Giovanni Battista Gaulli, il Baciccio

(Genoa 1639 - 1709 Rome)

Salvator Mundi, c. 1670

Oil on copper, 29,7 x 18,5 cm (11.69 x 7.28 inches)

  • Reference: 677
  • Provenance: Private collection

We are grateful to dr. Francesco Petrucci for writing this entry

The precious and rare painting, as its original use connected to a holy artefact of decorative art suggests, depicts Child Jesus holding the cross, symbol of his Passion, leaning with his right arm on the earth and sitting on the clouds, as a king on a celestial throne. He is a “redeemer” and “saviour” Christ, through the saving sacrifice he implies. The composition is painted on a copper sheet, initially forming a sort of door or batten, as the presence of the original heart-shaped moulded iron bands, still on the back of the sheet, indicate. They had to be set on hinges, as the recesses on the edge of the sheet and the final copper band with three little holes, for other secondary anchorages, suggest. Other irregular holes, on the opposite side, probably followed successive attachment operations of the sheet, while the two holes on the centre left part, later plugged, might have been useful for a handle (G. Anedi, Le Bandelle delle porte in ferro forgiato. Arte e storia dal XII al XVIII secolo, Milan 2002). The sheet was probably the door of a reliquary, maybe containing relics of the cross: it was quite frequent to find them in private chapels. Actually, alleged fragments of the lignum crucis have been conserved for centuries in several churches, monasteries, basilicas, holy places and private chapels of all Europe, especially in Rome, at the point that Erasmus of Rotterdam used ironically to state that the exemplars were so many that they would be able to build a ship with all that wood, and Calvin wrote in his Traité des reliques that all these pieces of the cross put together would have formed the load of a ship, although the Gospels relate that such a weight had been carried by a single man! Anyway, the huge amount of relics of the Cross existing in the past was so legendary that according to Saint Paulinus there was the miraculous phenomenon of “the reintegration of the Cross”, according to which the detached fragments continuously regenerated themselves (The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol. 4, np. 524). Among the most famous relics, the three large pieces conserved in the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem in Rome and “the Cross of Justin”, precious goldsmith's artefact of the Sixth century in the Treasury of the Basilica of Saint Peter, containing two pieces (W. Ziehr, La Croce, Stuttgart 1997). The painting can be attributed to Giovan Battista Gaulli, one of the greatest artists active in Rome in the second half of the Seventeenth century, the only one that can compete with Carlo Maratti for the primacy of master (on Gaulli, with a further wide biography, see L. Pascoli, Vite de’ pittori, scultori ed architetti moderni, Rome 1730-1736, critical edition by A. Marabottini, dedicated to V. Martinelli, Perugia 1992, pp. 274-286; R. Soprani, C. G. Ratti, Delle vite de’ Pittori, Scultori ed Architetti Genovesi, Genoa 1769, II, pp. 74-90; M. V. Brugnoli, Contributi a Giovan Battista Gaulli, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, XXXIV, 3, 1949, pp. 225-239; R. Enggass, The painting of Baciccio / Giovan Battista Gaulli, 1639-1709, Pennsylvania University 1964; D. Graf, Die Handzeichnungen von Guglielmo Cortese und Giovanni Battista Gaulli. Kustmuseum Düsseldorf, 2 voll., Düsseldorf 1976; M. Fagiolo dell’Arco, R. Pantanella, Museo Baciccio. In margine a quattro inventari inediti, Rome 1996; Giovan Battista Gaulli Il Baciccio 1639 – 1709, catalogue of the exhibition, by M. Fagiolo dell’Arco, D. Graf, F. Petrucci, Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, 11 December 1999 – 12 March 2000, Milan 1999; F. Petrucci, Baciccio. Giovan Battista Gaulli (1639-1709), Rome 2009). For stylistic reasons, such as the statuesque drawing featuring baroque and Bernini's influences, the bright chromaticism and the pictorial fluidity, the reference to this painter is certain. A persuasive comparison, for iconographic and stylistic affinities, including the similar framing and structuring of the pose, can be made with the Child Jesus the Saviour of the Gallery of Palazzo Rosso in Genoa, where however the cross is missing and a blessing Christ is depicted (oil on canvas, cm. 128 x 96,3, inv. PR 89. Catalogo de’ quadri appartenenti al Sig. Marchese Antonio Brignole Sale…, 1829, p. 12; M. V. Brugnoli, 1949, p. 236; B. Canestro Chiovenda, Aggiunte al Bernini e alla Regina Cristina. Inediti e precisazioni sul Gaulli, in “Commentari”, XXI, 3, 1970, p. 240, fig. 17; P. Boccardo, in Il Baciccio un anno dopo/ La collezione Chigi restauri e nuove scoperte, catalogue of the exhibition, by M. Fagiolo dell’Arco, F. Petrucci Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, 25 March – 27 May 2001, Milan 2001, n. 9, pp. 46-47; F. Petrucci, Baciccio. Giovan Battista Gaulli (1639-1709), Rome 2009, p. 565, n. D8). The artefact of which the door was part had most likely been committed from the Jesuit circle, probably made for a cardinal or a prelate close to the Society of Jesus. Among the Jesuit cardinals connected with Baciccio, let's mention Giovan Francesco Negrone (1629-1713), who, although he prevented him to fresco the right transept of the Gesù, where the Genovese painter painted all the rest (vault, dome, pendentives, left transept, semidome apse), commissioned him several works. Like for the canvas in Palazzo Rosso, for our copper as well an early dating, maybe at the beginning of the 1670s, can be confirmed, due to the bright pictorial style and the Rubens-like features of the execution, echoing the artist's training in Genoa. Genovese painter Giovan Battista Gaulli, also known as “Baciccio”, was an eclectic artist, encouraged by Bernini and protected by the popes; he tried out all pictorial genres with equal dignity. His influence became fundamental for the development of Eighteenth century painting. He stood out as a portraitist of excellence, among the greatest of the Seventeenth century, he portrayed all the popes from Alexander VII to Clement XI, so many cardinals and princes, managing to attribute a rare sense of truth and psychological depth to his subjects. He was a refined fresco painter, having established with the decoration of the Church of Gesù and of the Saint Apostles in Rome patterns which would be later drawn on throughout Europe, from Venice to Austria and France. He painted marvellous altarpieces and he was a prolific painter for collectors, and his works were displayed in the greatest patrician collections (Chigi, Altieri, Ottoboni, Rospigliosi, Spinola, Luigi XIV, etc.).

More information