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Lot No. 104 -


Felice Ficherelli


(San Gimignano 1603–1660 Florence)
Saint Praxedis,
oil on canvas, 115 x 90 cm, framed

Provenance:
Jacopo Serzelli Collection, Florence (before 1681);
Jacopo Leone Serzelli Del Garbo (1720-1803) Collection, Florence;
by descent to Enrico Bardi, of a cadet branch of the Bardi family forming the new family branch of Bardi Serzelli, conti di Vernio (1803);
Alberto di Ferdinando Bardi Serzelli (1866-1954), Florence;
by descent to his sister Maria Cattaneo della Volta, born Bardi Serzelli, Genova;
and thence by descent;
Private European collection;
where acquired by the present owner

Documentation:
Nota dei Quadri toccata nelle Divise e loro Prezzo di Assegna, unpublished inventory, Florence 1877, cat. no. 693: ‘Uno detto grande con cornice nero e dorata, entrovi una femmina, che spreme del Sangue in un Vaso’;

Inventario mobile, quadri, sopramobili e quanto arreda il palazzo del sig.conte Alberto Bardi Serzelli in Firenze, via de’ Benci N. 5, unpublished typescript inventory, Florence circa 1950, no. 347 (in ‘Sala Rossa’) : ‘Tre pitture su tela misure 90 x 110 del Ficherelli di San Gimignano 1600. Una representante Santa Prassede che raccoglie il sangue dei martiri, una Santa Marta e S. Agata, in cornice nera con fili oro e Quattro foglie ognuna intagliata e dorate’;
G. Poggi, unpublished typescript inventory of the Bardi-Sarzelli collection, Florence 1956, cat. no. 87 (which corresponds to the inventory label on the side of the frame; Poggi also mentions that this is the painting described by Baldinucci)

Literature:
F. Baldinucci, Notizie dei professori del disegno da Cimabue a qua, Florence 1681 (ed. 1717), p. 221

Literature referring to the version described by Baldinucci without knowledge of the present painting:

M. Gregori, Pitture e sculture del ‘600 e 700 fiorentino, Florence 1965, p. 49 (mentions that a Praxides used to be in the Bardi-Sarzelli Collection);
J. Nismann, Florentine Baroque Art from American Collections, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1969, no. 39 (refers to Baldinucci, p. 221, where Baldinucci described the present painting, to demonstrate the existence of the subject in Ficherellis oeuvre);
M. Gregori, Felice Ficherelli, in: Il Seicento Fiorentino. Arte a Firenze da Ferdinando I a Cosimo III, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence 1986, vol. II, p. 88 (Gregori refers to Ficherelli as having treated the subject more than once, an example having been in the Bardi-Serzelli collection);
G. Leoncini, Ficherelli, Felice, in: Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 47, 1997, ad vocem (refers to the painting described by Baldinucci as the model for versions and copies, among them Vermeer’s copy; also erroneously the Bardi-Sarzelli provenance is given to the Ferrara-del Bravo version);
S. Bandera/A.K. Wheelock/W. Liedtke, Vermeer e il secolo d’oro dell’arte olandese, exhibition catalogue, Rome, Scuderie del Quirinale, Milan 2012, mentioned under cat. no. 45 b (where erroneously a hypothetical Bardi-Sarzelli provenance is given to cat. no. 45 b, the Ferrara-del Bravo version)

We are grateful to Sandro Bellesi for confirming the attribution of the present painting on the basis of high resolution digital photographs.

We are also grateful to Anna Orlando for her help in researching the provenance and tracing the painting’s history from the Cattaneo Collection in Genova back to the Serzelli Collection in seventeenth-century Florence.

The present composition by the seventeenth-century Tuscan artist Felice Ficherelli was first described by Filippo Baldinucci in 1681 (see F. Baldinucci, Notizie dei professori del desegno da Cimabue a qua, Florence 1681, ed. 1717, p. 221). It is offered for sale at auction for the first time in its documented history. The work has remained in one family’s collection for centuries and it has not been previously accessible to scholars.

This painting of Saint Praxedis would appear to be the prime version of the composition, which is known primarily in two other variants. One is another autograph version by Felice Ficherelli, which was formerly in the collection of Carlo del Bravo in Florence, and is now in a private collection in Ferrara (oil on canvas, 108 x 80 cm, see fig. 2), and the other is the celebrated copy of the composition which has been given to Johannes Vermeer (Delft 1632-1675), and was sold recently at Christie’s, London. (oil on canvas, 101.6 x 81.6 cm., 8 July 2014, lot 39, for € 7.900. 000, see fig. 1). Both these two versions were exhibited recently in Rome (see literature). Vermeer’s Saint Praxedis was hung alongside the del Bravo Ferrara version, which has been widely considered to be the prototype and the model for Vermeer’s painting. However, it is possible that another version of the composition might have served as the actual model.

Arthur Wheelock believes that the version of this composition copied by Vermeer is his earliest dated work and an exploratory painting by a young artist who had recently converted to the Catholic faith and who had a proven interest in contemporary Italian art (see A. K. Wheelock, St. Praxedis: New Light on the Early Career of Vermeer in: Artibus et Historiae, vol. 7, no. 14, 1986, pp. 71-89). The present composition must have exerted a strong impact on Vermeer, not just on artistic grounds, but also on account of its devotional character.

Vermeer would have had access to Italian paintings, even if he did not visit Italy itself, but it must be asked why he decided to copy a composition by Ficherelli. The possibility always exists that he was commissioned to paint it. Even if he were not, the subject may have had a special appeal for him as St. Praxedis was one of a number of Roman saints who enjoyed a popularity among Jesuits of the seventeenth century as they sought to emphasise the early traditions of the Catholic Church. Vermeer’s interest in Jesuit ideas at the time must have been acute. Although he had been baptised in the Reformed Church, he married into a Catholic family in 1653 and seems to have converted to Catholicism shortly before that date. He named his youngest son Ignatius and had ties with the Jesuits throughout his life. The subject of Saint Praxedis also shares a thematic concern for the dignity of servitude found in Vermeer’s other early works such as Christ in the House of Martha and Mary in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Praxides was a Roman Saint in the 2nd century, revered for having cared for Christians who died under religious persecution. According to Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend, Praxides was the sister of Saint Pudentiana and their brothers were Saint Donatus and Saint Timothy. During one of the periods of persecution, they buried the bodies of Christians and distributed goods to the poor. De Voragine’s brief account states that they died in 165, in the reign of Emperors Marcus and Antoninus II. She is shown here in an image of devout contemplation after having tended to a decapitated martyr who lies on the ground behind her. The composition best exemplifies Ficherelli’s unusual combination of great artistic beauty and drama.

Ficherelli’s Saint Praxedis in the context of his oeuvre:

The subject was rarely treated by Italian artists, and therefore the depiction of it by Ficherelli is unusual. The artist is known to have painted this subject from as early as 1681, when Filippo Baldinucci described the collection of Cavaliere Jacopo Serzelli. He mentioned a group of four paintings by Ficherelli there an ‘Expulsion’ and three female subjects: a ‘Saint Agatha’, a ‘Herodias’, and ‘una Santa Prassede che spreme il sangue de’Martiri’ (op. cit. Baldinucci, 1681, p. 221). The ‘Santa Prassede’ refers to the present painting.

Baldinucci informs us that Ficherelli left his native San Gimignano in the 1620s for Florence under the protection of the art collector Alberto de’ Bardi from Vernio. De’ Bardi entrusted him to Jacopo da Empoli who ran one of the most successful workshops in the Grand Duchy’s capital. This apprenticeship was decisive and left a lasting influence on Ficherelli. The artist was named ‘il Riposo’ [the restful] for his easy-going and peaceful nature.

The present painting is a combination of different artistic developments in Florence between 1640 and 1650. Certain elements appear to be inspired by Ficherelli’s master Jacopo da Empoli, but the dramatic character of the scene owes much to the iconography introduced to Florentine seventeenth-century art by Francesco Furini (1603–1646). Indeed, the more sensual and softer language of Furini appears to have had a great impact on Ficherelli. Furini, as well as Ficherelli, used delicate brushwork, influenced by Venetian art, to convey their subjects in a subtle manner. The colouring and background recall sixteenth-century Florentine art, Jacopo da Empoli and also Andrea del Sarto. But the present composition is also exemplary for a simple, less ornate, classical approach that characterises Ficherelli’s style in the late 1640s, a development that he shared primarily with Lorenzo Lippi. Bandera has observed an almost Neo-Raphaelesque classicism in the present composition and a beautiful, academic harmony and balance of colouring and design (S. Bandera/A.K. Wheelock/W. Liedtke, see literature).

Technical analysis and composition:

Technical analysis and infrared reflectography (see fig. 4) carried out by Gianluca Poldi have shown several pentimenti which imply that the present composition was modified during the process of painting. Apparently, Ficherelli originally had intended a much more ornate architectural structure to the right, and sketched a column with a Tuscan base to the left (see fig. 5), which in the final version is now a simple square block. This under drawing is generally free and made with a brush in black. The decapitated martyr also appears to have been originally conceived slightly differently. The fact that the Ferrara version, as well as Vermeer’s copy, follow the final stage of the present painting, makes it highly likely that the present Saint Praxedis is the prime version of the composition.

A drawing conserved at the Uffizi (see fig. 3) also demonstrates that Ficherelli experimented with different compositional schemes. The central figure, with the elegant curves of her drapery and the contemplative intensity with which she focusses on the vase containing the blood of the martyrs, appears to have been formulated at this initial stage, but the architectural background and setting for this central scene were subject to several changes. In the drawing, Ficherelli placed the figure to the right of the composition, with a small Roman temple in the left background. When he began to paint and sketch on the present canvas, a column was originally incorporated and then painted over as if to recall the idea of the temple on the left, as might be the case with the much more ornate structure to the right.

Given these observations it would appear plausible to suggest a hypothetical chronology for the composition’s several stages of development: The first stage is represented by the drawing, in which the figure of the Saint was already designed, then the present version, the Bardi-Serzelli Saint Praxedis, during the process of which several changes were still carried out and this represents the second and a third stages of the finished composition. Which of the two other versions, the copy given to Vermeer or the Ferrara variant was executed next, based on the present composition, is difficult to determine. However it would appear to be plausible to argue that Vermeer used the present painting as a model for his celebrated copy.

We are grateful to Gianluca Poldi for the technical examination.

The painting is offered in its original 17th century Florentine carved and gilded wooden frame. We are grateful to Georg Smolka for his analysis.

Provenance:
Jacopo Serzelli Collection, Florence (before 1681);
Jacopo Leone Serzelli Del Garbo (1720-1803) Collection, Florence;
by descent to Enrico Bardi, of a cadet branch of the Bardi family forming the new family branch of Bardi Serzelli, conti di Vernio (1803);
Alberto di Ferdinando Bardi Serzelli (1866-1954), Florence;
by descent to his sister Maria Cattaneo della Volta, born Bardi Serzelli, Genova;
and thence by descent;
Private European collection;
where acquired by the present owner

Documentation:
Nota dei Quadri toccata nelle Divise e loro Prezzo di Assegna, unpublished inventory, Florence 1877, cat. no. 693: ‘Uno detto grande con cornice nero e dorata, entrovi una femmina, che spreme del Sangue in un Vaso’;

Inventario mobile, quadri, sopramobili e quanto arreda il palazzo del sig.conte Alberto Bardi Serzelli in Firenze, via de’ Benci N. 5, unpublished typescript inventory, Florence circa 1950, no. 347 (in ‘Sala Rossa’) : ‘Tre pitture su tela misure 90 x 110 del Ficherelli di San Gimignano 1600. Una representante Santa Prassede che raccoglie il sangue dei martiri, una Santa Marta e S. Agata, in cornice nera con fili oro e Quattro foglie ognuna intagliata e dorate’;
G. Poggi, unpublished typescript inventory of the Bardi-Sarzelli collection, Florence 1956, cat. no. 87 (which corresponds to the inventory label on the side of the frame; Poggi also mentions that this is the painting described by Baldinucci)

Literature:
F. Baldinucci, Notizie dei professori del disegno da Cimabue a qua, Florence 1681 (ed. 1717), p. 221

Literature referring to the version described by Baldinucci without knowledge of the present painting: /b>

M. Gregori, Pitture e sculture del ‘600 e 700 fiorentino, Florence 1965, p. 49 (mentions that a Praxides used to be in the Bardi-Sarzelli Collection);
J. Nismann, Florentine Baroque Art from American Collections, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1969, no. 39 (refers to Baldinucci, p. 221, where Baldinucci described the present painting, to demonstrate the existence of the subject in Ficherellis oeuvre);
M. Gregori, Felice Ficherelli, in: Il Seicento Fiorentino. Arte a Firenze da Ferdinando I a Cosimo III, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence 1986, vol. II, p. 88 (Gregori refers to Ficherelli as having treated the subject more than once, an example having been in the Bardi-Serzelli collection);
G. Leoncini, Ficherelli, Felice, in: Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 47, 1997, ad vocem (refers to the painting described by Baldinucci as the model for versions and copies, among them Vermeer’s copy; also erroneously the Bardi-Sarzelli provenance is given to the Ferrara-del Bravo version);
S. Bandera/A.K. Wheelock/W. Liedtke, Vermeer e il secolo d’oro dell’arte olandese, exhibition catalogue, Rome, Scuderie del Quirinale, Milan 2012, mentioned under cat. no. 45 b (where erroneously a hypothetical Bardi-Sarzelli provenance is given to cat. no. 45 b, the Ferrara-del Bravo version)

We are grateful to Sandro Bellesi for confirming the attribution of the present painting on the basis of high resolution digital photographs.

We are also grateful to Anna Orlando for her help in researching the provenance and tracing the painting’s history from the Cattaneo Collection in Genova back to the Serzelli Collection in seventeenth-century Florence.

The present composition by the seventeenth-century Tuscan artist Felice Ficherelli was first described by Filippo Baldinucci in 1681 (see F. Baldinucci, Notizie dei professori del desegno da Cimabue a qua, Florence 1681, ed. 1717, p. 221). It is offered for sale at auction for the first time in its documented history. The work has remained in one family’s collection for centuries and it has not been previously accessible to scholars.

This painting of Saint Praxedis would appear to be the prime version of the composition, which is known primarily in two other variants. One is another autograph version by Felice Ficherelli, which was formerly in the collection of Carlo del Bravo in Florence, and is now in a private collection in Ferrara (oil on canvas, 108 x 80 cm, see fig. 2), and the other is the celebrated copy of the composition which has been given to Johannes Vermeer (Delft 1632-1675), and was sold recently at Christie’s, London. (oil on canvas, 101.6 x 81.6 cm., 8 July 2014, lot 39, for € 7.900. 000, see fig. 1). Both these two versions were exhibited recently in Rome (see literature). Vermeer’s Saint Praxedis was hung alongside the del Bravo Ferrara version, which has been widely considered to be the prototype and the model for Vermeer’s painting. However, it is possible that another version of the composition might have served as the actual model.

Arthur Wheelock believes that the version of this composition copied by Vermeer is his earliest dated work and an exploratory painting by a young artist who had recently converted to the Catholic faith and who had a proven interest in contemporary Italian art (see A. K. Wheelock, St. Praxedis: New Light on the Early Career of Vermeer in: Artibus et Historiae, vol. 7, no. 14, 1986, pp. 71-89). The present composition must have exerted a strong impact on Vermeer, not just on artistic grounds, but also on account of its devotional character.

Vermeer would have had access to Italian paintings, even if he did not visit Italy itself, but it must be asked why he decided to copy a composition by Ficherelli. The possibility always exists that he was commissioned to paint it. Even if he were not, the subject may have had a special appeal for him as St. Praxedis was one of a number of Roman saints who enjoyed a popularity among Jesuits of the seventeenth century as they sought to emphasise the early traditions of the Catholic Church. Vermeer’s interest in Jesuit ideas at the time must have been acute. Although he had been baptised in the Reformed Church, he married into a Catholic family in 1653 and seems to have converted to Catholicism shortly before that date. He named his youngest son Ignatius and had ties with the Jesuits throughout his life. The subject of Saint Praxedis also shares a thematic concern for the dignity of servitude found in Vermeer’s other early works such as Christ in the House of Martha and Mary in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Praxides was a Roman Saint in the 2nd century, revered for having cared for Christians who died under religious persecution. According to Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend, Praxides was the sister of Saint Pudentiana and their brothers were Saint Donatus and Saint Timothy. During one of the periods of persecution, they buried the bodies of Christians and distributed goods to the poor. De Voragine’s brief account states that they died in 165, in the reign of Emperors Marcus and Antoninus II. She is shown here in an image of devout contemplation after having tended to a decapitated martyr who lies on the ground behind her. The composition best exemplifies Ficherelli’s unusual combination of great artistic beauty and drama.

Ficherelli’s Saint Praxedis in the context of his oeuvre:

The subject was rarely treated by Italian artists, and therefore the depiction of it by Ficherelli is unusual. The artist is known to have painted this subject from as early as 1681, when Filippo Baldinucci described the collection of Cavaliere Jacopo Serzelli. He mentioned a group of four paintings by Ficherelli there an ‘Expulsion’ and three female subjects: a ‘Saint Agatha’, a ‘Herodias’, and ‘una Santa Prassede che spreme il sangue de’Martiri’ (op. cit. Baldinucci, 1681, p. 221). The ‘Santa Prassede’ refers to the present painting.

Baldinucci informs us that Ficherelli left his native San Gimignano in the 1620s for Florence under the protection of the art collector Alberto de’ Bardi from Vernio. De’ Bardi entrusted him to Jacopo da Empoli who ran one of the most successful workshops in the Grand Duchy’s capital. This apprenticeship was decisive and left a lasting influence on Ficherelli. The artist was named ‘il Riposo’ [the restful] for his easy-going and peaceful nature.

The present painting is a combination of different artistic developments in Florence between 1640 and 1650. Certain elements appear to be inspired by Ficherelli’s master Jacopo da Empoli, but the dramatic character of the scene owes much to the iconography introduced to Florentine seventeenth-century art by Francesco Furini (1603–1646). Indeed, the more sensual and softer language of Furini appears to have had a great impact on Ficherelli. Furini, as well as Ficherelli, used delicate brushwork, influenced by Venetian art, to convey their subjects in a subtle manner. The colouring and background recall sixteenth-century Florentine art, Jacopo da Empoli and also Andrea del Sarto. But the present composition is also exemplary for a simple, less ornate, classical approach that characterises Ficherelli’s style in the late 1640s, a development that he shared primarily with Lorenzo Lippi. Bandera has observed an almost Neo-Raphaelesque classicism in the present composition and a beautiful, academic harmony and balance of colouring and design (S. Bandera/A.K. Wheelock/W. Liedtke, see literature).

Technical analysis and composition:

Technical analysis and infrared reflectography (see fig. 4) carried out by Gianluca Poldi have shown several pentimenti which imply that the present composition was modified during the process of painting. Apparently, Ficherelli originally had intended a much more ornate architectural structure to the right, and sketched a column with a Tuscan base to the left (see fig. 5), which in the final version is now a simple square block. This under drawing is generally free and made with a brush in black. The decapitated martyr also appears to have been originally conceived slightly differently. The fact that the Ferrara version, as well as Vermeer’s copy, follow the final stage of the present painting, makes it highly likely that the present Saint Praxedis is the prime version of the composition.

A drawing conserved at the Uffizi (see fig. 3) also demonstrates that Ficherelli experimented with different compositional schemes. The central figure, with the elegant curves of her drapery and the contemplative intensity with which she focusses on the vase containing the blood of the martyrs, appears to have been formulated at this initial stage, but the architectural background and setting for this central scene were subject to several changes. In the drawing, Ficherelli placed the figure to the right of the composition, with a small Roman temple in the left background. When he began to paint and sketch on the present canvas, a column was originally incorporated and then painted over as if to recall the idea of the temple on the left, as might be the case with the much more ornate structure to the right.

Given these observations it would appear plausible to suggest a hypothetical chronology for the composition’s several stages of development: The first stage is represented by the drawing, in which the figure of the Saint was already designed, then the present version, the Bardi-Serzelli Saint Praxedis, during the process of which several changes were still carried out and this represents the second and a third stages of the finished composition. Which of the two other versions, the copy given to Vermeer or the Ferrara variant was executed next, based on the present composition, is difficult to determine. However it would appear to be plausible to argue that Vermeer used the present painting as a model for his celebrated copy.

We are grateful to Gianluca Poldi for the technical examination.

The painting is offered in its original 17th century Florentine carved and gilded wooden frame. We are grateful to Georg Smolka for his analysis.

Specialist: Dr. Alexander Strasoldo Dr. Alexander Strasoldo
+43-1-515 60-556

alexander.strasoldo@dorotheum.at

17.10.2017 - 18:00

Realized price: **
EUR 350,508.-
Estimate:
EUR 150,000.- to EUR 200,000.-

Felice Ficherelli


(San Gimignano 1603–1660 Florence)
Saint Praxedis,
oil on canvas, 115 x 90 cm, framed

Provenance:
Jacopo Serzelli Collection, Florence (before 1681);
Jacopo Leone Serzelli Del Garbo (1720-1803) Collection, Florence;
by descent to Enrico Bardi, of a cadet branch of the Bardi family forming the new family branch of Bardi Serzelli, conti di Vernio (1803);
Alberto di Ferdinando Bardi Serzelli (1866-1954), Florence;
by descent to his sister Maria Cattaneo della Volta, born Bardi Serzelli, Genova;
and thence by descent;
Private European collection;
where acquired by the present owner

Documentation:
Nota dei Quadri toccata nelle Divise e loro Prezzo di Assegna, unpublished inventory, Florence 1877, cat. no. 693: ‘Uno detto grande con cornice nero e dorata, entrovi una femmina, che spreme del Sangue in un Vaso’;

Inventario mobile, quadri, sopramobili e quanto arreda il palazzo del sig.conte Alberto Bardi Serzelli in Firenze, via de’ Benci N. 5, unpublished typescript inventory, Florence circa 1950, no. 347 (in ‘Sala Rossa’) : ‘Tre pitture su tela misure 90 x 110 del Ficherelli di San Gimignano 1600. Una representante Santa Prassede che raccoglie il sangue dei martiri, una Santa Marta e S. Agata, in cornice nera con fili oro e Quattro foglie ognuna intagliata e dorate’;
G. Poggi, unpublished typescript inventory of the Bardi-Sarzelli collection, Florence 1956, cat. no. 87 (which corresponds to the inventory label on the side of the frame; Poggi also mentions that this is the painting described by Baldinucci)

Literature:
F. Baldinucci, Notizie dei professori del disegno da Cimabue a qua, Florence 1681 (ed. 1717), p. 221

Literature referring to the version described by Baldinucci without knowledge of the present painting:

M. Gregori, Pitture e sculture del ‘600 e 700 fiorentino, Florence 1965, p. 49 (mentions that a Praxides used to be in the Bardi-Sarzelli Collection);
J. Nismann, Florentine Baroque Art from American Collections, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1969, no. 39 (refers to Baldinucci, p. 221, where Baldinucci described the present painting, to demonstrate the existence of the subject in Ficherellis oeuvre);
M. Gregori, Felice Ficherelli, in: Il Seicento Fiorentino. Arte a Firenze da Ferdinando I a Cosimo III, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence 1986, vol. II, p. 88 (Gregori refers to Ficherelli as having treated the subject more than once, an example having been in the Bardi-Serzelli collection);
G. Leoncini, Ficherelli, Felice, in: Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 47, 1997, ad vocem (refers to the painting described by Baldinucci as the model for versions and copies, among them Vermeer’s copy; also erroneously the Bardi-Sarzelli provenance is given to the Ferrara-del Bravo version);
S. Bandera/A.K. Wheelock/W. Liedtke, Vermeer e il secolo d’oro dell’arte olandese, exhibition catalogue, Rome, Scuderie del Quirinale, Milan 2012, mentioned under cat. no. 45 b (where erroneously a hypothetical Bardi-Sarzelli provenance is given to cat. no. 45 b, the Ferrara-del Bravo version)

We are grateful to Sandro Bellesi for confirming the attribution of the present painting on the basis of high resolution digital photographs.

We are also grateful to Anna Orlando for her help in researching the provenance and tracing the painting’s history from the Cattaneo Collection in Genova back to the Serzelli Collection in seventeenth-century Florence.

The present composition by the seventeenth-century Tuscan artist Felice Ficherelli was first described by Filippo Baldinucci in 1681 (see F. Baldinucci, Notizie dei professori del desegno da Cimabue a qua, Florence 1681, ed. 1717, p. 221). It is offered for sale at auction for the first time in its documented history. The work has remained in one family’s collection for centuries and it has not been previously accessible to scholars.

This painting of Saint Praxedis would appear to be the prime version of the composition, which is known primarily in two other variants. One is another autograph version by Felice Ficherelli, which was formerly in the collection of Carlo del Bravo in Florence, and is now in a private collection in Ferrara (oil on canvas, 108 x 80 cm, see fig. 2), and the other is the celebrated copy of the composition which has been given to Johannes Vermeer (Delft 1632-1675), and was sold recently at Christie’s, London. (oil on canvas, 101.6 x 81.6 cm., 8 July 2014, lot 39, for € 7.900. 000, see fig. 1). Both these two versions were exhibited recently in Rome (see literature). Vermeer’s Saint Praxedis was hung alongside the del Bravo Ferrara version, which has been widely considered to be the prototype and the model for Vermeer’s painting. However, it is possible that another version of the composition might have served as the actual model.

Arthur Wheelock believes that the version of this composition copied by Vermeer is his earliest dated work and an exploratory painting by a young artist who had recently converted to the Catholic faith and who had a proven interest in contemporary Italian art (see A. K. Wheelock, St. Praxedis: New Light on the Early Career of Vermeer in: Artibus et Historiae, vol. 7, no. 14, 1986, pp. 71-89). The present composition must have exerted a strong impact on Vermeer, not just on artistic grounds, but also on account of its devotional character.

Vermeer would have had access to Italian paintings, even if he did not visit Italy itself, but it must be asked why he decided to copy a composition by Ficherelli. The possibility always exists that he was commissioned to paint it. Even if he were not, the subject may have had a special appeal for him as St. Praxedis was one of a number of Roman saints who enjoyed a popularity among Jesuits of the seventeenth century as they sought to emphasise the early traditions of the Catholic Church. Vermeer’s interest in Jesuit ideas at the time must have been acute. Although he had been baptised in the Reformed Church, he married into a Catholic family in 1653 and seems to have converted to Catholicism shortly before that date. He named his youngest son Ignatius and had ties with the Jesuits throughout his life. The subject of Saint Praxedis also shares a thematic concern for the dignity of servitude found in Vermeer’s other early works such as Christ in the House of Martha and Mary in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Praxides was a Roman Saint in the 2nd century, revered for having cared for Christians who died under religious persecution. According to Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend, Praxides was the sister of Saint Pudentiana and their brothers were Saint Donatus and Saint Timothy. During one of the periods of persecution, they buried the bodies of Christians and distributed goods to the poor. De Voragine’s brief account states that they died in 165, in the reign of Emperors Marcus and Antoninus II. She is shown here in an image of devout contemplation after having tended to a decapitated martyr who lies on the ground behind her. The composition best exemplifies Ficherelli’s unusual combination of great artistic beauty and drama.

Ficherelli’s Saint Praxedis in the context of his oeuvre:

The subject was rarely treated by Italian artists, and therefore the depiction of it by Ficherelli is unusual. The artist is known to have painted this subject from as early as 1681, when Filippo Baldinucci described the collection of Cavaliere Jacopo Serzelli. He mentioned a group of four paintings by Ficherelli there an ‘Expulsion’ and three female subjects: a ‘Saint Agatha’, a ‘Herodias’, and ‘una Santa Prassede che spreme il sangue de’Martiri’ (op. cit. Baldinucci, 1681, p. 221). The ‘Santa Prassede’ refers to the present painting.

Baldinucci informs us that Ficherelli left his native San Gimignano in the 1620s for Florence under the protection of the art collector Alberto de’ Bardi from Vernio. De’ Bardi entrusted him to Jacopo da Empoli who ran one of the most successful workshops in the Grand Duchy’s capital. This apprenticeship was decisive and left a lasting influence on Ficherelli. The artist was named ‘il Riposo’ [the restful] for his easy-going and peaceful nature.

The present painting is a combination of different artistic developments in Florence between 1640 and 1650. Certain elements appear to be inspired by Ficherelli’s master Jacopo da Empoli, but the dramatic character of the scene owes much to the iconography introduced to Florentine seventeenth-century art by Francesco Furini (1603–1646). Indeed, the more sensual and softer language of Furini appears to have had a great impact on Ficherelli. Furini, as well as Ficherelli, used delicate brushwork, influenced by Venetian art, to convey their subjects in a subtle manner. The colouring and background recall sixteenth-century Florentine art, Jacopo da Empoli and also Andrea del Sarto. But the present composition is also exemplary for a simple, less ornate, classical approach that characterises Ficherelli’s style in the late 1640s, a development that he shared primarily with Lorenzo Lippi. Bandera has observed an almost Neo-Raphaelesque classicism in the present composition and a beautiful, academic harmony and balance of colouring and design (S. Bandera/A.K. Wheelock/W. Liedtke, see literature).

Technical analysis and composition:

Technical analysis and infrared reflectography (see fig. 4) carried out by Gianluca Poldi have shown several pentimenti which imply that the present composition was modified during the process of painting. Apparently, Ficherelli originally had intended a much more ornate architectural structure to the right, and sketched a column with a Tuscan base to the left (see fig. 5), which in the final version is now a simple square block. This under drawing is generally free and made with a brush in black. The decapitated martyr also appears to have been originally conceived slightly differently. The fact that the Ferrara version, as well as Vermeer’s copy, follow the final stage of the present painting, makes it highly likely that the present Saint Praxedis is the prime version of the composition.

A drawing conserved at the Uffizi (see fig. 3) also demonstrates that Ficherelli experimented with different compositional schemes. The central figure, with the elegant curves of her drapery and the contemplative intensity with which she focusses on the vase containing the blood of the martyrs, appears to have been formulated at this initial stage, but the architectural background and setting for this central scene were subject to several changes. In the drawing, Ficherelli placed the figure to the right of the composition, with a small Roman temple in the left background. When he began to paint and sketch on the present canvas, a column was originally incorporated and then painted over as if to recall the idea of the temple on the left, as might be the case with the much more ornate structure to the right.

Given these observations it would appear plausible to suggest a hypothetical chronology for the composition’s several stages of development: The first stage is represented by the drawing, in which the figure of the Saint was already designed, then the present version, the Bardi-Serzelli Saint Praxedis, during the process of which several changes were still carried out and this represents the second and a third stages of the finished composition. Which of the two other versions, the copy given to Vermeer or the Ferrara variant was executed next, based on the present composition, is difficult to determine. However it would appear to be plausible to argue that Vermeer used the present painting as a model for his celebrated copy.

We are grateful to Gianluca Poldi for the technical examination.

The painting is offered in its original 17th century Florentine carved and gilded wooden frame. We are grateful to Georg Smolka for his analysis.

Provenance:
Jacopo Serzelli Collection, Florence (before 1681);
Jacopo Leone Serzelli Del Garbo (1720-1803) Collection, Florence;
by descent to Enrico Bardi, of a cadet branch of the Bardi family forming the new family branch of Bardi Serzelli, conti di Vernio (1803);
Alberto di Ferdinando Bardi Serzelli (1866-1954), Florence;
by descent to his sister Maria Cattaneo della Volta, born Bardi Serzelli, Genova;
and thence by descent;
Private European collection;
where acquired by the present owner

Documentation:
Nota dei Quadri toccata nelle Divise e loro Prezzo di Assegna, unpublished inventory, Florence 1877, cat. no. 693: ‘Uno detto grande con cornice nero e dorata, entrovi una femmina, che spreme del Sangue in un Vaso’;

Inventario mobile, quadri, sopramobili e quanto arreda il palazzo del sig.conte Alberto Bardi Serzelli in Firenze, via de’ Benci N. 5, unpublished typescript inventory, Florence circa 1950, no. 347 (in ‘Sala Rossa’) : ‘Tre pitture su tela misure 90 x 110 del Ficherelli di San Gimignano 1600. Una representante Santa Prassede che raccoglie il sangue dei martiri, una Santa Marta e S. Agata, in cornice nera con fili oro e Quattro foglie ognuna intagliata e dorate’;
G. Poggi, unpublished typescript inventory of the Bardi-Sarzelli collection, Florence 1956, cat. no. 87 (which corresponds to the inventory label on the side of the frame; Poggi also mentions that this is the painting described by Baldinucci)

Literature:
F. Baldinucci, Notizie dei professori del disegno da Cimabue a qua, Florence 1681 (ed. 1717), p. 221

Literature referring to the version described by Baldinucci without knowledge of the present painting: /b>

M. Gregori, Pitture e sculture del ‘600 e 700 fiorentino, Florence 1965, p. 49 (mentions that a Praxides used to be in the Bardi-Sarzelli Collection);
J. Nismann, Florentine Baroque Art from American Collections, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1969, no. 39 (refers to Baldinucci, p. 221, where Baldinucci described the present painting, to demonstrate the existence of the subject in Ficherellis oeuvre);
M. Gregori, Felice Ficherelli, in: Il Seicento Fiorentino. Arte a Firenze da Ferdinando I a Cosimo III, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence 1986, vol. II, p. 88 (Gregori refers to Ficherelli as having treated the subject more than once, an example having been in the Bardi-Serzelli collection);
G. Leoncini, Ficherelli, Felice, in: Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 47, 1997, ad vocem (refers to the painting described by Baldinucci as the model for versions and copies, among them Vermeer’s copy; also erroneously the Bardi-Sarzelli provenance is given to the Ferrara-del Bravo version);
S. Bandera/A.K. Wheelock/W. Liedtke, Vermeer e il secolo d’oro dell’arte olandese, exhibition catalogue, Rome, Scuderie del Quirinale, Milan 2012, mentioned under cat. no. 45 b (where erroneously a hypothetical Bardi-Sarzelli provenance is given to cat. no. 45 b, the Ferrara-del Bravo version)

We are grateful to Sandro Bellesi for confirming the attribution of the present painting on the basis of high resolution digital photographs.

We are also grateful to Anna Orlando for her help in researching the provenance and tracing the painting’s history from the Cattaneo Collection in Genova back to the Serzelli Collection in seventeenth-century Florence.

The present composition by the seventeenth-century Tuscan artist Felice Ficherelli was first described by Filippo Baldinucci in 1681 (see F. Baldinucci, Notizie dei professori del desegno da Cimabue a qua, Florence 1681, ed. 1717, p. 221). It is offered for sale at auction for the first time in its documented history. The work has remained in one family’s collection for centuries and it has not been previously accessible to scholars.

This painting of Saint Praxedis would appear to be the prime version of the composition, which is known primarily in two other variants. One is another autograph version by Felice Ficherelli, which was formerly in the collection of Carlo del Bravo in Florence, and is now in a private collection in Ferrara (oil on canvas, 108 x 80 cm, see fig. 2), and the other is the celebrated copy of the composition which has been given to Johannes Vermeer (Delft 1632-1675), and was sold recently at Christie’s, London. (oil on canvas, 101.6 x 81.6 cm., 8 July 2014, lot 39, for € 7.900. 000, see fig. 1). Both these two versions were exhibited recently in Rome (see literature). Vermeer’s Saint Praxedis was hung alongside the del Bravo Ferrara version, which has been widely considered to be the prototype and the model for Vermeer’s painting. However, it is possible that another version of the composition might have served as the actual model.

Arthur Wheelock believes that the version of this composition copied by Vermeer is his earliest dated work and an exploratory painting by a young artist who had recently converted to the Catholic faith and who had a proven interest in contemporary Italian art (see A. K. Wheelock, St. Praxedis: New Light on the Early Career of Vermeer in: Artibus et Historiae, vol. 7, no. 14, 1986, pp. 71-89). The present composition must have exerted a strong impact on Vermeer, not just on artistic grounds, but also on account of its devotional character.

Vermeer would have had access to Italian paintings, even if he did not visit Italy itself, but it must be asked why he decided to copy a composition by Ficherelli. The possibility always exists that he was commissioned to paint it. Even if he were not, the subject may have had a special appeal for him as St. Praxedis was one of a number of Roman saints who enjoyed a popularity among Jesuits of the seventeenth century as they sought to emphasise the early traditions of the Catholic Church. Vermeer’s interest in Jesuit ideas at the time must have been acute. Although he had been baptised in the Reformed Church, he married into a Catholic family in 1653 and seems to have converted to Catholicism shortly before that date. He named his youngest son Ignatius and had ties with the Jesuits throughout his life. The subject of Saint Praxedis also shares a thematic concern for the dignity of servitude found in Vermeer’s other early works such as Christ in the House of Martha and Mary in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Praxides was a Roman Saint in the 2nd century, revered for having cared for Christians who died under religious persecution. According to Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend, Praxides was the sister of Saint Pudentiana and their brothers were Saint Donatus and Saint Timothy. During one of the periods of persecution, they buried the bodies of Christians and distributed goods to the poor. De Voragine’s brief account states that they died in 165, in the reign of Emperors Marcus and Antoninus II. She is shown here in an image of devout contemplation after having tended to a decapitated martyr who lies on the ground behind her. The composition best exemplifies Ficherelli’s unusual combination of great artistic beauty and drama.

Ficherelli’s Saint Praxedis in the context of his oeuvre:

The subject was rarely treated by Italian artists, and therefore the depiction of it by Ficherelli is unusual. The artist is known to have painted this subject from as early as 1681, when Filippo Baldinucci described the collection of Cavaliere Jacopo Serzelli. He mentioned a group of four paintings by Ficherelli there an ‘Expulsion’ and three female subjects: a ‘Saint Agatha’, a ‘Herodias’, and ‘una Santa Prassede che spreme il sangue de’Martiri’ (op. cit. Baldinucci, 1681, p. 221). The ‘Santa Prassede’ refers to the present painting.

Baldinucci informs us that Ficherelli left his native San Gimignano in the 1620s for Florence under the protection of the art collector Alberto de’ Bardi from Vernio. De’ Bardi entrusted him to Jacopo da Empoli who ran one of the most successful workshops in the Grand Duchy’s capital. This apprenticeship was decisive and left a lasting influence on Ficherelli. The artist was named ‘il Riposo’ [the restful] for his easy-going and peaceful nature.

The present painting is a combination of different artistic developments in Florence between 1640 and 1650. Certain elements appear to be inspired by Ficherelli’s master Jacopo da Empoli, but the dramatic character of the scene owes much to the iconography introduced to Florentine seventeenth-century art by Francesco Furini (1603–1646). Indeed, the more sensual and softer language of Furini appears to have had a great impact on Ficherelli. Furini, as well as Ficherelli, used delicate brushwork, influenced by Venetian art, to convey their subjects in a subtle manner. The colouring and background recall sixteenth-century Florentine art, Jacopo da Empoli and also Andrea del Sarto. But the present composition is also exemplary for a simple, less ornate, classical approach that characterises Ficherelli’s style in the late 1640s, a development that he shared primarily with Lorenzo Lippi. Bandera has observed an almost Neo-Raphaelesque classicism in the present composition and a beautiful, academic harmony and balance of colouring and design (S. Bandera/A.K. Wheelock/W. Liedtke, see literature).

Technical analysis and composition:

Technical analysis and infrared reflectography (see fig. 4) carried out by Gianluca Poldi have shown several pentimenti which imply that the present composition was modified during the process of painting. Apparently, Ficherelli originally had intended a much more ornate architectural structure to the right, and sketched a column with a Tuscan base to the left (see fig. 5), which in the final version is now a simple square block. This under drawing is generally free and made with a brush in black. The decapitated martyr also appears to have been originally conceived slightly differently. The fact that the Ferrara version, as well as Vermeer’s copy, follow the final stage of the present painting, makes it highly likely that the present Saint Praxedis is the prime version of the composition.

A drawing conserved at the Uffizi (see fig. 3) also demonstrates that Ficherelli experimented with different compositional schemes. The central figure, with the elegant curves of her drapery and the contemplative intensity with which she focusses on the vase containing the blood of the martyrs, appears to have been formulated at this initial stage, but the architectural background and setting for this central scene were subject to several changes. In the drawing, Ficherelli placed the figure to the right of the composition, with a small Roman temple in the left background. When he began to paint and sketch on the present canvas, a column was originally incorporated and then painted over as if to recall the idea of the temple on the left, as might be the case with the much more ornate structure to the right.

Given these observations it would appear plausible to suggest a hypothetical chronology for the composition’s several stages of development: The first stage is represented by the drawing, in which the figure of the Saint was already designed, then the present version, the Bardi-Serzelli Saint Praxedis, during the process of which several changes were still carried out and this represents the second and a third stages of the finished composition. Which of the two other versions, the copy given to Vermeer or the Ferrara variant was executed next, based on the present composition, is difficult to determine. However it would appear to be plausible to argue that Vermeer used the present painting as a model for his celebrated copy.

We are grateful to Gianluca Poldi for the technical examination.

The painting is offered in its original 17th century Florentine carved and gilded wooden frame. We are grateful to Georg Smolka for his analysis.

Specialist: Dr. Alexander Strasoldo Dr. Alexander Strasoldo
+43-1-515 60-556

alexander.strasoldo@dorotheum.at


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Auction: Old Master Paintings
Date: 17.10.2017 - 18:00
Location: Vienna | Palais Dorotheum
Exhibition: 07.10. - 17.10.2017


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