Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, called Battistello, was one of the greatest of the Caravaggesque painters and the founder of Caravaggism in his native city of Naples. Caracciolo probably trained in the workshop of Belisario Corenzio, who was known as a draftsman and fresco painter; the background in these technical fields distinguishes Caracciolo from other Caravaggesque painters. Caracciolo's only signed altarpiece, the Immaculate Conception with SS Dominic and Francis of Paola (S. Maria della Stella, Naples) was painted in 1607 and suggests that the artist had the opportunity to study works by Caravaggio. The altarpiece was of paramount importance to the developing naturalistic trend in Neapolitan painting. In 1614, Caracciolo traveled to Rome and met Orazio Gentileschi, whose more delicate and refined style tempered Caracciolo's adaptation of Caravaggism. It was just after his return to Naples that he painted one of his greatest masterpieces, the Liberation of St. Peter (Pio Monte della Misericordia, Naples). By 1618 the artist had moved to Florence to the court of Grand Duke Cosimo III de'Medici, in order to paint Cosimo's portrait and that of his wife. Though we know of only two surviving portraits by Caracciolo, he was evidently in great demand as a portraitist. The move to Florence also offered the opportunity to study the works of Artemisia Gentileschi, Filippo Napoletano, and Jacques Callot, and of northern landscape painters including Poelenburgh, Breenbergh and Pynas. He was particularly attentive to the Tuscan representation of expression, gesture, and informal relationships between figures in a composition. Caracciolo spent the remainder of the decade painting in both oil and fresco and carrying out many commissions in Genoa. By the 1620s he had developed a more monumental and ambitious Caravaggesque style, and Caracciolo's own fame was growing in his native city. His works from later in the decade were also influenced by Jusepe de Ribera, who was in Naples from 1616.
The present painting fragment represents St. Anthony of Padua, a thirteenth-century Christian saint and Doctor of the Church, born in Lisbon. Anthony joined the Franciscan Order as a disciple of St. Francis and became the patron saint of Padua, the city where he died. He is generally portrayed as a young man wearing the brown habit of the Franciscan Order, as in the present work. His features are particularly characteristic of the artist's figural style: with his heavy-lidded eyes, full lips, and pale complexion illuminated by raking light, he is highly sensual and fundamentally Caravaggesque.
We are grateful to Dott. Nicola Spinosa for confirming the attribution to Battistello and for suggesting a date of circa 1630, on the basis of a photograph (written communication, 12 May 2006). Dott. Spinosa points out that the present painting formed part of a larger composition, which would likely have included the Christ Child in the upper left corner. He goes on to explain that the signature was surely saved after the full-scale painting was cut down and reunited with this portion of the painting.
Dott. Riccardo Lattuada also confirms the attribution to Caracciolo and dates the painting to circa 1625-30.