 1711, and his grandsons commissioned Robert Adam to design the exquisite interiors in the 1760s and ‘70s; much of the furniture was supplied by John Linnell and the picture collection included works by Claude, van Dyck and Poussin. The Breakfast Room, where this canvas was recorded, was described by Lady Beauchamp-Proctor: ‘The Breakfast room is Lemon colour, with blew [sic.] ornaments, the Chairs Mrs Child’s own work, in very elegant frames…’ (M. Tomlin, ‘The 1782 Inventory of Osterley Park’, Furniture History, XXII, 1986, p. 108). The fact that a harpsichord is listed there too suggests is was also used as a Music Room. After the picture was sold in 1934, at Middleton Park, the work disappeared, before re-surfacing in 2009.
Early archival sources record that Dolci painted a 'Saint Agatha': Baldinucci mentions a half-length figure of the saint delivered to Venice from the artist (F. Baldinucci, Notizie de’ professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, Florence, 1681-1728, V, reprinted 1847, p. 350). Pictures of Saint Agatha attributed to Dolci were listed in two separate early inventories: that of Francesco Nani, Venice, in 1668, and that of the palazzo belonging to Carlo Lorenzo Ughi (1634-1705) in via Larga, Florence. Nani (1623-1679) amassed a major collection of pictures in his house in San Trovaso, and his Saint Agatha has recently been identified and published by Francesca Baldassari (see E. Straussman-Pflanzer, ed., The Medici’s painter: Carlo Dolci and 17th Century Florence, exhibition catalogue, Yale, 2017, p. 22, fig. 9); now in a private collection in London, it shows the saint in a different position, her head turned, looking up to the right. Ughi was known to have been a great patron of Florentine artists and, in particular, of Onorio Marinari, owning no fewer than twelve pictures by him. Baldassari has suggested that the present picture may have been completed by Dolci with the assistance of Marinari (op. cit., pp. 318-9) and could well be identified with the same Saint Agatha in the Ughi collection. It was included in the recent exhibition at Palazzo Pitti, Florence, as a fully autograph work, with the picture dated to the late 1660s and stylistic comparisons drawn with the Madonna in Glory in Stanford University and the Saint Agnes in the National Gallery, Dublin.