Tarchiani transforms a troubling subject—the thirteenth-century founder of the Dominican order flagellating himself—into a serene, meditative composition. With the attention of a still-life painter, he isolates a series of captivating motifs, including the linearity of the altarpiece viewed in profile contrasted with the soft folds of Dominic’s robes, which have been partially discarded. Although trained in the academic tradition of late-sixteenth-century Florentine art, Tarchiani made two prolonged visits to Rome, where he studied the work of Caravaggio and Orazio Gentileschi. Between 1615 and 1616 he was employed on the same project as Orazio’s famous daughter, Artemisia Gentileschi, who arrived in Florence in 1613.
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The Artist: Tarchiani was a significant master of early Baroque painting in Florence. He made two trips to Rome, around 1590 and then again in 1601–7. If, during the first, he was in touch with the leading exponents of a late Mannerist style of painting with naturalistic inflections, such as practiced by Federico Zuccari, the second one made him aware of the revolutionary art of Caravaggio and his use of light to give his figures a strong, physical presence. However, Tarchiani’s brand of naturalism remained strongly based on a Florentine love of descriptive detail and elegance of design, represented by an artist such as Jacopo da Empoli (1551–1640). The style he evolved was perfectly suited to the religious climate of Counter-Reformation Florence and also to the sophisticated tastes of patrons such as the poet/playwright Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger (1568–1646)—the grandnephew of the sculptor Michelangelo. Between 1615 and 1617, Tarchiani was employed in the decoration of the Casa Buonarroti, where he would have worked alongside Artemisia Gentileschi.
The Painting: The picture shows Saint Dominic, the thirteenth-century founder of the Dominican order, his upper torso bared, his outer robe cast aside, kneeling before an altar adorned with a crucifix and a vase of flowers; the flowers and altar cloth are described with an attention to detail typical of the artist. The saint flagellates himself as an act of penance. An open book—the source of his meditations—is propped against the dais of the altar while behind him is a table with an hourglass and two books; the hourglass is an emblem of the passage of time and the transience of life. A second version of the composition, with very minor variations, was on the market in Italy in 1999 (with the dealer Pratesi, Florence: see Giovanni Pagliarulo, in Pitture fiorentine del Seicento, exh. cat., Palazzo Ridolfi, Florence, 1987, p. 28; and Francesca Baldassari, La pittura del Seicento a Firenze, 2009, p. 669, fig. 405). That painting has been dated just after 1607, upon the artist’s return from Rome, and this is likely to be the date of the present picture as well.
Keith Christiansen 2016
sale, Sotheby's, London, July 8, 1999, no. 69, to Brille; Brian J. Brille, New York (1999–2015)
A second version, with minor variations, was with the dealer Giovanni Pratesi, Florence, in 1987 (Giovanni Pagliarulo in Pitture fiorentine del Seicento, exh. cat., Palazzo Ridolfi, Florence, 1987, pp. 28–29, no. 5, ill. in color; see also Francesca Baldassari, La pittura del Seicento a Firenze, 2009, pp. 668–69, no. 405, ill.). Pagliarulo dated that picture just after 1607, upon the artist’s return to Florence from Rome, and this is likely to be the date of The Met's picture as well.
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