Guido Reni (Bologna 1575-1642), The Martyrdom of Saint Apollonia. Estimate $1,200,000 – $1,800,000. Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2015
oil on copper, 17 3/8 x 13¼ in. (44.1 x 33.6 cm.)
Provenance: (Possibly) Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1632), listed in inventories of 1623 and 1633.
Acquired in Rome by the Abbé Jean d’Estrées (1666-1718), Archbishop of Cambrai from 1716, by whom sold to
Philippe II, duc d’Orléans (1674-1723), and by descent to his son
Louis, duc d’Orléans (1703-1752), and by descent to his grandson
Louis Philippe II Joséph d’Orléans, duc de Chartres, called ‘Philippe Egalité (1747-1793).
Orléans sale; London, Mr. Bryan’s Gallery, 26 December 1798, lot 36 (350 gns. to Troward).
Walsh Porter; (†), Christie’s, London, 14 April 1810, lot 14 (346 gns. to Parson).
George Watson-Taylor, M.P. (1771-1841), Erlestoke Park, near Devizes, Wiltshire, by 1818; Christie’s, London, 14 June 1823, lot 54 (420 gns. to ‘Count Woronzow’).
(Probably) Count Semen (or Seymon) Romanovich Worontsow (1744-1832).
Countess Woronzow, Villa Woronzow; her sale, Florence, Villa Woronzow, 28 April 1900, lot 15, to N. Stolypin.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 10 December 1986, lot 26, where acquired by the following.
Richard Feigen, New York; Sotheby’s, London, 9 July 2008, lot 72 (£1,833,250), where acquired by the present owner.
Literature: Dubois de Saint-Gelais, Description des Tableaux du Palais-Royal, second ed., Paris, 1737, no. 191.
A.J. d’Argenville, Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, Paris, 1762, II, p. 108.
J. Couché, La Galerie du Palais-Royal gravée d’après les tableaux des différents écoles qui la composent, Paris, 1786, I.
W. Buchanan, Memoirs of Painting…, 1824, I, p. 94
G. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, London, 1854, II, Appendix B, p. 495, no. 9.
A. Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions 1813-1912, London, 1913, I, p. 458.
C. Stryienski, La Galerie du Régent Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, Paris, 1913, p. 170, no. 253.
O. Kurz, “Guido Reni”, in Jahrbuch des Kunsthistorischensammlugen in Wien, Vienna, 1937, II, p. 247.
(Possibly) K. Garas, “The Ludovisi Collection of Pictures in 1633 – II”, The Burlington Magazine, CIX, no. 771, June 1967, p. 347, no. 224.
E. Bacchesi, L’opera completa di Guido Reni, Milan, 1971, p. 88, no. 26c.
D.S. Pepper, Guido Reni, Oxford, 1984, pp. 217-18, no. 20.
D.S. Pepper, Guido Reni. L’opera completa, Novara, 1988, p. 330, no. 16, pl. VI.
R. Spear, “Re-viewing the ‘Divine’ Guido”, The Burlington Magazine, CXXXI, no. 1034, May 1989, p. 370.
D.S. Pepper, “Guido Reni: a Review Reviewed” (with a reply by Richard E. Spear), The Burlington Magazine, CXXXII, no. 1044, March 1990, p. 221.
R. Spear, The “Divine” Guido. Religion, sex, money and art in the world of Guido Reni, New Haven & London, 1997, pp. 373-74, n. 77.
A. Henning, “The New Technique of Painting on Copper”, in Captured Emotions; Baroque Painting in Bologna 1575-1725, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles, 2008, pp. 26-27.
Exhibited: London, British Institution, 1818, no. 40.
Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Guido Reni 1575-1642, 5 September – 5 November 1988; 11 December 1988 – 12 February 1989; 11 March – 14 May 1989, no. 27 (entry by D.S. Pepper).
Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum; Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; The Hague, Mauritshuis, Copper as Canvas. Two Centuries of Masterpiece Paintings on Copper 1575-1775, 19 December 1998 – 28 February 1999; 28 March – 14 June 1999; 26 June – 22 August 1999, no. 47 (entry by E.P. Bowron).
Engraved: Bénédict Alphonse (or Bernard Antoine) Nicolet (1743-1806), 1786 (for La Galerie du Palais-Royal).
Notes: Delicate, refined, yet full of dramatic power, this supremely elegant copper by the great 17th-century master Guido Reni established the world auction record for the artist when it sold in 2008. Reni was celebrated during his lifetime for his graceful, classical style characterized by refined colors, soft modeling, and a gentle emotional sensibility inspired by Raphael. Indeed, 17th-century accounts describe the painter as ‘graceful’, ‘divine’, and ‘angelic’; the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini once remarked that an Annunciation painted by Reni for the French Queen, Anne of Austria, was ‘alone worth half of Paris’. This reputation earned the painter numerous important commissions in Rome, where he was summoned in 1601 by Cardinal Emilio Sfondrato, nephew of Pope Gregory XIV.
Reni’s early training in the Bolognese workshop of the Fleming Denys Calvaert exposed him to the advantages of using copper plates, whose smooth, reflective surfaces allowed the painter to achieve a luminous, porcelain-like finish. His biographer Malvasia described such works as ‘rametti da letto graziosissimi‘ (‘extremely graceful bedroom coppers’), indicating the position of intimacy and importance these works were granted in their owners’ homes, and we can be sure that the present work was commissioned by one of the artist’s sophisticated Roman patrons for private devotion. In fact, Stephen Pepper argued that this Martyrdom of Saint Apollonia is identifiable with a work listed in the 1623 and 1633 inventories of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, nephew of Pope Gregory XV (fig. 1), who must have been one of the painting’s earliest owners and whose collection was among the finest in Rome.
Dated by Pepper to c. 1614, the present work is comparable to Reni’s famous Aurora fresco for the Borghese Villa Quirinale and the slightly later Bacchus and Ariadne now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (fig. 2), with which it shares its carefully modeled physiognomies and elegant contrapposto poses. Nearly seven years earlier, in c. 1606-1607, Reni had first treated the theme of Saint Apollonia in a variant of the present composition which was in the Barberini collection in Rome for more than three hundred years (New York art market, 1990s; see E.P. Bowron inCopper as Canvas, loc. cit.). Although only two autograph version are known, several surviving period copies testify to the enormous popularity the composition enjoyed in its day. It is not difficult to imagine that Apollonia’s evident innocence and vulnerability in the face of a gory demise – the culmination of which the viewer is graciously spared – was particularly moving for 17th-century viewers. Apollonia, an early Christian martyr saint, is described in The Golden Legend as ‘aged’, but Reni has purposefully chosen to show her here as a young woman in the prime of life, whose unflinching devotion to God rewards her with a vision of a heavenly cherub carrying a crown of flowers and a martyr’s palm, even as her brutish executioner stands at the ready.
Although the exact circumstances of its commission remain unknown, much of the present copper’s prestigious provenance has been reconstructed. It is likely that The Martyrdom of Saint Apollonia was acquired in Rome around 1633, soon after the death of Cardinal Ludovisi (whose collection was quickly dispersed) by the Abbé Jean d’Estrées, Archbishop of Cambrai. Not long afterwards the painting was sold directly to Philippe II, duc d’Orléans, in whose posthumous inventory it is listed, and was inherited by Philippe’s grandson Louis-Philippe II Joseph, called ‘Philippe Égalité’, who was the subject of Jacques Couché’s 1786 volume on the Palais-Royal. During its time in the Orléans collection the painting was engraved by Bénédict Alphonse Nicolet (1786; fig. 3) for the collection catalogue, where it was accompanied with text by the Abbé de Fontenai: “…Ce Tableau est une des plus belles productions de Guide: il reunit la beauté et la trasparence du coloris, aux graces de l’expression, à l’élégance du Dessin, et au fini le plus précieux. Il est parfaitement bien conservé” (see E.P.Bowron, loc. cit.).
One of fourteen great works by Guido Reni in the Orléans collection, The Martyrdom of Saint Apollonia obviously stood out for its quality and refinement, and was purchased soon after the Orléans sale by George Watson-Taylor, M.P., who lent the painting to the British Institution in 1818. The Watson-Taylor sale lists the buyer of the copper as ‘Count Woronzow’, who is almost certainly identifiable with Count Semyon Romanovich Vorontsov, Russia’s longtime ambassador in London whose family was elevated to the status of Nkiaz or Prince, in 1852 and is generally referred to in Russian sources as the « Princes Vorontsov”. The Villa Vorontsov in Florence, from whence the present picture was sold in 1900, probably belonged to the branch of the Vorontsov family that moved to Florence and converted to Catholicism. Members of this branch included Countess Maria Artem’evna Vorontsova (1778-1866) and her sister Countess Anna Artem’evna Vorontsova (1777-1829), wife of Count Dimitri Petrovich Buturlin (1763-1829), who was Director of the Imperial Hermitage. It is unclear to whom, exactly, the ‘Countess Woronzow’ of the 1900 Florence sale refers, but she may be identifiable with yet another family member, Sofia Illarionova Vorontsova-Dashkova (1870-1953), who was the wife of Efim Pavlovich Demidov, Prince of Sant Donato.
After the Italian sale the The Martyrdom of Saint Apollonia disappeared from public view until it reemerged at auction in 1986, where it was purchased by the collector and art dealer Richard Feigen, in whose private collection it hung for more than twenty years. Pristinely preserved, its modeling as subtle and its palette as vibrant as when it was first painted, this exquisite cabinet jewel is among the most important surviving treasures of the early 17th century, whose ravishing beauty befits its dazzling provenance.
Christie’s. OLD MASTER PAINTINGS PART I, 28 January 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza