Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Head of a Bishop

Gaetano Gandolfi (Italian, San Matteo della Decima 1734–1802 Bologna)
ca. 1770
Oil on canvas
18 3/8 x 14 7/8 in. (46.7 x 37.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Charles and Jessie Price and Stephen Mazoh Gifts, 2010
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 622
A brilliant painter and draftsman, Gandolfi belonged to a family of artists in Bologna: his brother Ubaldo was a painter and so was his son Mauro. In addition to altarpieces, ceiling decorations, and canvases with mythological subjects, he painted small canvases with bust-length images of men and women of various walks of society. These were intended not as portraits but as character studies in which the artist explored a variety of attitudes and expressions. This painting is notable for its virtuoso brushwork and freshness of execution, enhanced by its fine preservation.
Together with his older brother Ubaldo (for whom, see 2014.566), Gaetano was the outstanding painter-decorator of eighteenth-century Bologna and was active throughout northern Italy. His work was much affected by his visit to Venice and his study of the work of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in 1760. He is the author of numerous altarpieces as well as frescoed decoration for churches and palaces. His most ambitious fresco project was in 1776 for the dome of the church of Santa Maria della Vita (an oil sketch for the project is in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City). Like Tiepolo, in his palace decorations he often worked with a specialist in architectural painting (quadrature) and a professional in stucco work. His paintings are characterized by their fresh, open brushwork, combining brio with elegance. As with Tiepolo, their style does not fit easily into the conventional labels of Rococo and Neoclassicism. He had a solid training in the academic tradition in Bologna that extended back to the Carracci.

In addition to his large-scale works, Gaetano—like Ubaldo and Gaetano’s son Mauro (1764–1834)—was a master of the oil sketch and also painted numerous small canvases with heads. Some are portraits, but most are studies of figure types, carried out with great freshness. They are best understood as exercises in pictorial imagination—not unlike those done by Fragonard in France. This bishop saint falls into this category. However, a resemblance has been noted (see Rykner 2010) with the figure of Saint Egidius in an altarpiece in the church of Sant’Egidio, Bologna, that was painted in 1792, and it seems likely that the Museum’s canvas is in some way related to that project—possibly as an independent work for the patron or devotee of the saint. Gandolfi sometimes isolated figures from his major works and reworked them as independent compositions. This happened, for example, with the group of Saint Joseph holding the Christ Child in the Sant’Egidio altarpiece, which he also painted as a half-length composition (see D. Biagi Maino, Gaetano Gandolfi, Turin, 1995, p. 401, no. 212).

[Keith Christiansen 2014]
sale, Aguttes, Paris, December 19, 2008, no. 233, as Attributed to Gandolfi, to Baroni; [Jean-Luc Baroni, London, 2008–10; sold to MMA]
New York. Carlton Hobbs LLC. "Master Drawings and Paintings," January 22–February 2, 2010, no. 33 (as "The Head of a Bishop, slightly raised, in Profile").

Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd. An Exhibition of Master Drawings and Paintings. Exh. cat., Carlton Hobbs LLC. New York, 2010, unpaginated, no. 33, ill. (color), states that it seems to be unconnected to any preparatory drawing or finished painting, and discusses it in the context of other bishop-saints depicted by the artist, in both large-scale works and small independent studies; finds it especially similar to two heads, both in private collections: a Saint Petronio (dated 1767) and a Saint Joseph.

Didier Rykner. "Recent Acquisitions by the Metropolitan Museum: Annibale Carracci et Gaetano Gandolfi." The Art Tribune. June 13, 2010, pp. 1–2, fig. 2 (color) [,736.html], calls it possibly a study for the head of Saint Gilles in "The Holy Family Appearing to Saint Gilles" (church of Sant'Egidio, Bologna) of 1792.

Keith Christiansen in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2008–2010." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (Fall 2010), p. 43, ill. (color).

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