List of Artworks

Research Notes: Part 1, no. 8, Folio 2 verso

Giovanni Antonio Galli, Roman Charity (1620-52)
Fig. I, 8, a
Giovanni Antonio Galli (Italian, born 1585, died 1651–1653)
Title: Roman Charity, Carità romana
Date: 1620–52
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 164 x 149 cm (64 5/8 x 58 3/4)
Current location: Rome, Galleria Doria Pamphilj
Image Source:
Papi, Gianni. Spadarino. Soncino CR : Edizioni dei Soncino, c2003. ND 623.G32 A4 2003.

Although many of the attributions in the two inventories of the Mellini painting collection can be considered reliable, in this case there is no known painting by Caravaggio that corresponds to the description in the 1680 inventory, and the description in the 1681 poem is quite generic. The image of a woman breastfeeding an old man is included in Caravaggio’s famous Seven Works of Mercy of 1607, however, we know of no painting by Caravaggio that depicts this particular subject (Pero breastfeeding her father, Cimon, after he is sentenced to death by starvation) as a single iconographic theme (fig. I, 8, b). A painting by Spadarino depicting Roman Charity, now in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome, is an indication of how the followers of Caravaggio painted this subject (fig. I, 8, a). In fact, the description in the 1680 inventory is quite close to the depiction in Spadarino’s version.

If we follow the argument of Alfred Moir, we might speculate that the presence of versions of the theme of Roman Charity in the works of the followers of Caravaggio could be an indication that there was an original of this theme by Caravaggio himself, now lost, which might have been the work listed in the two Mellini
documents.1,2 The proliferations of different versions of particular subjects by a master, and the many copies by associates and followers, make the positive identification of works from this period extremely difficult.

Caravaggio, The Seven Works of Mercy (1607) Fig. I, 8, b
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610)
The Seven Works of Mercy
1607
Oil on canvas
390 cm × 260 cm (153 5/8 × 100 3/8 in.)
Naples, Pio Monte della Misericordia
Wikimedia

Given the Caravaggesque nature of this painting, we can presume that it was one of the works acquired by Giovan Battista Mellini in the 1620s, although the 1627 inventory does not specify any painting with the iconographic theme of Roman Charity.3 Nevertheless, it is clear from the description that this is what is depicted: “Un quadro lungo sei palmi incirca con la filia che dà la zinna al padre carcerato” (“A painting about six palms long, showing a daughter giving her breast to her father, who is in prison”). From an inventory dated 1732, we find these two allusions: “Due d’imperatore p[er] traverso rapp[resentan]te uno la Carità Romana” (Two paintings of imperial size [about 135 x 85 cm], one depicting Roman Charity”); “Altro d’imperatore p[er] traverso rapp[resentan]te mezze figure delle Carità Romana con cor[ni]ce a casa con piccole intaglie dorata” (“Another of imperial size, depicting half figures of Roman Charity in a gilded box frame with small carvings”).4

Footnotes

  • 1. Alfred Moir, Caravaggio and His Copyists (New York: New York University Press, 1976), 35.
  • 2. Benedict Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement: Lists of Pictures by Caravaggio and His Followers throughout Europe from 1590 to 1650 (Oxford: Phaidon, 1979), 70, 92.
  • 3. Fausto Nicolai, “Le ‘molte pitture moderne buone’ nella raccolta di Giovan Battista Mellini (1591–1627),” Rivista d’arte, ser. 5, vol. 2 (2012): 217–35. See “Appendice” on pages 231–34 for the transcription of “Inventario dei quadri lasciati in eredità da Giovan Battista Mellini allo zio cardinale Giovanni Garzi,” in Archivio di Stato di Roma, Rome, 30 Notai Capitolini, uff. 31, vol. 118, ff. 774–90, 11 ago.1627.
  • 4. Archivio Serlupi Crescenzi, Rome, “Nota de quadri esistenti nelle camere di Mons.re Mario Millini,” 1732, fol. 424, in Scritture diverse della Casa Mellini dal 1522 al 1743, vol. 17, fols. 407–26.

References

Nicolai, Fausto. “Le ‘molte pitture moderne buone’ nella raccolta di Giovan Battista Mellini (1591–1627).” Rivista d’Arte, ser. 5, vol. 2 (2012): 217–35.

Nicolson, Benedict. Caravaggism in Europe. 2nd ed. 3 vols. Turin: U. Allemandi, 1990.