Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Saint John the Baptist Bearing Witness

Annibale Carracci (Italian, Bologna 1560–1609 Rome)
ca. 1600
Oil on copper
21 3/8 x 17 1/8 in. (54.3 x 43.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Fabrizio Moretti and Adam Williams, in honor of Everett Fahy, 2009
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 623
The subject of this fine picture is based on the Gospel of John: "The next day John [the Baptist] seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." The event preceded the baptism of Jesus by John. Annibale launched the vogue for landscapes in which nature is transformed by the imagination into an idyllic setting for religious or mythological stories. This beautifully preserved work was described in 1678 in the collection of the Farnese family in Parma.
Saint John the Baptist, wearing a camel's pelt with a red cloth, kneels on some rocks in the Jordan River. Holding a reed cross in one hand, he turns to address the viewer, pointing to a figure descending a path in the distance—Christ. The picture is an illustration of the Gospel story in John (1:29): "The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."

The picture is ascribed to Annibale Carracci and would seem to date about 1600, when the artist was at work on the decoration of the Farnese Gallery in Rome. This would, for example, explain the stylized head of the figure of Saint John, with his large eyes, which derive from Annibale's study of Roman sculpture. There are similarities with the figural as well as the landscape style of a painting of Mary Magdalen in a landscape in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome. Recent scholarship, beginning with Posner (1971), has questioned the traditional attribution, considering it a studio variant of a lost work painted by Annibale that is known through an engraving. The subject of that picture is the same, but the compositions are otherwise notably different. An alternative suggestion is that the picture is by Francesco Albani about 1609–10. As illness made it increasingly difficult for Annibale to paint, Albani assumed a leading role in the workshop. However, the picture seems more accomplished than one would expect from Albani and the traditional attribution has been retained by the Museum.

The provenance of this picture can be securely traced back to the late seventeenth century, when it was owned by a M. Paillot of Paris (see Bonnaffé 1884). It has unfortunately proved impossible to gather much information about Paillot, who also owned two paintings of similar size, also on copper, by Domenichino: a Penitent Saint Jerome (Denis Mahon collection, London) and a Saint Francis (location unknown). According to Bellori, one of our principal seventeenth-century sources, Domenichino painted these while living in the home of Monsignor Agucchi, about 1606–8. Bellori notes that the pictures had been taken to Paris ("in Parigi furono transmessi"). Interestingly, in his Felsina Pittrice (1678), Malvasia—another primary source and the one who first mentions this picture—notes that Agucchi made repeated requests to Annibale for a painting of Saint John the Baptist (see Summerscale 2000). Whether Annibale carried out such a picture cannot be said, but there is the possibility that the present work was commissioned by Agucchi as a companion to the two by Domenichino. However, we possess no inventory of Agucchi's collection. Moreover, there is no evidence of how the Farnese would have come into possession of such a picture.

Regarding the identification of this picture with the "Saint John the Baptist seated in a most beautiful landscape" mentioned by Malvasia as in the Farnese collections in the Palazzo del Giardino, Parma, we again have no firm evidence. Indeed, no such picture is mentioned in any of the published Farnese inventories. However, in his publication of the Orléans collection in the Palais Royale, Couché (1786) states that Monsieur Paillot's painting by Annibale had earlier been part of the Duke of Parma's collection at the Palazzo del Giardino in Parma, which may be taken as further confirmation that the present picture is, indeed, the one mentioned by Malvasia—despite the fact that Malvasia does not indicate the size or support and describes the saint as "seated". Our information that the painting was owned by Paillot derives from the catalogues of the Orléans collection.

[Keith Christiansen 2010]
Ranuccio II Farnese, duca di Parma, Palazzo del Giardino, Parma (in 1678); Monsieur Paillot, Paris (sold to Orléans); Philippe II, duc d'Orléans, Palais Royal, Paris (until d. 1723); ducs d'Orléans, Palais Royal (1723–85); Louis Philippe Joseph, duc d'Orléans, Palais Royal (1785–92; sold to Walckiers); vicomte Edouard de Walckiers, Brussels (1792; sold to Laborde); his cousin, François de Laborde-Méréville, Paris, later London (1792–98; consigned to Jeremiah Harman; sold through Michael Bryan to consortium of Bridgewater, Carlisle, and Leveson-Gower); Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle, and George Granville Leveson-Gower, later 1st Duke of Sutherland, London (1798; exhibited for sale, Mr. Bryan's Gallery, London, December 26, 1798ff., no. 4, for 300 gns. to Bridgewater); Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, London (1798–d. 1803); his nephew, George Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Marquess of Stafford, later 1st Duke of Sutherland, Stafford House, London (1803–at least 1808; cat., 1808, no. 54); his son, Francis Egerton, later 1st Earl of Ellesmere, Bridgewater House, London (by 1830–d. 1857; cats., 1830, no. 69; 1851, 1856, no. 84); Earls of Ellesmere, Bridgewater House (1857–1944; cats., 1897, 1907, no. 84); John Sutherland Egerton, 5th Earl of Ellesmere, Bridgewater House (1944–46; his sale, Christie's, London, October 18, 1946, no. 65, for £21 to Robertson); Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hugh Pakenham Borthwick-Norton, Borthwick Hall, Midlothian, Scotland, and Southwick House, Purbrook, Hampshire (until his d. 1959); Mrs. Frank Hugh (Eva Sardinia Burrows) Pakenham Borthwick-Norton, Southwick House (1959–d. 1988; her estate, 1988–90); Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh (1990–2005; sale, Sotheby's, London, July 7, 2005, no. 33, to Williams); [Adam Williams Fine Art Ltd., New York, 2005–9]
Carlo Cesare Malvasia. Felsina pittrice: vite de' pittori bolognesi. Bologna, 1678, vol. 1, p. 502 [1841 ed., Bologna, ed. Giampietro Zanotti, vol. 1, p. 359], lists among works by Annibale at the Giardino in Parma, "Un S. Gio. Battista a sedere in bellissimo paese, che accenna ad un picciolissimo Signore sopra un monte".

[Louis François] Du Bois de Saint Gelais. Description des tableaux du Palais Royal. Paris, 1727, p. 39, includes it among works by Annibale as "S. Jean qui montre le Messie"; prints the name "M. Paillot" in the margin.

[Louis François] Du Bois de Saint Gelais. Description des tableaux du Palais Royal. 2nd ed. Paris, 1737, p. 39.

J[acques]. Couché. Galerie du Palais royal, gravée d'après les tableaux des differentes ecoles qui la composem . . . Vol. 1, Paris, 1786, unpaginated, no. 15, ill. (engraving in reverse by L. M. Halbou), states that it was formerly in the Palazzo Giardino of the dukes of Parma and that the Regent acquired it at the sale of the cabinet of Sr. Paillot.

John Britton. Catalogue Raisonné of the Pictures Belonging to the Most Honorable the Marquis of Stafford in the Gallery of Cleveland House. London, 1808, p. 62, no. 54, as "St. John pointing to the Messiah," by Annibale.

William Young Ottley and Peltro William Tomkins. Engravings of the Most Noble the Marquis of Stafford's Collection of Pictures, in London, Arranged According to Schools, and in Chronological Order, with Remarks on Each Picture. London, 1818, vol. 1, pp. 54–55, no. 43; vol. 2, ill. (engraving by J. H. Wright).

W[illiam]. Buchanan. Memoirs of Painting, with a Chronological History of the Importation of Pictures by the Great Masters into England since the French Revolution. London, 1824, vol. 1, p. 81, no. 15, gives the purchase price by the Duke of Bridgewater as 300 guineas and states that it was "originally in the collection of Monsieur Paillette" [sic].

John Young. A Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures, of the Most Noble the Marquess of Stafford, at Cleveland House, London, Containing an Etching of Every Picture, and Accompanied with Historical and Biographical Notices. London, 1825, vol. 1, pp. 73–74, no. 98, ill. (etching).

Catalogue of the Pictures Belonging to Lord Francis Leveson Gower, at Bridgewater House. [London], 1830, p. 15, no. 69.

G[ustav]. F[riedrich]. Waagen. Works of Art and Artists in England. London, 1838, vol. 1, p. 318, no. 1 (under Annibale); vol. 2, p. 54.

Mrs. Jameson. Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries of Art in London. London, 1844, pp. 89, 100, no. 19.

Catalogue of the Bridgewater Collection of Pictures, Belonging to the Earl of Ellesmere, at Bridgewater House, Cleveland Square, St. James's. 3rd ed. [London], 1851, p. 14, no. 84.

[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. London, 1854, vol. 2, p. 35, no. 4 (under Annibale), p. 487, no. 1 (under Annibale).

Catalogue of the Bridgewater Collection of Pictures, Belonging to the Earl of Ellesmere, at Bridgewater House, Cleveland Square, St. James's. 5th ed. [London], 1856, p. 16, no. 84.

Edmond Bonnaffé. Dictionnaire des amateurs français au XVIIe siècle. Paris, 1884, p. 241, states that the Regent [i.e., Philippe II, duc d'Orléans] bought three paintings from Paillot, including this work; notes that Paillot was living in Paris, near the Capucins du Marais, in 1692.

Catalogue of the Bridgewater and Ellesmere Collections of Pictures at Bridgewater House, Cleveland Square, St. James's, London. [London?], 1897, p. 16, no. 84.

Catalogue of the Bridgewater and Ellesmere Collections of Pictures and Statuary at Bridgewater House, Cleveland Square, St. James's, London. [London], 1907, p. 17, no. 84.

Casimir Stryienski. La Galerie du Régent Philippe, duc d'Orléans. Paris, 1913, pp. 83, 169, no. 239, refers to it as reddish, uncouth, and pitiful; notes that it was included in inventories of the ducs d'Orléans in 1752 and 1785.

Hermann Voss. Die Malerei des Barock in Rom. Berlin, [1925], p. 502, mistakenly identifies it with the picture mentioned by Bellori as in the collection of Flavio Chigi in Rome in 1672.

Catalogue of Ancient and Modern Pictures: A Portion of the Bridgewater Collection, the Property of the Right Hon. the Earl of Ellesmere. Christie's, London. October 18, 1946, p. 9, no. 65, identifies it with the Orsini/Chigi version described by Bellori and with the work mentioned by Malvasia.

Donald Posner. Annibale Carracci: A Study in the Reform of Italian Painting around 1590. New York, 1971, vol. 2, p. 59, under no. 133[A], calls it a studio variant of the painting formerly in the Chigi collection; notes that Voss [see Ref. 1925] mistakenly identifies the MMA work with the Chigi picture and himself identifies it with the picture mentioned by Malvasia [see Ref. 1678] in the Palazzo del Giardino, Parma.

Gianfranco Malafarina in L'opera completa di Annibale Carracci. Milan, 1976, p. 122, under no. 125, mentions it as a workshop variant of the Chigi painting.

Evelina Borea, ed. Le vite de' pittori, scultori e architetti moderni.. By Giovanni Pietro Bellori. Turin, 1976, p. 96 n. 2, lists this picture as whereabouts unknown among works of this subject attributed to Annibale that could possibly be identified with the second version mentioned by Bellori.

Hermann Voss. Baroque Painting in Rome. Ed. Thomas Pelzel. Vol. 1, Caravaggio, Carracci, Domenichino and Their Followers 1585–1640. rev. and trans. ed. San Francisco, 1997, p. 159.

Denis Mahon and D. Stephen Pepper. Ars 2 (January 1998), p. 61, ill. [see Ref. Mahon 2001], mistakenly identify it as the picture in the Ringling Museum, Sarasota [see Notes].

Anne Summerscale. Malvasia's Life of the Carracci: Commentary and Translation. University Park, Pa., 2000, p. 257 n. 387, p. 332 n. 635, states that the MMA picture "might be the work listed by Malvasia" in the Palazzo del Giardino, Parma, and that it is unknown whether the work seen by Malvasia can be identified with the second painting of this subject noted by Bellori.

Denis Mahon in Il San Giovanni Battista ritrovato: la tradizione classica in Annibale Carracci e in Caravaggio. Exh. cat., Musei Capitolini, Rome. Milan, 2001, pp. 17–18, 26 n. 1, fig. 1, attributes it to Annibale, dates it to the late 1590s, and identifies it with both the second version mentioned by Bellori and the work noted by Malvasia; identifies a recently discovered painting in a private collection as the Orsini/Chigi picture.

Old Master Paintings. Sotheby's, London. July 7, 2005, no. 33, ill. (color), upholds the attribution to Annibale, stating that "some scholars have more recently considered alternative attributions, none of which are entirely convincing, including that to his pupil Francesco Albani"; dates it to the end of the 1590s or about 1600; identifies it with the picture mentioned by Malvasia; rejects identifying it with the Orsini/Chigi version, and in connection with the second version mentioned by Bellori, states that "the fact that he does not specifically describe it as being on copper makes an identification with the present painting far from certain".

Didier Rykner. "Recent Acquisitions by the Metropolitan Museum: Annibale Carracci et Gaetano Gandolfi." The Art Tribune. June 13, 2010, p. 1, fig. 1 (color) [,736.html].

Keith Christiansen in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2008–2010." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (Fall 2010), pp. 28–29, ill. (color), dates it about 1600–1602.

Stéphane Loire. "Annibal Carrache à Paris au début du XVIIIe siècle: les tableaux du Régent." Nuova luce su Annibale Carracci. Ed. Sybille Ebert-Schifferer and Silvia Ginzburg. 2011, pp. 289–90, no. 13, fig. 5, reprints Dubois de Saint-Gelais' description of the picture in 1727 and notes the uncertain attribution.

The Museum has another painting of the same subject from the workshop of Francesco Granacci (1970.134.2).

A version of the MMA painting was sold at Semenzato, Venice, March 5, 2006, no. 326 (circle of the Carracci, oil on wood, 54.2 x 42.5 cm).

Bellori (Le vite de' pittori, scultori et architetti moderni, Rome, 1672, p. 85) describes one picture of this subject by Annibale painted for Corradino Orsini, then in the Chigi collection, and mentions a second of the same subject. The Orsini/Chigi painting is known through an engraving by Pietro del Po and two painted copies (Ringling Museum, Sarasota; private collection). A third version (also in a private collection) has been identified as the original by Annibale (Mahon 2001).

Engraved in reverse by L. M. Halbou (see Couché 1786), by J. H. Wright (see Ottley and Tomkins 1818), and etched by John Young (see Young 1825).
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