PIER FRANCESCO MOLA
(Coldrerio 1612 – Rome 1666)
Head of a Classical Poet (Homer or Socrates ?)
Oil on canvas
19 1⁄2 x 14 3/8 inches
(49.5 x 36.5 cm)
Possibly Antonio Amici Moretti, Rome, 1690
Roy Clyde Gardner, Union, Mississippi (1970s-until 2004); by bequest to: Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (2004-2010)
Francesco Petrucci, Pier Francesco Mola (1612-1666): Materia e colore nella pittura del ‘600. Rome 2012, p. 390, cat. no. B118.
Although born in Ticino, in a town now part of Switzerland, Pier Francesco Mola was definitively a Roman artist, his family having moved to Rome in 1616 when his father was appointed architect to the Camera Apostolica. Other than two extended trips outside the city, one a two-year stay in Bologna where he worked with Francesco Albani, Mola remained in Rome for his entire life.
Mola’s oeuvre ranges from ambitious religious compositions to evocative landscapes, often with diminutive figures providing only a suggestion of subject matter. Among his most attractive and memorable paintings, however, are half-length and bust-format depictions of ancient literary figures. These vary in identity but have in common the depiction of an elderly bearded figure, often in contemplative or ecstatic attitude, his head crowned with laurel. These figures are characterized by a vigorously executed, richly nuanced physiognomy. Some with vacant eyes and a stringed instrument are traditionally called Homer (Rome, National Gallery; Dresden Gemäldegalerie, Moscow, Pushkin Museum; Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi); others Virgil (Milan, Koelliker Collection), Archimedes (Dresden), or Euclid (Private Collection). Many have only generic titles, such as an “Old Man,” a “Mathematician,” “Astronomer,” “Poet,” or a “Philosopher.”
The subject of the present work has traditionally been considered Socrates, a figure that Mola treated in his multi-figure composition of Socrates Instructing the Young on Self- Knowledge (Lugano, Museo Civico), but there is little internal evidence in the present painting to confirm that. Petrucci suggests that the he may be Homer, although the fixed eyes of the subject would be unusual in the depiction of the blind writer. In any case he is very much an ancient literary type, and certainly a Mola type –that of the wise, authoritative, somewhat romantic poet. Mola’s brilliant handling of the paint can be seen in both the bold delineation of features, such as the ear, and the fine elaboration of details, as in the beard. Petrucci believes that the scale of the head suggests that this work may have been conceived as preliminary for a larger composition rather than being an independent study.
The attribution of the present work to Pier Francesco Mola was confirmed on first-hand inspection by Dr. Erich Schleier (in July 2011) and by Dr. Francesco Petrucci (in February 2012), who considers the painting a late work dating from the 1660s.
 Petrucci has associated the picture with a painting of like size and subject listed in the inventory of the art dealer Antonio Amici Moretti dated March 1, 1690: “Un quadro in tela di palmi due, e mezzo, e due dipintovi una testa di vecchio coronate di lauro rappresenta Omero di mano di Francesco Mola con sua cornice larga mezzo palmo scannellata intagliata, e tutta dorata” (published in A Giammaria, ed. Archivio del collezionismo romano (series editior L. Spezzaferro) Pisa 2009, p. 54)