ALLESSANDRO VAROTARI,
called IL PADOVANINO

(Padua 1588 - 1649 Venice)

 

The Archangel Michael

 

Oil on canvas


25 ⅞ x 20 inches
(65.7 x 50.4 cm)

 

Inscribed with inventory numbers, recto and verso, in red, lower left, “503”; in white, lower right: “129”or “1Z9”

 

 

Provenance:

Possibly Giorgio Bergonzi Venice (1704-1710)
Eva D. Ostwalt (1902-2010), Germany; from 1947 in Bethesda, MD; by descent to:
Janet Loewe, Clarks Summit, PA (until 2015)

 

As his sobriquet would imply, Padovanino came from Padua (Padova), the son of the painter and architect Dario Varotari.  From his earliest works he demonstrated the profound influence of Titian, although as Boschini wrote in 1674, this came not from direct contact with the master (Titian died in 1576), but from copying Titian’s paintings, beginning with his celebrated frescoes in the Scuola di San Antonio in Padua.

Padovanino moved to Venice in 1614, and soon spent three years in Rome, where among other works, he executed splendid copies of Titian’s Aldobrandini Baccchanals (now Accademia Carrara, Bergamo).  His mature paintings reveal the knowledge of both the late mannerist work of Palma Giovane, himself a direct pupil of Titian, and the naturalism of Annibale Carracci.  His fusion of an almost nostalgic response to Venetian sixteenth-century paintings and a contemporary baroque vitality gives his work both a dynamic and a romantic quality.

The present painting is an exceptionally attractive example of such a painting.  Michael is portrayed as a handsome youth, clad in armor topped by a crimson robe.  His angelic nature is indicated by the wings that quietly sit behind him, as he looks to the left, while holding in his hands the balances with which he traditionally weighs the souls of the dead to measure their virtue or iniquity.  The figure of Michael is notable as being almost universally venerated.  He is considered the guardian angel of the Hebrew nation (cf. Daniel 10:13, 21), while later he was adopted as Christian saint, often depicted in combat with the devil.   In Islam Mikail is the angel of mercy and nourishment.

In confirming the attribution of the Mauro Lucco has written (September 2017):

 

The painting is to my eyes a typical work by Alessandro Leone Varotari, better known as Il Padovanino, in his later years --very close, for instance, to the Saint Eligius clothed by the angels formerly in the Church of St. Giuliana in Padua, which I happened to rediscover, almost forty years ago, in the Parish Church of Agordo (Belluno). This painting actually bears no date, but is very close to the so-called Pala delle Milizie in the Duomo of Palmanova (Friuli), which is inscribed 1641 on the verso.  A late date has been accepted for the Agordo altarpiece by Ugo Ruggeri and by Anna Maria Spiazzi;[i] as far as I know, no objection has been raised against that. In fact, the face of our Michael is similar to that of St. Theodore in the Pala delle milizie; and, even more, to that of St. Michael in the altarpiece at the Gallerie dell’Accademia of Venice.[ii] I would also stress the similarity of his face with that of St. Catherine in the Mystic Marriage of St, Catherine in the Pinacoteca Estense, Modena (datable around 1641, or slightly later), or with the Virgin in the Virgin and Child with the infant St. John in a private collection, or with Andromache in Hector’s Farewell to Andromache and Astyanax, in the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.[iii] Many other comparison could be possible, but I think these could be enough to state that your painting is by Padovanino, in the early 40s of 17th century.

 

While stylistically, our Archangel Michael can be associated with the later works cited above, compositionally it relates to the single-figure compositions that the artist painted throughout his career.  These includes such works as his Judith (Dresden, Gemäldeglerie), Allegory of Prudence (Bassano, Museo Civico), Berenice (Venice, Accademia), and Apollo (ex-Borchardt collection) – all featuring the placement of a sensually rendered arm between the figure and viewer.[iv]  No other independent depiction of Michael is known by Padovanino, which makes it likely that the present painting is to be identified with the “Quadro di San Michiel con armature di Padoanin” which appeared in inventories of the collection ofGiorgio Bergonzi in Venice between 1704 and 1710.[v]

In more recent years the painting was the prized possession of Eva Ostwalt, a Holocaust survivor who lived until the age of 108, whose remarkable life was featured in the documentary Lust am Leben--mit 103 in Amerika.

 

[i] Ugo Ruggeri, Alessandro Varotari, detto il Padovanino, in Saggi e Memorie di Storia dell'Arte 16, 1988, p. 110, fig. 160; Idem, Il Padovanino, Soncino 1993, p. 120; Anna Maria Spiazzi, “Dipinti demaniali di Venezia e del Veneto nella prima metà del secolo XIX. Vicende e recuperi,Bollettino d'Arte, 1983, p. 93.

[ii] Ruggeri, 1988, p. 135, fig. 140, where the figure is called St. George

[iii] For the Modena altarpiece, cf. Ruggeri, 1988,  p. 119, fig. 161; for the Virgin and Child with St. John, Ruggeri, 1988, p. 112, fig. 162; Idem, 1993, fig. 36 at page 119); (Ruggeri, 1993, fig. 34 at page 115)

[iv] Ruggeri, 1988, figs. 47,57,53, 50.

[v] Inventories of 27 February 1704, 18 June 1709, 22 July 1709, and 4 January 1710, as transcribed in the Getty Provenance Index (Item 76 Archival Inventory I-4673 [Bergonzi] and Item 130 Archival Inventory I-3631 [Bergonzi]).