Giovanni Ghisolfi (Milan 1623 - 1683), Architectural capriccio with a statue of Mercury; Architectural capriccio with conversing figures, a round dance beyond.
a pair, both oil on canvas. each: 40 1/8 by 54 in.; 102 by 137 cm. Estimate 140,000—160,000 USD
PROVENANCE: Bologna, Private collection, c. 1986.
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: F. Arisi, Gian Paolo Panini e i Fasti della Roma del' 700, Rome, 1986, p. 240, nos. 47 and 48, reproduced (as by Panini);
D. R. Marshall, "The Architectural Piece in 1700: The Paintings of Alberto Carlieri (1672-c. 1720), Pupil of Andrea Pozzo", in Artibus et Historiae, no. 50 (XXV), Vienna-Cracow, 2004, p. 121 (as by Ghisolfi).
NOTE: A forerunner to Giovanni Panini and Alberto Carlieri, Giovanni Ghisolfi was one of the most eminent and influential veduta painters of the mid-late Baroque period in Italy1. After training under his uncle in Milan, he travelled to Rome at the age of 17 to perfect his talent for landscape painting and architectural capricci. The present pair of paintings aptly exhibits many of the characteristics that secured Ghisolfi's reputation and won him important commissions for an extensive series of decorative landscape frescoes at the Palazzo Trissino Baston and Palazzo Giustiniani Baggio in Vicenza and the Palazzo Borromeo Arese at Cesano Maderno, near Milan.
In the coastal setting of the first canvas, the central episode with the fish draws upon Biblical iconography of St Peter or St Andrew. It is closely affiliated to another Ghisolfi canvas, formerly in the Almagià collection and traditionally entitled The Parable of the Fish2, though, as Rowlands points out, no such specific Bible episode exists3. David Marshall references the original pairing of the Alamagià work with Pythagoras Emerging from his Subterranean Cave to suggest that its composition, and by extension the comparable present scene, may rather be renditions of Pythagoras and the Fisherman. Both Pythagoras subjects, based on the writings of Diogenes Laertius, were first interpreted as a pair by Salvator Rosa in 1662 (Forth Worth, Kimbel Art Foundation4 and Berlin, Staatliche Museen5). Since Ghisolfi was in contact with Rosa in Rome in the early 1650's and much influenced by his work, it seems credible that he responded to Rosa's Pythagoras subjects.
With little distinction in the central figure's robes between classical and biblical attire, the present painting nevertheless retains a spirit of poetic vagueness. In its array of Classical architectural elements, the scene incorportates characteristic Ghisolfi motifs such as the far right tower based on the Torre di San Vicenzo in Naples destroyed in 1748 and the column capitals of the ruin in the middle background which imitate the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum.
The rustic sphere of the second canvas is similarly permeated by an elegiac ambiguity as dancing figures in antique dress and a distant herdsman fashion a pastoral idyll. As with many of Ghisolfi's works, this scene may have no explicit subject and may simply mark one of the artist's picturesque assemblages of Rosaesque figure types.
For all their topical equivocation, both the present works present fine examples of Ghisolfi's consolidation of the Italian capriccio aesthetic which not only elevated the idealised, lyrical landscape but also regenerated interest in antique architecture and Roman archaeology.
We are grateful to Dr. David R. Marshall for having endorsed the attribution to Giovanni Ghisolfi based on photographs and for his help in cataloguing these paintings which he dates to the 1650's-1660's.
1. For further discussion of the artist's influence and association with Panini, see D. R. Marshall, "Early Panini Reconsidered: The Esztergom Preaching of an Apostle and the Relationship between Panini and Ghisolfi", Artibus et Historiae, no. 36 (XVIII), 1997, pp. 137-199.
2. Arisi, op. cit., no. 42.
3. See E. W. Rowlands, The Collections of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Italian Paintings 1300-1800, Kansas City, 1996.
4. L. Salerno, L'Opera Completa di Salvator Rosa, Milan, 1975, no.165.
5. Idem., no. 164.
Sotheby's. Important Old Master Paintings, Including European Works of Art. 29 Jan 09. New York www.sothebys.com photo courtesy Sotheby's