This picture is an exciting addition to the oeuvre of Nicolas Tournier, an artist who was, together with Nicolas Régnier, perhaps the most important of the French Caravaggisti. Tournier was recorded in Rome from 1619-26 where he developed a style of painting similar to that of Bartolomeo Manfredi, Caravaggio's contemporary and his closest follower. The face of Saint Genesius in the present work is extremely close to Tournier's Saint John the Evangelist in the Galleria Spada, Rome: his upward, over-the-shoulder glance at some divine inspiration; the sharp tenebrism of the face; and the way the hair melts into the dark ground with just a few highlights singled out with quick brushstrokes. Closer still is Tournier's remarkable Lute Player in the Hermitage, practically a secular version of the present work, for which the artist seems to have used the same lute and red-plumed black hat (possibly studio props) - as well as, quite likely, the same model. We can also compare the still life of books, with their carelessly rolled pages and soft leather or cloth covers, to those in the Saint Paul belonging to the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in Houston. The table corner jutting out into the composition is a recurring element in Tournier's work.
Saint Genesius of Rome, who died circa 286 or 303, was an actor hired to perform in a play mocking the Christian ritual of Baptism. While performing for the Emperor Diocletian, Genesius experienced a vision of angels and converted to Christianity, for which he was martyred. Genesius is considered the patron saint of actors and musicians as well as, more unusually, lawyers, epileptics and prostitutes.
A painting of nearly identical size, and a similar subject of a musician, was sold at Christie's, London, 5 July 1991, lot 69, for £71,500 = $114,491.
We are grateful to Dott. Gianni Papi for first suggesting the attribution to Nicolas Tournier and to both Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée (written communication, 18 January 2008 who states 'votre tableau est son bien sûr un magnifique Tournier') and Axel Hémery (written communication, 18 January 2008 who states 'It's a wonderful painting, the most beautiful [Tournier] seen at auction since a long time') for confirming the attribution to the artist from photographs.