Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Parable of the Mote and the Beam

Domenico Fetti (Italian, Rome (?) 1591/92–1623 Venice)
ca. 1619
Oil on wood
24 1/8 x 17 3/8 in. (61.3 x 44.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1991
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 623
Trained in Rome under the Florentine Lodovico Cigoli, Fetti evolved a style of great verve and fluency. In 1614 he moved to Mantua to work for Fernando Gonzaga. The picture is one of thirteen illustrations of Gospel parables painted in about 1619 for Ferdinando Gonzaga's studiolo (a small private study, often filled with works of art as well as books). It depicts Christ's words, "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?". The series enjoyed widespread celebrity and was replicated in Fetti's workshop.
probably Ferdinando Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, ducal palace, Mantua (by about 1621; 1631 inventory); John, 1st Earl Spencer, Althorp, Northampton, or Wimbledon, Surrey (by 1746–d. 1783; cat. 1746, no. 185; cat. 1750); the Earls Spencer, Spencer House, St. James's Place, London and Althorp (1783–1975; cat. 1851, no. 733); Edward John, 8th Earl Spencer, Althorp, Northampton (1975–79); [Wildenstein and Co., New York, 1979–91; sold to MMA]
London. Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd. "Pictures from Althorp," February–March 1947, no. 28.

E. K. Waterhouse. "The Exhibition of Pictures from Althorp at Messrs. Agnew's." Burlington Magazine 89 (December 1947), pp. 77–78, mentions that another version in the collection of F.D. Lycett Green was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1938.

Pamela Askew. "The Parable Paintings of Domenico Fetti." Art Bulletin 43 (March 1961), pp. 22, 24, 41–42, describes this painting, then in the Spencer collection, as the fourth version of the subject, following those in the A. Busiri Vici collection, Rome, the City Art Gallery, York, and the Princeton Art Museum; states that it was acquired by the first Earl of Spencer from the Portman collection, Dorchester; notes that a near duplicate of this picture exists in a private collection in Turin and that a copy is in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseilles; states that the Spencer version is noteworthy for its fluid painting technique and suggests that it was probably amongst the first of the parables painted after 1618; points out that the subject is not a true parable but instead a parabolic utterance.

Jürgen M. Lehmann. "Domenico Fetti: Leben und Werk des römischen Malers." PhD diss., Johann-Wolfgag-Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt, 1967, pp. 178–79, no. 13, p. 213 n. 2 [see Refs. Safarik and Milantoni, 1990].

Kenneth Garlick. "A Catalogue of Pictures at Althorp." Walpole Society 45 (1976), pp. 29, 99, 108, no. 215, publishes Althorp inventories in which this picture is included [see ex. coll.]; lists other replicas and versions.

Homan Potterton in Venetian Seventeenth Century Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1979, pp. 30, 69, states that it was purchased by the 2nd Earl of Sunderland in Italy.

Eduard A. Safarik with the collaboration of Gabriello Milantoni in Fetti. Milan, 1990, pp. 67–68, 71–77, no. 19 ill. (black and white, color detail), presents this picture as the primary version of the subject, far superior to all other versions; dates it among the last of the series, around 1618–21; suggests that it is most likely recorded in a 1685 inventory in Antwerp, noting, however, that this is "absolutely impossible to establish" with any certainty; suggests that the original location of the entire series of thirteen parables was in the "Grotta" of the Ducal Palace, Mantua, where some were recorded in 1631; points out that as in the other paintings of the series, the central placement of the steps and the disposition of the architecture strongly links the composition to the theatrical world.

Pamela Askew. Letter to Andrea Bayer. September 21, 1991, observes that, although it cannot be proven, this painting probably came to Althorp through Robert Spencer, Earl of Sunderland (1641–1702), since he is credited with beautifying Althorp and was "the first to make a point of forming a picture collection which he probably did from c. 1665–1702"; points out that the picture is first recorded in a 1746 inventory at Althorp during the tenure of John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer (1734–1783).

Everett Fahy. "Selected Acquisitions of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987–1991." Burlington Magazine 133 (November 1991), p. 804, colorpl. V.

Stéphane Loire. "Fetti. By Eduard A. Safarik with the collaboration of Gabriello Milantoni, 1990." Burlington Magazine 134 (March 1992), p. 189.

Andrea Bayer in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1991–1992." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 50 (Fall 1992), p. 30, notes that it is the "prime version" and that at least ten replicas are known.

Eliot W. Rowlands. The Collections of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Italian Paintings, 1300–1800. Kansas City, Mo., 1996, p. 256, as one of thirteen autograph parables recognized by Safarik [see Ref. Safarik 1990].

Eduard A. Safarik in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 11, New York, 1996, p. 41.

Eduard A. Safarik in Domenico Fetti: 1588/89–1623. Ed. Eduard A. Safarik. Exh. cat., Palazzo Te, Mantua. Milan, 1996, pp. 224, 227, ill., discusses the moral significance of this parable in relation to the other twelve.

Keith Christiansen. "Going for Baroque: Bringing 17th-Century Masters to the Met." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 62 (Winter 2005), p. 43, fig. 40 (color).

Everett Fahy in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2006–2007." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Fall 2007), p. 22.

The frame is from Sicily and dates to about 1660–90 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–4). This unusual gilded reverse molding frame is constructed with lap joints mitred on the face. The back frame is made of pine and the face may be made of walnut. A thin gesso ground and bright red bole layer are beneath a mordant (oil) gilding. The sight and back edges are ogee and astragal in profile and ripple ornamented while the hollow frieze is zigzag ornamented. The upper left and lower right corners with their fresh cut mitres indicate the frame was resized for this painting.

[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2017; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
The painting illustrates Christ's parable of the mote and the beam: "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" (Matthew 7: 3–5; Luke 6: 41–42). It is from a series of thirteen parables painted for Ferdinando Gonzaga in about 1618–21 and probably installed in the grotta of the ducal palace, Mantua. The series was broken up at the sale of the Gonzaga pictures in 1627, and nine went to the collection of the Duke of Buckingham, London, by 1635. Eight are now in the gallery at Dresden, one at Prague, one in a private collection in New York, and two are lost. Other versions or replicas known include: City Art Gallery, York; Artemis Group, London; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseilles; Luigi collection, Milan (known only in photographs); Friedmann collection, Munich (known only in photographs); Princeton University Art Museum; ex-coll. Andrea Busiri Vici, Rome; art market (1985), Rome; and private collection, Turin. Two versions recorded in old sources were in the collection of Emerenziana Bosschaert, Antwerp, 1685 (which may be this version) and in the Palazzo di Maria Margarita de Carion de Nisas Spinola, Genoa.
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