Art/ Collection/ Art Object


Francesco Cairo (Italian, Milan 1607–1665 Milan)
before 1635
Oil on canvas
29 5/8 x 24 5/8 in. (75.2 x 62.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Paul Ganz, in memory of Rudolf Wittkower, 1973
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 601
This painting was probably executed in Turin, where Francesco Cairo was court painter to Duke Vittorio Amedeo I of Savoy (1587–1637), between 1633 and 1637. It is a fragment of a larger picture and would have originally included the head of Saint John the Baptist. Closely related pictures of Herodias with the head of the Baptist by Cairo are in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Pinacoteca of Vicenza.
Mrs. A. Marcus (until 1962; sale, Sotheby's, London, March 21, 1962, no. 13, as "A Female Saint in ecstasy," for £300 to Berry); Mr. and Mrs. Paul Ganz, New York (by 1965–73)
Detroit Institute of Arts. "Art in Italy, 1600–1700," April 6–May 9, 1965, no. 141 (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Paul H. Ganz).

Musei Civici di Varese. "Francesco Cairo, 1607–1665," October 1–December 31, 1983, no. 20.

Mariagrazia Brunori. "Considerazioni sul primo tempo di Francesco del Cairo." Bollettino d'arte 49 (July–September 1964), pp. 241, 244, identifies the subject as Herodias and suggests that the head of Saint John the Baptist may have been cut out for commercial reasons; discusses the picture in relation to three other versions of the subject by the artist [see Notes].

Frederick Cummings in Art in Italy, 1600–1700. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1965, p. 129, no. 141, ill., calls the subject "probably" Herodias and suggests that the head of Saint John the Baptist was originally included in the composition; states that of the other three versions of the subject by Cairo, the MMA painting is closest to the one in Vicenza and dates both works before 1635, during Cairo's early period while he was court painter at Turin.

Howard Hibbard and Milton Lewine. "Seicento at Detroit." Burlington Magazine 107 (July 1965), pp. 370–71, fig. 35, state that it is described in the Detroit catalogue [see Ref. Cummings 1965] as a fragment, which they find "possible but by no means assured"; add that the version in Vicenza apparently depicts the same model and dates from the same time.

Mariagrazia Brunori. "Spigolature in margine al Del Cairo." Pantheon 25 (March/April 1967), p. 105, fig. 1, calls it an early work, and repeats her remarks from 1964 on the subject [see Ref.].

Anthony M. Clark in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 93, ill.

Rodolphe Bedö. "Sur un tableau de Francesco del Cairo." Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts no. 44 (1975), p. 91, fig. 77, as "Tête de femme," erroneously as still in the Ganz collection.

Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 298, 302, fig. 535 (color), dates it "before 1635?" and calls it possibly a fragment of a larger Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

Marco Magnifico et al. in Francesco Cairo, 1607–1665. Exh. cat., Musei Civici di Varese. [Varese], 1983, pp. 7–8, 11, 116, 120–21, 267, no. 20, ill., tentatively date it to the first half of the 1630s, contemporary with the version in Vicenza and before those in Boston and Turin; in addition to these four works, mention two more pictures with the same subject by Cairo: one in a private collection, Milan, and one sold at Finarte, Milan.

Nancy Ward Neilson in La pittura in Italia: il Seicento. Ed. Mina Gregori and Erich Schleier. revised and expanded ed. Milan, 1989, vol. 2, p. 661, dates it about 1635.

Nancy Ward Neilson in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 5, New York, 1996, pp. 405–6.

Francesco Frangi. Francesco Cairo. Turin, 1997, pp. 28, 34–36, fig. 16, colorpl. VIII, in addition to the pictures in New York, Boston, Vicenza, and Turin, mentions that there are numerous lost versions of the subject known through old documents.

Francesco Frangi. Francesco Cairo. Turin, 1998, pp. 8, 10, 56, 58, 239, 241, no. 19, fig. 21, colorpl. VIII [text similar to Ref. Frangi 1997], concurs with Brunori [see Ref. 1964] that the work must have been cut down at the bottom to remove the head of Saint John the Baptist, and adds that the canvas may also have been cut down at the sides; dates it to the same period as the version in Turin, and earlier than those in Boston and Vicenza.

Other versions of this subject by Francesco Cairo are in the Pinacoteca, Vicenza, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Galleria Sabauda, Turin. All three of these works include the head of John the Baptist. The MMA work has evidently been cut down; the Baptist's head probably originally rested just below Herodias's right hand.
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