We are grateful to Professor Fernando Mazzocca for confirming the authenticity of this work and for his assistance in preparing the catalogue entry.
The discovery of this unpublished painting is an important addition to Francesco Hayez's body of work. The picture was known through literary and textual sources and by an engraving by Domenico Gandini (designed by Carlo Picozzi), which was included in a popular illustrated publication entitled Album, Esposizione di Belle Arti in Milano. We know from the artist's archives that this painting was commissioned by Count Rudolph von Lutzow, first Internuncio in Constantinople and then Ambassador for the Austrian Empire in Rome (1827-1848), where he represented his grandfather, the Imperial Chancellor Prince Matternich. Count von Lutzow's uncle was also a refined collector of important nineteenth century Italian works and possessed a painting by Hayez entitled La morte di Giselda (1844).
This masterpiece represents the third, and most successful, version of the theme inspired by the history of Venice. Hayez first used the subject in 1832 in a smaller picture painted for Antonio Patrizio. The second, larger version was painted in 1835 for the Countess Clara Maffei and a fourth version, the whereabouts of which are unknown, was painted circa 1845 for a merchant from Vienna.
When the first version appeared at the Brera exhibiton in Milan in 1832, the show's illustrated leaflet indicated that the subject was inspired by the French novel Foscarini ou le patricien de Venise. The scene portrays Valenza Gradenigo, a Venetian noblewoman, who comes before the State Inquisitors, which include her own father, in order to save the man she loved. He was Antonio Foscarini, the Venetian senator, executed in 1662 for treason. His story was published as an eponymous play in 1827 and, although not the direct source of our painting, may have inspired it, as well as another work by Hayez, Foscarini che ricusa di sposare Valenza Gradenigo il giorno delle nozze perché la trova bionda di capelli (exhibited at the Brera in 1833).
Hayez subtly changed the composition from the previous versions in two ways. Firstly, he added two characters to the scene: a young man, who is almost hidden in the extreme left-hand corner; and a scribe, seated at his desk, who is characterised by a certain realism. Secondly, he improved the articulation of their poses. The father, for example, has moved to the centre of the scene, separating him from the other two Inquisitors, with whom he initially formed one single group, while the unfortunate heroine remains located on the right, but this time supported by a young page instead of an old man as in previous versions. In this painting, the artist has given greater pathos to the whole scene, due to the more sophisticated mise-en-scène and emotional intensity of the characters. An atmosphere full of suspense and suggestion is conveyed and the technique is notable for the refined theatrical poses of the figures and the irridescent tones of the materials. The artist isolates the protagonist, giving her a particular translucent and luminous appearance that harmonises the pale tones of her dress with the pallor of her arms.