(Molfetta 1703 – 1766 Naples)
The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine of Alexandria
Oil on tin
21 7/8 x 16 inches
(55.6 x 40.6 cm)
Suida-Manning Collection, New York
Giaquinto was born in Molfetta, north of Bari on the Adriatic Coast, but his principal artistic education was in Naples, in the studio of Nicola Maria Rossi, a student of Francesco Solimena, and possibly with Solimena himself. His career followed the circumstances of his patronage, in large part from Spain. He moved to Rome in 1740 and remained there, establishing a studio and receiving many commissions, until he was summoned to Madrid in 1753, following the death of the court painter Jacopo Amigoni. There Giaquinto remained for nine years, receiving the three posts as First Painter to the King, Director of the Academia de San Fernando and Director of the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Barbara, Madrid. Besides Giaquinto’s many commissions in Spain, including the impressive fresco decoration of the Royal Palace, he had a powerful influence not only with his own students, but over a generation of Spanish artists.
Giaquinto returned to Naples in 1762 and remained there until his death four years later.
The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine is an unpublished, but unquestioned work of Giaquinto’s maturity. Its attribution has been confirmed by Dr. Nicola Spinosa (written communication, December 9, 2011), who dates the painting to the artist’s maturity in the period after 1740 but before his departure from Rome to Spain in 1753. In this brilliantly executed composition, Christ is seen sitting on the Virgin’s lap as she elegantly holds a white drape out with her right hand. Christ is seen slipping a wedding band onto the finger of St. Catherine of Alexandria, who kneels before the two, accompanied by her symbols of a crown (on her head) a sword, the instrument of her martyrdom, held by the two angels at the lower left, and the broken wheel of her torture, in the foreground. Joseph, who is infrequently represented in depictions of this spiritual union, stands behind the group and against a column, holding his flowering staff and a book in which he appears to be absorbed. A landscape with flying cherubim appear beyond the balustrade at the left.
Of this period in the artist’s career, Irene Cioffi has written,
“The 1740s represent Giaquinto’s most significant decade in Rome. The artist was admitted into the Accademia di S Luca in 1740. Some time thereafter he established a studio and was put in charge of training all the Spanish students sent to the papal city to perfect their craft. Giaquinto’s most important commissions during this decade were his large decorative programmes for the churches of S Giovanni Calabita (c. 1741–2) and Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (c. 1744), which established his international reputation as the leader of the Roman Rococo school. During this period his style moved away from the previous Rococo forms of the 1730s towards a more solid classicism that pays homage to the tradition of the Grand Style as exemplified by Maratti, the last great master of the Roman Baroque. Classicizing tastes were especially strong during the 1740s when Pompeo Batoni and the Frenchman Pierre Subleyras established reputations in Rome. Giaquinto’s mature Roman style is evident in his nave fresco for S Giovanni Calabita, St John of God Healing the Plague Victims, and in his altarpiece for S Maria dell’Orto, the Baptism of Christ (1750). Both examples convey a heightened sense of solemnity, which the artist achieved through the use of simplified compositional arrangements and figure types reminiscent of Maratti shown in postures of quiet repose. Other important commissions included the vault fresco of God the Father Presenting the Tablets to Moses (1743; Rome, S Lorenzo in Damaso, Ruffo chapel) and such large canvases as the Transportation of the Relics of SS Eurychetes and Acutius (1744; Naples Cathedral).”
The painting comes from the distinguished Suida-Manning Collection, begun by the Austrian art historian Wilhelm Suida and continued by his daughter Bertina Suida Manning and her husband Robert Manning, both scholars in the field.