Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, ‘Holy Family with the Young Saint John’, ca. 1620, Robilant + Voena

Cavarozzi was a patron of the Marquis Giovanni Crescenzi in Rome with whom he travelled to Madrid. He is largely responsible for the transmission of Caravaggism to Spain.

In 1780 Carlo Giuseppe Ratti drew up a list of paintings in the Palazzo Spinola picture gallery and provided details to enhance the generic description of “valuable paintings” contained in the first, 1776 version of the guidebook dedicated to the Genoa’s artistic beauties. The palace belonged to a branch of the Spinola di Luccoli family, counts of Tessarolo. In Ratti’s two books the owners were listed in chronological order, Maria Margharita de Carion de Nisas Spinola and Ferdinando. Margherita and Ferdinando were the children of Agostino Spinola (1738-1816) and Enrichetta de Carion de Nisas: clearly when Margharita married Antonio Pallavicino (1774?) the palazzo went to her younger brother, Ferdinando. In the 1780 book we learn that a “a large painting of Our Lady with the Child, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Baptist by Guido Reni” dominated the first salon”. In nineteenth century descriptive literature the painting is mentioned in the same place and with the same attribution. In particular, Federigo Alzieri, who had access to the palazzo which in the meantime had become the property of the Marchesi Vincenzo, Anton Maria and Francesco Spinola, sons of Ferdinando who died in 1826, enthusiastically described it as “a beautiful canvas, depicting Our Lady in a sacred conversation with the Child, the Baptist and Saint Joseph, from Guido Reni’s early period when the power of Carracci was attempting a transition to the refinement that the distinguished the style of his second period”. The anonymous author of the series of French language guidebooks to the city attributed the painting the ‘premiere manière’ of Guido Reni.

Three photographs conserved at the Centro di Documentazione per la Storia, l’Arte, l’Immagine in Genoa proved essential for identifying the painting. The heading on card 2913, with a photograph by Brogi of a painting of the Holy Family with the young Saint John in a landscape setting reads: “Cavarozzi Bartolomeo, Holy Family with the Young Saint John, Genoa, private property (Spinola)” This in itself would not be convincing, if on the back of the paper support Mario Bonzi, who reorganized all the artistic material in the archives during the nineteen fifties and ’sixties and complemented the artistic information in the municipal photograph archives with attributions and notes, had not written the following, invaluable autograph note: “Genoa, private property (Spinola). Cavarozzi Bartolomeo, Holy Family with the Young Saint John. Oil on canvas, formerly attributed to Guido Reni! and displayed in Palazzo Bianco. Photo by Brogi (no. 11503). M.B.”

This card was the support for a print made from one of Brogi’s negatives, and we can also see a tiny portion of the frame, while another, earlier card (no. 2410), carries the same texts typed by Bonzi, with the only difference that there is a question mark next to Cavarozzi’s name and an addition to the location data: “Genoa, Piazza Pellicceria, Galleria Spinola”.
A third card (no. 2914), without any notes on the back (other than a reference written in a hand different from Bonzi’s, to card no. 2410), has a different photograph – by an unknown author – apparently of the same painting in a richly carved and gilded wooden frame. This frame seems different from the one shown in the picture of the painting on cards 2410 and 2913. Furthermore, this painting shows a considerable reduction on the left, where the landscape opens and in the draping of Saint John’s tunic. The ages of the photographs and the different exposure times, which prevent the evaluation of any variations in the details due to the contrast, make it difficult to determine whether they are of the same painting or of two different pictures. The obvious joint characterized by a marked craquelure in Brogi’s photos (nos. 2410 and 2913) would support the first hypothesis: it is highlighted by the reflections and corresponds to the part that was seemingly eliminated later (and led to the need for another frame) as we see in the second photo. However, we cannot know whether the painting (and the other pictures) were in the palace in 1919 when the Spinola heirs, Ferdinando and Francesco Spinola di Bendinelli, Signori di Arquata, sold the building to Credit Commercial de France. In any event the painting was removed to Palazzo Bianco on temporary loan in 1909: an 1893 edition of the Galleria (civica) di Palazzo Bianco. Catalogo delle opere d’Arte esposte per sale conserved in the Biblioteca di Storia dell’Arte del Comune di Genova has a pencilled note on page 4 with the date 9 March 1909 giving the date of withdrawal by the owner. In 1916 Roberto Longhi, published the “Casa Spinola” canvas, which “up to then had been displayed in Palazzo Bianco under Reni’s name” with an attribution to Orazio Gentileschi. We do not know whether, a few years after the sale of the palazzo on Via Garibaldi (1919), the painting had been returned to where Ratti and Alizeri saw it, or whether it had already been moved. It was again Longhi who in 1943 prepared the first list of Caravaggesque painters and in the farsighted note dedicated to Bartolomeo Cavarozzi wrote “Holy Family with the young Saint John, in the Pallavicini home in Genoa, previously attributed to Gentileschi”. We can easily explain the different private location as an error by the scholar, as per Bonzi’s notes speaking to ownership by the Spinola family on the photo cards he examined after 1943. Indeed, Bonzi’s notes refer to the Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria: the move must have occurred before May 1958 since the Cavarozzi canvas of which all trace had been lost is not listed inventory of the works of art in the palace on Piazza Pellicceria which Franco and Paolo Spinola (the Spinola di Lucrali family heirs who had no descendants) donated to the Italian Government along with the building itself.

We can, in all likelihood, say that the Spinola canvas is the one, currently in a private collection, displayed here. Indeed, considering the elimination of the joint, the painting so closely matches the one documented by Brogi in the Spinola collection that it must be the same. Furthermore, the splendid frame with its protruding leaves around the painting, is the same one shown in the 2914 photo card. Gianni Papi’s presentation of the historic photo that Longhi had used, to document the painting believed to be in an unknown location in the context of the Bartolomeo’s relationship with Genoa”, coincided with the unexpected appearance of the picture - after more than sixty years - in an advertisement published in the January 2000 issue of the Burlington Magazine. Pierre Curie promptly reported this fact in an essay dedicated to the diffusion of Cavarozzi’s paintings in France and Spain.

Carlo Giuseppe Ratti’s attribution of the canvas to Guido Reni, puts it into an Emilian context, a very spacious container for eighteenth century connoisseurs and scholars - and not the Genoese. Although he had at least one definite painting by Cavarozzi at his disposal – the Holy Family in the Balbi Collection with a correct attribution in his two guidebooks – Ratti was unable to decipher the development of Cavarozzi’s language in a classical (yet still Baroque!) key in the picture he saw in the Spinola picture gallery. And yet, the rendering of the drapery, with the special impastos and techniques that create magical reflections, and the arrangement of the faces, especially the beautiful and magnetic Virgin Mary have the salient features of picture that had been in the Saluzzo collection (fig. 1), now in the Albertina in Turin, that Bartolomeo had painted a few years prior to the one shown here. Alzieri, too, deceived by the unusual landscape, by the warm palette dominated by lifelike flesh tones and the soft blonde of the Infant Jesus, by the placid and carefully studied intertwining of gestures and gazes was justified in his attribution to a Guido Reni who was still influenced by the classically, sharp shapes that followed in the wake of the Carraccis. The marked Raphaelism, that hovers over the choice of the setting and governs the mise en pose of the figures would have certainly made the academically oriented mind of a nineteenth century connoisseur exclude the possibility that it could have been the work of the period’s most skilful mediator of an impeccable balance between classicism and a Caravaggesque naturalism. In the canvas we can clearly see that the painter’s change of style with respect to the late Mannerism he professed during the first decade of the seventeenth century was not such as to make him turn away from fine draughtsmanship or prevent him from observing the Renaissance classics as filtered through his contemporaries, Domenichino and Reni. Furthermore, even Longhi who deserves the credit for the twentieth rediscovery of the painting had, during the intermediate stage of the journey towards the correct identification of Cavarozzi’s hand, attributed it to Gentileschi who, though firmly rooted in naturalism – “carefully chose nature “ – did not, like Caravaggio, abandon the possibilities for shaping offered by the graphic medium, but took delight in filling the folds of the draperies with sophisticated, sumptuous colours soaked in light. “The rich Genoese must have truly liked these contaminations from Caravaggio and Bologna”, which were brought to a successful conclusion in this Holy Family, where Longhi under the Reni “disguise” had good reason to first think of Orazio Gentileschi, and only later (and correctly) Cavarozzi who was drawn to Gentileschi’s art. Recently, when drawing up a profile of the mature artist, Gianni Papi, not only confirmed Cavarozzi’s authorship of the painting, known from the Brogi photograph published by Longhi, but also included the canvas among the most convincing evidence for mapping “Bartolomeo’s relationship with Genoa”. Mary’s fixed gaze, as she holds the restless Child emanates a penetrating charm from the centre of the canvas; the compositional asymmetry is created by the diagonal lines of the arrangement of the figures and the break in the chain of gestures of the Virgin, Jesus and Saint John, with the dialogue of gazes, as they disregard Joseph, in profile on the right whose eyes are drawn to the Virgin in front of him. The landscape, which is partly leafy and partly open to a segment of sky against which we clearly see the contours of a turreted building and a bare tree, is pervaded by a soft chromatic atmosphere that accentuates the “timeless” immobility of the figures’ slow gestures. Thus, the theme is mediated by a neo-sixteenth century schema, with all the mastery of what was by them a personal language even with its close attention to contemporary artistic scene. It is sufficient to observe the similarity between the serious figure of Joseph with his bony fingers and elongated profile and Reni’s old men in the spectacular Virgin and Child with Saints Anthony Abbot and Paul the Hermit, formerly in the collection of Vincenzo Giustiniani, or, as Papi keenly noted, the “Flemish and Rubensian contaminations” that are evident in the “platinum blondness of Jesus”. The scholar also highlighted the “tender, sentimental gestures” with respect to the “hypnotic fixedness” of the other Holy Family paintings by Cavarozzi, of which here we see only the thoughtful immobility of Mary’s face. Therefore, it is possible that by virtue of the stylistic complexities that we must add to the others, this painting can be given a later date.

The influences of Rubens and Reni whose works were seen in Spain or during a hypothetical passage through Genoa would speak to a later dating as would the close similarities - in the magniloquent rendering and full volumes - with the altarpiece that the artist painted for the church of Sant’Anna dei Funari upon his return to Rome which is only known from a photograph found by Papi. Regarding influences acquired in Genoa, the putto in the foreground on the left in the Circumcision of Christ by Rubens and the bearded apostle portrayed in profile on the right side of the Assumption of the Virgin by Reni - on which the paint was still wet - in the church of Sant’Ambrogio could be citations for the Child and the Saint Joseph in our painting. Since in our painting already has the “vigorous touch” in the sense of a thick porous colours - that we see in the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (fig. 2) formerly in the church in Rome and currently at an unknown location, it would be possible to draw up a dating around 1620 and stay with the indirect chronological point mentioned in the sources, that is after his return from Spain.

If we can hypothesize that a Spanish collector purchased the painting formerly owned by the Spinolas (and this could explain the copy in the Gil Collection in Barcelona), nothing can prevent us, in what Papi called “true puzzle for scholars who plan to research his work in Viterbo” , from imagining Cavarozzi travelling through Genoa, seeing the masterpieces by Rubens and Guido Reni and then returning to Rome to do this superb painting. Then, the fact that the undeniable feeling of this composition can be seen in several paintings done by the young Giovanni Andrea De Ferrari in Genoa certainly signifies a very early arrival in the Ligurian city either for work on commissions or for an indirect purchase. In any event, excluding a chronological closeness between the Albertina Holy Family and our canvas, it is also possible to hypothesize that it was done in Rome for export to Spain – since the artist may well have done paintings destined for Madrid at home – and then gone on to Genoa.

In 1964 and 1965 Alfonso E. Pérez Sànchez published a Holy Family with the Young Saint John (fig. 3) from the Gil Collection in Barcelona with an attribution to Cavarozzi (canvas, 195 x 140 cm) , and related it to the painting Longhi mentioned in Genoa. The features he emphasized, the transparent, diffused light - “que no es tan cerradamente tenebrsita” - and “los recuerdos clasicistas, rafaelescos”, are so accentuated that we cannot see Cavarozzi’s hand, but rather that of a fine copyist, perhaps a pupil or a Spanish follower. There are also many differences in the details, the anatomies are much less vigorous and the draperies are slavishly calligraphic. Therefore, we can agree with Gianni Papi’s opinion of the painting in the Spanish collection, “when compared to the Genoa painting, it has the characteristics of a good copy”.
Daniele Sanguineti

Image rights: Courtesy of Robilant+Voena

Turin, Pinacoteca dell’Accademia Albertina, Bartolomeo Cavarozzi. ‘Sacre Famiglie’ a confronto, 6 October 2005 - 26 February 2006, no. 4;
London, Robilant+Voena, In Pursuit of Caravaggio, 21 November 2016 – 17 February 2017.

C.G. Ratti, Istruzione di quanto può vedersi di più bello in Genova in pittura, scultura ed architettura, Genoa 1780, p. 274 (attr. to “Guido Reni”);
Descrizione della città di Genova da un anonimo del 1818, ed. by E.-F. Poleggi, Genoa 1969, p. 155;
Nouvelle description des beautés de Gênes et de ses environs, Genoa 1819, p. 160;
Nouveau guide de Gênes et de ses environs, Genoa 1830, p. 157;
Guida per la città di Genova. Lunario, Genoa 1837, p. 67;
Nouveau guide de Gènes et de ses environs, Genoa 1842, pp. 300-301;
Piccola guida di Genova, Genoa 1846, p. 93;
F. Alizeri, Guida artistica per la città di Genova, Genoa 1847, II, part 1, p. 455;
F. Alizeri, Guida illustrativa del cittadino e del forestiero per la città di Genova, Genoa 1875, p. 198;
R. Longhi, “Gentileschi padre e figlia”, in L’Arte, 1916, p. 274 (attr. to “Orazio Gentileschi”);
R. Longhi, “Ultimi studi sul Caravaggio e la sua cerchia”, in Proporzioni, 1943, I, p. 54, note 69 (attr. to “Bartolomeo Cavarozzi”);
A.E. Pérez Sánchez, Borgianni, Cavarozzi y Naldi en España, Madrid 1964, p. 23;
A.E. Pérez Sánchez, Pintura Italiana del s. XVII en España, Madrid 1965, pp. 57, 253;
G. Papi, “Indagini sulla fase matura di Bartolomeo Cavarozzi”, in Arte Cristiana, 2001, 807, pp. 430-431, 433, 435;
A. Acordon, in F. Simonetti-G. Zanelli (ed.), Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola. Galleria Nazionale della Liguria, Genoa 2002, p. 141;
P. Curie, “Bartolomeo Cavarozzi. Un exemple problématique de diffusion du caravagisme en France et en Espagne”, in P.F. Bertrand (ed.), Nicolas Tournier et la peinture caravagesque en Italie, en France et en Espagne, conference proceedings (7-9 June 2001), Toulouse 2003, p. 210, fig. 133;
D. Sanguineti (ed.), Bartolomeo Cavarozzi. ‘Sacre Famiglie’ a confronto, exhibition catalogue, Milan 2005, pp. 78-84;
D. Sanguineti in In Pursuit of Caravaggio, exhibition catalogue, Robilant+Voena, Allemandi: Turin 2016, pp. 56-59.

Palazzo Spinola in Strada Nuova (currently Via Garibaldi 5), Genoa 1780;
Ferdinando Spinola di Luccoli, Count of Tessarolo (d. 1826);
Inherited by Marchesi Vincenzo, Anton Maria and Francesco Spinola, Ferdinando’s children, by descent 1847;
On temporary loan to the Galleria Civica di Palazzo Bianco in Genoa, 1893-1909;
Palazzo Spinola, Piazza Pellicceria, Genoa between 1943 and 1958;
Piero Corsini Inc., New York, 2000 (cf. The Burlington Magazine, no. 1162);
Marco Voena;
Private collection.

About Bartolomeo Cavarozzi

Italian, 1587-1625, Viterbo, Italy, based in Rome, Italy

Fair History on Artsy