The subject of this small panel is Saint Julian, a handsome and noble youth from Dalmatia who was martyred in A.D. 161 under the Emperor Antonin for refusing to reject his Christian faith. The lack of specific attributes makes the identification of the subject conjectural, but the fact that the image is based upon the figure of Saint Julian by Cristofano Allori in the great panel executed in 1608 for the Compagnia di San Benedetto Bianco in Florence, now in the Seminario Maggiore, Florence, permits us to identify him as Saint Julian as well. Allori's panel was used by the Compagnia as the movable screen of a large reliquary which, in the 17th century, was located in the church of Santa Maria Novella and well-known to many Florentine painters of the day. After only a few years, the panel was divided into two parts that were installed above the two lateral doors of the tabernacle.
Dolci's biographer, Filippo Baldinucci, relates that in 1650 Dolci copied Allori's image of Saint Benedict, also depicted in the 1608 panel for the Compagnia, for a portable standard. Meant to be carried to Rome on the occasion of the Holy Year as declared by Pope Innocent X, this standard is now lost (F. Baldinucci, Notizie de' professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, Florence, 1681-1728, V, p. 349). The rediscovery of the present Saint Julian indicates that Dolci reprised both figures invented by Allori, which were much admired in the 17th century. Though the standard with Saint Benedict was intended to be a publicly visible work, this little painting of Saint Julian, given its dimensions and intimate tone, seems to have been intended for a private collection.
According to his usual practice, Dolci has recast Allori's model into an image of sophisticated beauty. The impeccable drawing of the ear and hands, and the pictorial refinement of the beard and hair are evoked with velvety paint; a rich luminosity highlights the delicacy of the gesture of the hands, joined at the chest, and of Julian's pious gaze.
Saint Julian likely dates to the beginning of the 1640s, before Dolci adopted a more enameled handling, and is an important addition to his devotional oeuvre. The diligence with which every detail is characterized as well as the emphasis on both verisimilitude and elegance tie it closely to Dolci's documented works from the 1640s, such as the series of panels depicting Apostles executed for the Florentine Quaratesi family in 1643 (private collection, Rome).
M. Chappell, Cristofano Allori: 1577-1621, exhibition catalogue, Florence, 1971, p. 60 under no. 16.
The Connoisseur, 178, October 1971, p. 53, illustrated.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
Pembroke Collection (according to an inscription on the reverse).
Anonymous sale; Bullrich, Buenos Aires, 22 November 1971, lot 7.
About Carlo Dolci
Italian, 1616-1687, Florence, Italy, based in Florence, Italy