Paintings | 16th Century | Michelangelo Merisi called Caravaggio (Circle) | The Death of the Virgin (after Caravaggio) | Expertise

33,5 x 20,5 cm
Oil on paper laid on canvas


Artwork profile

The Death of the Virgin (after Caravaggio)

Michelangelo Merisi called Caravaggio (Circle)

The Expertise

It is a small scale canvas (33,3 x 20,3 cm), manifestly related to Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin of which the work here at issue appears to be, from all points of view, a derivation, a study for the making of a copy. The original painting by Caravaggio, now in the Louvre, is a monumental canvas (cm 369 x 245 – the original dimensions were probably larger) commissioned to Caravaggio on the 14th of June 1601 by Laerte Cherubini for his own chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Scala, as it is attested by a well known document: “Michelangelus…de Caravaggio pictor in Urbe…promisit…facere unum quadrum in tela…in quo quidem quadro dipingere similiter mortem sive transitum Beatae Mariae Verginis”. It is all the same renowned how the Death of the Virgin, finished by Caravaggio in great delay over the initial agreement that allowed the painter just one year to accomplish it, was harshly rejected by the Carmelites, the religious order that held the church of Santa Maria della Scala. To the famous and well known historical sources reporting such circumstance, that is the papers of Mancini, Baglione, Bellori, one can add the evidence yielded by a letter of Giulio Mancini himself to his brother Deifobo (14th October 1606): «an altarpiece on which there is the death of the Virgin surrounded by the Apostles, that was supposed to be hung in the Church of Madonna della Scala in Trastevere, and that for its being blunderingly lascivious and devoid of seemliness was removed by the Discalced Friar». Giulio Mancini himself tried to buy the painting without success and finally, also thanks to the intervention of Peter Paul Rubens, it was acquired by the Duke of Mantua Vincenzo I Gonzaga and thus transferred to the Lombard city in April 1607. Sold twenty years later to the King of England Charles I, the picture moved to France at the time of the English Civil War and in 1671 it finally became part of the French Royal Collection. From a letter of the ambassador of Mantua to the Papal court we learn that a few days before it was sent to the court of the Gonzaga, the canvas was exposed in Rome for a week, with the strict prohibition to make copies of it. Apart from a watercoloured drawing by the young Nicolas Poussin, unfortunately lost a few years ago, and a derivation of the sole figure of Magdalene in a Roman private collection, of Caravaggio’s canvas exists only one complete copy, housed in Palazzo Sacchetti in Rome and published by the writer in 2005 with the attribution to Simon Vouet, a reference accepted by the managers of the recent exhibition on the Italian years of the French painter (Simon Vouet – Les années italiennes 1613-1627, Nantes - Besancon 2008-2009). The attribution to Vouet is based both on inventories investigations – the painting is cited in all the Sacchetti inventories hitherto found and the name of the artist appears in the second half of the 17th century – and on stylistic observations confirmed by the 2006 restoration, as well as on the close connection between the artist and Marcello Sacchetti (the two probably met through Graziano dal Pozzo): for him Simon Vouet paints one of the most famous works of his Roman period, the Allegory (or the Faculties of the Soul: Intellect, Will, Memory, today in the Capitoline Picture Gallery in Rome). Marcello Sacchetti did not dislike copies at all, as it is also shown by the presence in his collection of copies of Raphael and Titian made by Pietro da Cortona. The study here at issue, intensely illuminated, might well be the one executed by Simon Vouet (most likely with other preparatory works) for the Sacchetti’s copy, probably painted in the first half of the second decade of the 17th century, since the “caravaggesque” phase of the French painter dates back at least to 1617 (date of Vouet’s Fortune Teller today in Palazzo Barberini). (Sergio Guarino, 4th January 2010)