Hitherto unrecorded, the present work represents an important discovery by one of the greatest masters of the Roman Baroque, Carlo Maratta. Two other autograph versions of the subject are known: a canvas in the Bob Jones University Collection, North Carolina (57.5 x 120.6) and a copper panel in a vertical format (from which the figures to both the left and right of the central group have been eliminated) in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Corsini (52 x 37.7 cm.). To these can be added a third version, in the collection of the Earl of Wemyss, Gosford House (121.1 x 39 cm.). Although it is commonly cited as a studio replica of a lost original, Dr. Stella Rudolph has suggested that an eventual cleaning will probably reveal this too to be autograph (written communication dated 27 November 1997). All three are usually dated to circa 1656 (see D.H. Steel in the exhibition catalogue, Baroque Painting from the Bob Jones University Collection, Raleigh, North Carolina, no. 25, pp. 89-91).
The importance of the present painting lies in its relationship to the other versions, all of which feature the same central group yet differ in the grouping of the attendant figures. Rudolph (ibid.) believes this composition to be the earliest in the series. Noting the presence of several pentimenti (most notably the slight movement of the Cross) and the inclusion of more secondary figures -- depicted with a greater variety of pose and complexity of interaction -- than in the other versions, she sees these factors as evidence that Maratta was here defining the composition of a scene that he was subsequently to condense in evermore simplified replicas with variants. Indeed the concern with which the artist seems to have constructed the scene in the present work is also evident in the architectural details of the background. Particularly noteworthy is the way in which the elegantly attenuated pose of the distant sculpture appears almost to play against the heavy, outstretched arm of the soldier advancing into the foreground on the left.
In the Kunstmuseum, Düsseldorf, there is a group of ten autograph and contemporary preparatory drawings for figures and drapery studies, which have thus far been seen as referring to the other versions of the composition (see E. Schaar and A. Sutherland Harris, Die Handzeichennungen von Andrea und Carlo Maratti, Düsseldorf, 1967, nos. 190-199, pp. 91-94, fig, 9, pl. 44-46). In light of the above, however, it is to the genesis of the present work that this group should be referred -- indeed the face of the girl and the cuirass of the soldier in cat. no. 199r correspond most closely to the first young woman to the right and the figure of the striding soldier to the left in the present composition. Since there are, on the verso of no. 193, preparatory sketches for Maratta's Adoration of the Magi altarpiece in the Roman Basilica of San Marco, which Rudolph (ibid.) dates to 1654-55, then it follows that the group of drawings and the present painting probably also date to circa 1654-55. As such, it comes from the brief period when the artist achieved the distinctive style of his early maturity. The influence of his master, Andrea Sacchi, can still be felt -- the central group of figures here is derived from the latter's painting of the same subject of 1633-34 in the sacristy of Saint Peter's Basilica -- and yet Maratta's art has clearly moved beyond that of the older artist: gone is the softer rendering of fabrics and more sedate compositional style of Sacchi and in its place a more Baroque articulation of drapery and an increasingly dynamic narrative thrust can be seen. The present composition is then of importance as a transitional work and, as such, may be compared to the Alpheus and Arethusa of circa 1655-57, which was sold at Christie's, New York, 27 January 2000, lot 35 ($662,500).
We are grateful to Dr. Stella Rudolph for providing the information that forms the basis of this catalogue note. She will include the present work in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné on works by the artist.