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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Saint Margaret of Cortona

Gaspare Traversi (Italian, Neapolitan, ca. 1722–1770)
ca. 1758
Oil on canvas
67 3/4 x 48 1/4 in. (172.1 x 122.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Gwynne Andrews Fund, 1968
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 620
Margaret of Cortona, a thirteenth-century nun, was canonized in 1728. She is shown wearing the habit of a Franciscan Tertiary, holding a crucifix, and gazing into the face of an angel who has appeared to her holding a crown of thorns. In the background, Satan, who had attempted to persuade her to return to her former sinful life, flees into the fire of Hell. The dog is Margaret of Cortona's attribute, and the child is her illegitimate son. Typical of Traversi is his conception of the saint as an ordinary peasant and the description of the brick floor and wooden beams of her simple house.
Inscription: Inscribed (on cross): INRI
conte Merenda, Forlì (until after 1870; inv., after 1870, no. 57/39, p. 20, as "S. Margherita da Cortona," Flemish School); [Ettore Viancini, Venice, about 1965/66, as by Pompeo Batoni]; [Ferruccio Ferruzzi and Filippo Giordano delle Lanze, Venice, by 1967–68; as attributed to Pompeo Batoni, sold to MMA]
Detroit Institute of Arts. "The Golden Age of Naples: Art and Civilization under the Bourbons, 1734–1805," August 11–November 1, 1981, no. 50.

Art Institute of Chicago. "The Golden Age of Naples: Art and Civilization under the Bourbons, 1734–1805," January 16–March 8, 1982, no. 50.

Queens, N.Y. Queens Museum. "Flights of Fantasy," August 14–November 7, 1982, no. 37.

Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. "Gaspare Traversi: Heiterkeit im Schatten," July 19–November 16, 2003, no. 63.

Naples. Castel Sant'Elmo. "Gaspare Traversi: napoletani del '700 tra miseria e nobiltà," December 13, 2003–March 14, 2004, no. 7.

Parma. Galleria Nazionale. "Luce sul Settecento: Gaspare Traversi e l'arte del suo tempo in Emilia," April 4–July 4, 2004, no. 13.

Filippo Giordano delle Lanze. Receipt. 1968, attributes it to Pompeo Batoni, as coming from the Merenda collection in Forlì.

Robert Enggass. Letter to Claus Virch. October 10, 1969, tentatively puts forward an attribution to Gaspare Traversi.

Robert Enggass. Letter to Claus Virch. October 11, 1969, confidently ascribes it to Gaspare Traversi.

Pierre Rosenberg. Letter to Claus Virch. May 27, 1970, as definitely not by Subleyras.

Federico Zeri. Letter to Everett Fahy. May 24, 1971, finds Robert Enggass's attribution to Gaspare Traversi "absolutely convincing" [see Refs. Enggass 1969]; recognizes "Traversi's types" in this picture, particularly in the faces of the angel and the saint.

Nicola Spinosa in Civiltà del '700 a Napoli, 1734–1799. Exh. cat., Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples. Florence, 1979, vol. 1, pp. 228–29, ill., publishes this picture for the first time; calls it one of Traversi's masterpieces from around 1758, the period in which he executed his "Pentecost" for San Pietro d'Alcantara, Parma; believes this painting, like the Pentecost, was executed in Rome and then sent to Emilia Romagna; admires Traversi's "brilliant palette" and the "intensely expressive quality of his faces"; comments on the unusual iconography of the scene, which infuses the picture with a sense of reality; identifies the child at Saint Margaret's side as "her curly-haired daughter".

Ferdinando Bologna. Gaspare Traversi nell'illuminismo europeo. Naples, 1980, pp. 84–85, accepts the attribution to Traversi; sees in this picture visual evidence of Traversi's relationship with Benefial in Rome, noting in particular the influence of his 1756 "Portrait of the Marefoschi Family" [Galleria Corsini, Rome] on Traversi.

Nicola Spinosa in The Golden Age of Naples: Art and Civilization Under the Bourbons, 1734–1805. Ed. Susan F. Rossen and Susan L. Caroselli. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Vol. 1, Detroit, 1981, pp. 148–49, no. 50, ill., cites it as "an outstanding example" of Traversi's Roman work of about 1758; compares it to his 1758 "Pentecost" for San Pietro d'Alcantara, Parma, and believes that this picture, like the "Pentecost," was probably sent to a church in the district of Parma; comments on the "unusual iconography selected by the artist in order to infuse the scene with a sense of reality".

Franz Schulze. "Vintage Bourbon." Art in America (December 1981), p. 111, questions the attribution to Traversi, noting that this picture with "its subdued lighting and bland forms. . . bears little clear relation to Traversi's customary spastic compositions and boisterous chiaroscuro".

Nicola Spinosa. Pittura napoletana del Settecento: dal Rococò al Classicismo. Naples, 1987, pp. 67, 108–9, no. 101, ill. (color), dates it about 1758 and comments on its relationship to Benefial's 1756 "Portrait of the Marefoschi Family"; compares the theme of our picture to that of a Franciscan saint represented in one of Traversi's altarpieces for the Convent of Castellarquato (now in the Cathedral of Parma); despite documentary evidence to the contrary, believes this picture was originally executed for a Franciscan church in Emilia Romagna in to conjunction with his other works for Castellarquato; notes stylistic affinities with Traversi's pictures executed for the Monastic Order of Saint Francis and Padre Raffaello de' Rossi in Lugano, suggesting that Padre Raffaello may also have been the patron of this work.

Giancarlo Sestieri UTET. La pittura del Settecento. Turin, 1988, pp. 101–2, ill., considers this picture the "apex" of Traversi's religious works, noting in particular that his use of Seicento "naturalism" makes a sacred theme modern.

Nicola Spinosa in La pittura in Italia: il Settecento. Ed. Giuliano Briganti. 2nd ed. Milan, 1990, vol. 2, p. 480, ill. (color).

Francesco Barocelli. "The Painter in the Drawing-room: Gaspare Traversi." FMR no. 70 (October 1994), pp. 91–92, ill., suggests this picture may date to the end of Traversi's career; regards it as "one of the most fascinating and problematic paintings of the century. . . a scene of desolating poverty, brightened by the saint's decision to repent".

Eliot W. Rowlands. The Collections of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Italian Paintings, 1300–1800. Kansas City, Mo., 1996, pp. 437, 442, dates this picture about 1760, noting its indebtedness to Subleyras and a trend toward "softer forms, stabler compositions, and a more meditative mood".

Francesco Barocelli in Gaspare Traversi: napoletani del '700 tra miseria e nobiltà. Ed. Nicola Spinosa. Exh. cat., Castel Sant'Elmo. Naples, 2003, pp. 71, 90–91, 240, 257, nos. 7, R94, ill. (overall in color and black and white, color detail), dates it about 1758, after Traversi had absorbed the stylistic influences of Subleyras and Benefial; identifies it with a picture of this subject listed in an 1805 inventory for the Convento sopresso dei M. Riformati di Castell' Arquato and suggests that the patron was the Minister General Rafaele da Lugagnano; discusses French influences on the picture.

Francesco Barocelli in Luce sul Settecento: Gaspare Traversi e l'arte del suo tempo in Emilia. Ed. Lucia Fornari Schianchi and Nicola Spinosa. Exh. cat., Galleria Nazionale. Naples, 2004, pp. 86–87, 236, 253, nos. 13, R94, ill. (color and black and white), [see Ref. Barocelli 2003].

Pierre Rosenberg. Only in America: One Hundred Paintings in American Museums Unmatched in European Collections. Milan, 2006, pp. 136–37, 236, ill. (color).

The frame is from Rome and dates to about 1740 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–4). This restrained Salvator Rosa (1615–1673) Neoclassical frame is made of poplar and retains its original half lapped and pinned back frame corner construction with mitres on the face. A small cavetto lies within the acanthus and shield carved sight edge. The scotia rises to a bead before the astragal top edge. The outer hollow terminates with an ogee at the back edge. Retaining its distinctive original water gilding on orange colored bole on its gesso ground further suggests the frame may be original to the painting.

[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2017; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
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