Nicola Malinconico

(Naples 1663 - 1727)

St. Christopher, 1690-1695

Oil on canvas, 102 x 76,5 cm (40.16 x 30.12 inches)

  • Reference: 649

Saint Christopher, with nothing on his thorax, leaning against a branch whose tip blooms in a palm, is carrying on his shoulders the Christ Child holding in his hand the globe with the cross on top. Christopher's legendary account, whose origins are traced back to a cult particularly rooted in Anatolia, is inserted in the story of the Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine (C, II): giant dreaded for his fearsome powerful body and angry animal face, he wanted to be serving the most powerful master, and, since he was told of the miraculous strength of the cross, he started looking for Christ. His height and his body's vigour allowed him to carry on his shoulder the travellers that had to cross a river. One night, carrying a child, he could feel on his shoulder the weight growing and growing, at the point that he found himself in great difficulty. Once reached the other side, the child turned out to be Christ by telling Christopher that he had ferried not only the weight of the whole world, but also of Him who made it all. In the iconography, beginning with the famous fresco by Titian in Venice's Doge's Palace, Christopher's branch blooms and on its upper tip flourishes a palm, symbol of his martyrdom, indicating how meeting with Christ would be fundamental in the saint's existence. In the Seventeenth century's representations, the Child bears the globe, visually reproducing the miracle of carrying the weight of the whole world (under this point of view, a widely adopted prototype could be considered the great painting by Bernardo Strozzi made in Venice on commission by Grimani and today in Saints Sebastian and Roch's church in Almenno San Salvatore, near Bergamo ). Our painting, that stands out also for the perfect preservation status, is certainly a work of the Neapolitan painter and it can be confronted with Francesco Solimena's piece of Saint Anna of the Lombards (or of Molteoliveto)'s church in Naples . There is the same composition, with Christopher's identical bust twist, the mantle's wavy pleats, the Child's blessing gesture. Yet, some important details exclude the fact that the painting might be a reduced domestic size of the Olivetans' altar piece. First of all the repentance (of which the vividness itself contradicts the possibility that it could be a copy) of Christopher's right hand that the painter planned to set slightly lower on the branch in bloom; then, under the purely formal point of view, the bodies' structure seems to be leaning on more solid forms, with more lively dark colours. It is clear that compared with Solimena's painting – that could be set at the end of the Seventeenth century – we find ourselves a few years earlier, in front of a painter still completely inserted in the naturalist context, between Giordano and Mattia Preti. Therefore, probably the pose's identity could be ascribed to a model that both paintings have in common, maybe one by Giordano, not yet identified. Riccardo Lattuada, by studying this canvas, assigns it for certain to Nicola Malinconico. And it is a totally relevant indication. Malinconico, born in 1663 and son of Andrea, painter of the last generation of Caravaggio's followers, stands out among the most talented pupils of Luca Giordano, whose group is remembered in Vite, by Bernardo De Dominici . Active at an early age mainly as still life artist and collaborator of Andrea Belvedere , from the last decade of the century he is commissioned with important altar pieces for Saint John in Porta (today Jesus of the Nuns) and Saints Bernard and Margaret's churches in Naples, and especially for Lucca's Cross church where he paints four canvasses in 1696 . Yet, he is especially known for the decoration of Bergamo's Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore's nave and transept, where he paints as many as seventeen scenes, among which the huge canvas of Moses at the passage of the Red Sea, and for Saint Alexander's martyrdom, on the centre behind the choir in the adjoining cathedral by 1694 . Bergamo's works end in this year, when the painter gets back to Naples where his career continues for more than thirty years, with a constant updating on Solimena and De Matteis's painting . Our painting is easily dated back to 1690-95. The employment of a vigorous language, still not developed on the rococo's trends that clearly influence his following production, demonstrate it. The most pertinent comparison is the one with Saint Joseph and the angel, located under the fake organ on the right wall of Santa Maria Maggiore . There are the same pleats featuring wide brushstrokes, a physiognomic study in the greater figure showing Mattia Preti's influence, and some Morelli-style details, such as Christ's eyes' shape, the same as of those of the Virgin on Bergamo's canvas. The same poetics, tending to the monumental, that are able to articulate didactically a narration without diminishing the sequences' expressive force are recognizable in Saint Alexander's figure in the cathedral's altar piece . So, in his best works Malinconico shows a tenacious resistance to the lightening in tones, characterizing the change of century in Neapolitan painting. Working in a large site started by Giordano, and at the beginning wholly entrusted to this artist, Malinconico finds in his master, at least in this period, the main reason for existence of his stylistic path. Our canvas is therefore an important document of how Giordano's influence was more vital than ever in the last decade of the Seventeenth century, through his direct pupils' work. Although in 1692 Giordano was living far from Naples, working in Escorial painting Spain's sovereigns' glories, his fame, far from growing dim, finds in his pupils sound spokesmen, waiting for his triumphant return at the beginning of the new century. 1 - R. Pallucchini, La pittura veneziana del Seicento, Milano 1981, pp. 161, 639, fig. 472. 2 - F. Bologna, Francesco Solimena, Napoli 1958, pp. 83-84, fig. 112. 3 - B. De Dominici, Vite dei pittori, scultori ed architetti napoletani, III, Napoli 1742-44, ed. Napoli 1840-46, III, p. 295. 4 - On Malinconico's activity as flower painter, see A. Tecce, Nicola Malinconico, in La natura morta in Italia, Milano 1989, II, pp. 944-945. 5 - A. Cassiano, L’attività napoletana di Nicola Malinconico, in “Itinerari”, 1, 1979, pp. 143-145 (pp. 139-149). The dating I welcomed for Lucca's Cross's church was suggested by Achille Della Ragione: A. Della Ragione, Nicola Malinconico, pittore di natura morta, Napoli 2009. 6 - V. De Martini, Un episodio giordanesco a Bergamo, in “Arte cristiana”, 66, 1978, pp. 51-58; L. Ravelli, Un pittore partenopeo a Bergamo : Nicola Malinconico e le sue "historiae sacrae" per Santa Maria Maggiore, Bergamo 1989. 7 - On the continuation of the painter's career in the new century, see E. Persico Rolando, Un nuovo contributo su Nicola Malinconico decoratore in S. Maria la Nova a Napoli, in “Campania sacra”, 30, 1999, pp. 253-273. 8 - F. Noris, in Il Seicento a Bergamo, catalogue of the exhibition, Bergamo 1987, pp. 171-172, n. 43. 9 - F. Noris, Presenze (esclusi i veneti), in I pittori bergamaschi: dal XIII al XIX secolo, IV, Il Seicento, 4, Bergamo 1987, p. 165, n. 14 (pp. 113-199).

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