SavoldoGiovanni (Gian) Girolamo Savoldo is called a Brescian in contemporary documents, but is often included among the Venetian School. We know nothing of his training, but he appears to have been influenced by Leonardesque Lombard painters, such as Bernardino Luini, as well by Giorgione and Titian. He appears to have travelled as a young man. He is recorded as a ‘master’ in 1506 in Parma, and in 1508 he joined the Arte dei Medici e Speziali in Florence. He was living in Venice by 1521 and seems to have spent most of his career there, although Francesco Maria Sforza, the last Duke of Milan, is said to have been his patron for a time (probably around 1532-35). He probably died shortly after 1548, when Pietro Aretino refers to him as ‘decrepit’.
A slow and meticulous artist, his pictures are not very numerous, and he often repeated his own compositions. (About a third of his surviving output of around forty paintings are replicas.) He painted a few large altarpieces, mainly for Dominican convents. His portraits, meditative and poetic in mood, are equally rare. Pietro Aretino praises his work as a mural painter, but no such work by him survives. He specialised in medium-sized devotional works and in pastorals for private houses of one or two large figures in quiet poses against a distant landscape. Many of his works are evening or night scenes: painted in deep, vivid colours with subtle light effects, they have a wonderful sense of atmosphere and mystery. The shimmer of draperies is exquisitely observed. Compositional details are often borrowed from the works of Northern painters, including Hieronymus Bosch and Joachim Patenir. (In this connection, it may be significant that his wife, Maria di Tijlandrija, was Flemish.)
Savoldo was not famous in his own lifetime, and he was soon almost completely forgotten. Even signed pictures were attributed to better-known artists (usually Giorgione, Titian or Pordenone), and his oeuvre had to be reconstructed by nineteenth-century art historians (particularly Crowe and Cavalcaselle, whose 1871 History of Painting in Northern Italy correctly reattributed over a dozen pictures to him). Few issues of attribution remain (although some of his pictures were copied at an early date). However, much controversy still surrounds the chronology of his works. His paintings are scattered, and he is not particularly well represented even in Brescia and Venice.
Berkeley (California). University Art Museum.
Lamentation. Canvas, 111 x 154.
The composition of the central pietà group of the dead Christ and Virgin is similar to that of MIchelangelo's famous sculpture in St Peter's and repeats that from a larger Lamentation painted by Savoldo in 1537-38 for the high altar of the church of Santa Croce at Brescia (destroyed at Berlin during the Second World War). Joseph of Arimathea (or Nicodemus) is probably a portrait of the donor. He supports Christ’s head and shoulders, while the Magdalen, in profile, holds Christ's legs. John the Evangelist, in the background, dries his tears with his scarlet robe. Probably a late work. Previously in the Fischer Gallery at Lucerne, it was acquired by the Berkeley museum in 1965. The picture has been trimmed on all four sides.
*A Venetian Woman (‘La Veneziana’). Canvas, 92 x 73.
The subject is probably the Magdalen (or a penitent courtesan in the guise of the Magdalen). In other versions at London (National Gallery), Florence (Uffizi, Contini Bonacossi collection) and Los Angeles (Getty Museum) she is identified by a small vase of ointment on a table in the corner. The other versions show less of the figure and omit the arches in the left background. All four versions are remarkable for the virtuoso representation of the effects of light on the Magdalen’s satin mantle. The source of the radiance might be the unseen figure of Christ newly risen from the tomb. The chronology of the various versions is uncertain: while Roberto Longhi (1927) maintained that the Berlin one is relatively late, Creighton Gilbert (1986) placed it earliest in the series with a dating of around 1527-28. It is the only version that is signed (lower left on the wall). It was exported from Venice in 1810 and acquired by the museum with the Solly collection in 1821. At some time, the Magdalen’s face was repainted to make her appear younger. The repaint was removed in a 1989 restoration.
Besançon. Musée des Beaux Arts.
Apostle. Wood, 48 x 41.
This much damaged and restored panel entered the museum in 1894, with the collection of the Besançon painter and illustrator Jean Gigoux, as a work of Giovanni Bellini. Exhibited in Paris in 1956 with an attribution to the Cremonese painter Boccaccio Boccaccino, it was first given to Savoldo only in 1986 (by De Marchi in Arte Venetia). Usually consigned to the reserve collection because of its poor condition.
Brescia. Pinacoteca Tosio-Martinengo.
Adoration of the Shepherds. Wood, 152 x 180.
Night scene. Shepherds, one leaning on the wall on the left and two others appearing at the window at the back of the stable, gaze down at the Christ Child. In the left distance, a radiant angel brings the good news. Commissioned by Bartolomeo Bargnani for his family chapel in the church of San Barnaba at Brescia. A late work: the chapel was built in 1536-38, and a date of 1540 has been read on the picture (upside down under the left shepherd). Transferred to the gallery between 1868 and 1876, when the church was closed. There are other, very similar versions at Terlizzi (Santa Maria la Nova) in Apulia and at Venice (San Giobbe).
On Loan from the Unicredit Art Collection.
Portrait of a Young Man with a Recorder. Canvas, 74 x 100.
The youthful sitter holds a soprano (or descant) recorder and is practising in his room from the music book open on the table in front of him. He is dressed as a gentleman and there is no reason to suppose that he was a professional musician. Signed on the sheet of music pinned to the wall (but it is no longer thought to show the date 1539 as once suggested). According to Colin Slim (Early Music, August 1985), the notes on the sheet form the tenor part of a frottola (O Morte, Holà!) composed around 1524 and attributed to Francesco Patavino. The portrait is possibly the 'picture by Giovanni Girolamo Bresciano of a flautist' valued at 1,500 livres in a 1643 inventory of Cardinal Richelieu's Paris residence. It is first certainly recorded in the collection of Lord William Archer Amherst, who loaned it to the great exhibition of Italian art held in 1894 at Burlington House. It was acquired in 1928 by the Italian dealer Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, and remained with his heirs until 1967, when it was sold to Wildenstein & Co. of New York. Bought in 1975 by Peter Jay Sharp, a Manhattan hotelier and real estate developer, and auctioned from his estate at Sotheby's, New York, in 1994. Acquired by the Banca Popolare di Brescia and placed on loan with the museum.
Calvagese della Riviera (near Lake Garda). Fondazione Sorlini.
Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Canvas, 79 x 94.
The Virgin, wearing a veil of silvery blue over a dress of shimmering pinkish red, is seated among classical ruins. The elderly Joseph lies resting. In the distance, a horseman dressed in red rides by with his dog. Possibly one of four canvases on the theme of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt mentioned in the will, dated 30 July 1527, of the Venetian stateman and poet Pietro di Gianruggero Contarini. The four paintings were intended for a chapel (no longer extant) being built in the church of Santi Apostoli. Another Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Savoldo – rather larger but possibly from the same series – was formerly in the Palazzo Albani at Urbino and is now in a private collection at Milan. The Museo d'Arte Sorlini at Calvagese was inaugurated in 2018 to display the collection of the late Brescian entrepreneur Luciano Sorlini. It can visited only by prior appointment.
Chicago. Art Institute.
Death of St Peter Martyr. Canvas, 115 x 141.
Peter of Verona, a Dominican grand inquisitor and the Dominican Order's first martyr, was murdered by Cathar heretics in 1252 on his way from Como to Milan. His murderer, Carino of Balsamo, repented so well of his crime that he acquired at least a local reputation as a saint. Savoldo's picture, which has been dated around 1530-35, was probably painted within a few years of Titian's great altarpiece of the subject (completed in 1530, destroyed by fire in 1867). It shows the murder in dramatic close-up. In the right background, Peter's companion, a friar called Domenico, is mortally wounded by another assassin. The letters 'CR', inscribed on the rock at lower right, are the first two letters of 'Credo in Deum' (the words, from the Apostles' Creed, which the saint is reputed to have written on the ground in his own blood as he died). Acquired by the Art Institute in 2001 from Tomasso Brothers.
Cleveland (Ohio). Museum of Art.
Entombment. Wood, 105 x 192.
The man supporting the dead Christ could represent either Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus, and is possibly a self-portrait. It has been suggested (by Creighton Gilbert) that the painting could be the top part of the altarpiece commissioned in 1524 for San Domenico at Pesaro and now in the Brera. In the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein from the early nineteenth century until 1952, when it was bought by the Cleveland Museum.
Dubrovnik. Cathedral. Treasury.
Flight into Egypt. Canvas.
The Virgin, seated in the left foreground with the Child peeking up from under her veil, is said to be based on a contemporary engraving by the Netherlandish artist Jan Gossart (though the relationship is not exact). Joseph has fallen asleep and the donkey grazes under a tree. In the background, a woman talks to a dog and, amidst the cave-like ruins, one of King Herod's soldiers searches for the Christ Child. To the right, a road winds to a town and there is a view of the distant sea. There are five surviving paintings of this subject by Savoldo. All are medium-sized easel paintings and, while by no means identical, are more or less related in composition. One of the others is in the Fondazione Sorlini at Calvagese della Riviere, and the rest are all in private collections. The Flight into Egypt was one of a group of paintings (which also included works by Paris Bordone, Pordenone, Carletto Caliari, Padovanino and Titian) acquired in 1694 by the heirs of Bernard Dordic, Archdeacon of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) Cathedral, in discharge of a debt owed by the Venetian merchant Giovanni Alvise Raspi. To judge from photographs, the picture would not appear to be in good condition.
*Transfiguration. Wood, 139 x 126.
Christ, his raiment 'shining, exceeding white as snow', stands transfigured on the mountain between Moses and Elijah. The dazzled apostles Peter, James and John have fallen to the ground. One of the pictures collected in Venice by Paolo del Sera for Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici. It is recorded as a work of Savoldo (‘Gerolamo Bressan’) in Boschini’s Carta del Navegar of 1660 (which praises the figures as 'more real than life itself'). Datings range from the mid-1520s to early 1530s. There is another, larger version (traditionally ascribed to Lomazzo) in the Ambrosian Library at Milan.
*Mary Magdalene. Canvas, 84 x 78.
The saint, enveloped in a satin mantle of golden brown, is illuminated by a fiery sunrise as she stands outside Christ's tomb. From the famous collection of Prince Giovanelli at Venice, which was sold in 1935. Bequeathed to the Florentine Galleries in 1969 with the Contini Bonacossi collection (which was transferred from the Pitti Palace to the Uffizi in 1993 but was made accessible to general visitors only in 2018). Of the three other versions, the Contini-Bonacossi picture is closest to the one in London (which also has a dawn setting, whereas those in Berlin and the Getty Museum at Los Angeles have a blue sky). Probably the best preserved of the versions. It may date from the 1530s.
London. National Gallery.
*Mary Magdalene. Canvas, 86 x 79.
The landscape on the left is a view of Venice from one of the islands (possibly Murano or the cemetery island of San Michele). Of the four versions – the others are in Berlin, Florence and the Getty Museum – the London picture is the only one in which the Magdalen wears a silvery rather than golden-brown mantle. It is therefore very likely the ‘most beautiful Magdalen covered by a white cloth’ recorded as a work of Savoldo in 1620 in the Palazzo Averoldi at Brescia. It was seen there by Ridolfi (1648), who says it was the source of many copies. By 1760, it was reattributed to Titian and had entered the Avogadro collection, housed in the family’s palazzo near the church of San Bartolommeo at Brescia. This collection passed by marriage to the Fenaroli family at Brescia, who sold the Mary Magdalene in 1877 to the Milanese dealer Baslini, who the following year sold it on to the National Gallery for £350. The picture (cleaned in 1994) is rather worn, the thick black brush underdrawing showing through in places. Once considered an early work, it is dated as late as ‘about 1535-40’ in Nicholas Penny’s 2004 National Gallery catalogue.
*Saint Jerome. Canvas, 120 x 159.
Signed on the rock under the book. The lion in the bottom right corner is now barely discernable. The outline of the large building on the left, across the dusky lagoon, resembles SS. Giovanni e Paolo; Savoldo is recorded in 1532 as living in Venice in the locality of the church. The picture is possibly that referred to in an entry of 28 November 1527 (a payment of a ‘gold scudo towards the making of a St Jerome’) in the account book of Gian Paolo Averoldi of Brescia. It is possibly also the picture of ‘a St Jerome praying in the desert’ by Savoldo mentioned by Ridolfi (1648) in the possession of Madame Suzanne d’Ardier, wife of the French ambassador. By the 1850s, the National Gallery picture was owned by Bruschetti, proprietor of the Albergo Reale at Milan, who sold it in 1864 to Henry Layard, who hung it in the dining room of the Ca Capello, his Venetian palazzo on the Grand Canal. It came to the gallery in 1916 with the Layard bequest. Abraded in parts and much restored. A powerful study in black chalk for the head of St Jerome is preserved in the Louvre.
London. Courtauld Institute.
Saint Paul. Canvas, 68 x 53.
A half-length variant of the figure of the saint in the altarpiece, dated 1533, in the church of Santa Maria in Organo at Verona. The inscriptions, centre left on the wall and bottom right, are taken from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (verses 2-4) and the account of his conversion in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 9, verses 2-4). Although sometimes considered an original Savoldo (eg. in Berenson’s 1957 Lists and Boschetto’s 1963 monograph), the picture may have been executed by another hand from the master’s design. Acquired from the Contini-Bonacossi collection, Rome, in the 1920s by Lord Lee of Fareham, who left his pictures to London University in 1947. Damaged and rarely exhibited. A full-sized chalk drawing for the head of the saint is preserved in the Getty Museum at Los Angeles.
London. Royal Collection.
Virgin and Child with Two Donors. Canvas, 102 x 140.
The motif of a donor (rather than the Virgin) raising the cloth from the Child is unusual. Probably the ‘Mary, Christ and Joseph and a lady praying done by Tytsian’ valued at £60 in the ‘Commonwealth Sale’ of 1649. Later ascribed to Pordenone and also to Giorgione. Savoldo’s signature in the top right-hand corner was revealed in a restoration of about 1867, when the date (now indecipherable) was read as 1527. Since 2014, the picture has hung in the new Cumberland Art Gallery at Hampton Court Palace. There is a variant at Turin in which the donors are replaced by St Francis and St Jerome.
Portrait of a Man in Armour. Canvas, 90 x 75.
A replica of the so-called ‘Gaston de Foix’ in the Louvre, which is signed by Savoldo. Regarded as possibly autograph by some critics, but more generally thought to be an old and damaged copy. In the collection of Charles II as ‘one head with a lookyeing glass by Giorgione’.
Portrait of Man with a Hawk. Wood, 60 x 45.
The man feeds meat to a sparrow hawk on his left wrist. (The bird, which was partly reconstructed in a 1969-72 restoration, is now rather difficult to see against the dark background.) Probably from the Gonzaga collection at Mantua. It was attributed to Giorgione during the reign of James II and to Leonardo during the reign of George III. It was exhibited at the British Institution in 1834 as a work of Bronzino and at the Royal Academy in 1946 as a work of Alvise Vivarini (Berenson’s attribution). The Savoldo attribution, first made by Richter apparently in the late nineteenth century, was accepted by John Shearman in his 1983 catalogue of early Italian pictures in the Royal Collection but rejected by Creighton Gilbert’s 1986 monograph. The sitter’s pose is remarkably like that in the Portrait of Bernardo di Salla in the Louvre, which has recently been attributed to Francesco Caroto, following the discovery of his signature on a companion portrait of a woman. It has been suggested that the Royal Collection Man with a Hawk could also be by Caroto and could, specifically, be his portrait of ‘an elderly clean-shaven gentleman with a sparrow hawk’ noted by Vasari in Isabella d’Este’s collection at Mantua. However, the Savoldo attribution was retained when the portrait was exhibited at the Queen’s Gallery in 2007.
Los Angeles. J. P. Getty Museum.
*Shepherd with a Flute. Canvas, 97 x 78.
An evening scene; in the background, the sheep have been brought into the fold. The shepherd – possibly a portrait of a gentleman affecting a rustic guise – holds a flute in his left hand and gestures with his right towards a farmhouse and ancient ruins. The painting may date from the middle or late 1520s. A copy at Gosford House in Scotland was considered the original until the discovery of this version in the 1920s in the Duke of Anhalt’s collection at Bueritz. It was acquired around 1927 by the Italian dealer Alessandro Contini Bonacossi and remained with his heirs until 1970, when it was sold to the New York dealer Eugene Thaw. Bought by the Getty Museum in 1985.
*Mary Magdalene at the Sepulchre. Canvas, 100 x 76.
Once ascribed to Ludovico Carracci and considered by Gilbert (1986) to be a copy, but revealed since cleaning to be an original, but partly repainted, canvas by Savoldo. One of at least four versions. As well as those at Berlin, Florence and London, there seems to have been yet another, larger version, which was engraved in the eighteenth century (when it was in the Gerini collection at Florence) but is now lost. Like the Berlin version, the Getty painting has a daytime setting, whereas the Florence and London versions have a dawn sky. Formerly at Warwick Castle and later with Koetser in Zürich, it was acquired by the Getty Museum in 1997.
*Madonna in Glory with Four Saints ('Pala di Pesaro'). Wood, 475 x 307.
The Virgin, illuminated by the light of heaven, is seated on a bank of cloud between an angel playing a lute and an angel playing a shawm. She appears to four saints: Peter (with book and keys), Dominic (in the black habit of the Order he founded), Paul (with sword and book) and Jerome (holding his Vulgate Bible). Behind the figures, there is a view of the Venetian lagoon from the Fondamenta Nuove. Signed on the stone beneath Jerome’s foot. This huge picture, painted on twenty horizontal planks of poplar, was the principal panel of the high altarpiece of the church of San Domenico at Pesaro. The recently discovered contract shows that it was commissioned on 15 June 1524 and was to be finished by the following Easter. The contract unusually stipulates the ‘aerial effects, landscape and distance’ the picture was to represent. The altarpiece also included an upper element (possibly the Dead Christ now at Cleveland) and a predella with a central tabernacle painted with the head of St Peter Martyr (now lost). It was painted in Venice and shipped to Pesaro. The upper part of the altarpiece and predella were probably detached around 1646, during the Baroque remodelling of the church. The main panel was transferred to the Brera in 1811. A thorough restoration was carried out in 2003-5. (The picture was too large and heavy to be moved from the gallery and was treated in situ using a specially constructed mini-laboratory with a mobile scaffolding platform.) The restoration tackled problems of cracking and flaking, and removed discoloured varnish and nineteenth-century repaint (especially on the sky). The colours now appear much brighter. There is a smaller, damaged and inferior variant, dated 1533, in the church of Santa Maria in Organo at Verona.
Milan. Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.
Transfiguration. Canvas, 276 x 186.
An enlarged version of the panel in the Uffizi. Its original location is unknown, but it was purchased in 1674 from the Asti family with an attribution to the Milanese painter Gian Paolo Lomazzo (whose name is written on the back). Since the canvas, previously obscured by a thick layer of dirt, was cleaned, some critics (eg. Alessandro Nova in the June 1990 Burlington Magazine and Francesco Frangi in his 1992 monograph) have suggested that it could be an inferior late work of Savoldo himself.
Moscow. Pushkin Museum.
*Temptation of St Anthony(?). Wood, 58 x 86.
The action is obscure and the usual title not certainly correct. The man suffering torments has sometimes been called St Jerome on account of his red robes. A completely different interpretation is that the scene on the right represents Aeneas saving his elderly father Anchises from burning Troy. The poses of the two naked figures, one carrying the other on his back, are clearly borrowed from Raphael’s Incendio di Borgo in the Vatican Stanze, while the fantastic demons resemble those in Lucas Cranach's 1506 woodcut of the Temptation of St Anthony. From the Pallavicini collection at Genoa (sold in 1899) and then the Stchoukin collection at St Petersburg. Largely ignored until 1956, when it was discussed by Giuseppe Fiocco in an article in the Connoisseur on the Flemish influences on Savoldo. Opinion has been divided over whether it is an early work (1515-20) or a mature one (about 1530).
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
*St Matthew and the Angel. Canvas, 93 x 124.
Inspired by the angel at his shoulder, the saint writes his gospel. The lamp on the table strongly illuminates his red robe but leaves his face partly in shadow. On the right, the saint is shown by a fire with the Queen of Ethiopia’s eunuch, who offered him hospitality. The scene in the left distance, where four tiny figures are silhouetted against a tall building, is harder to identify: it could represent the saint’s martyrdom, which is said to have taken place in the church built for him in Ethiopia, or allude to the tower built ‘not of stone but of virtue’. Purchased from Grassi of Florence in 1912. Nothing is known for certain of its previous history, but it seems quite likely that it was one of the ‘four paintings of nights and fires’ recorded by Vasari in the offices of the Mint of Milan (Matthew, the tax collector, is the patron saint of mints). If so, it would probably date from around 1534, when Savoldo is recorded at the court of Francesco II Sforza. Damaged (the flesh tones especially worn and the angel’s wing repainted).
*Portrait of a Man in Armour (so-called ‘Gaston de Foix’). Wood, 91 x 123.
A knight in armour leans back in a darkened room, his left arm reflected in mirrors behind him and to his left. The composition has been supposed to be based on an idea of Giorgione’s (described by Vasari) that painting could rival sculpture by showing several views of the same figure. The picture, possibly in the collection of Francis I, was recorded with an attribution to Titian at Fontainebleau around 1625. It was erroneously called a portrait of Gaston de Foix as early as 1642. By 1683, it was ascribed to Giorgione, although it bears Savoldo’s signature. Creighton Gilbert (1986) argues that it is a self-portrait. The same person is apparently represented in other pictures by Savoldo, for example as the St Liberale in the Treviso altarpiece. There is a smaller replica at Hampton Court.
Rome. Galleria Borghese.
**Tobias and the Angel. Canvas, 96 x 126.
The subject is from the apocryphal Book of Tobit: 6,1-9. Savoldo's representation of the subject, with the angel appearing to Tobias kneeling on the bank of the Tigris, is unusual; normally Tobias and Raphael are shown walking hand-in-hand and Tobias (here a tanned youth) is normally shown as a small child. This famous picture came from the Palazzo Alfani at Perugia; it was discovered in the possession of a certain Riccardo Pompili of Tivoli and bought by the Borghese Gallery in 1911 for 10,000 lire. It was traditionally attributed to Titian, whose influence is evident. (The head of the angel closely resembles that of the angel in the upper left panel of Titian's Averoldi Altarpiece at Brescia.) The theory that, along with the St Matthew and the Angel in New York, it could have been one of the ‘four pictures of nights and fires’ recorded at the Milanese Mint by Vasari now seems to have been abandoned. Datings have ranged between the early 1520s and about 1540, with more recent opinion tending towards the earlier end of this range.
Bust of a Youth. Canvas, 60 x 40.
First recorded in an inventory of 1790 as ‘the Head of a Shepherd’ by Titian. There were subsequent attributions to the Roman Baroque painter Pier Francesco Mola and to the great Brescian portraitist Giovanni Battista Moroni, before Savoldo's authorship was recognised by Giovanni Morelli in his Die Galerie Roms (1876). The subject may be St John the Evangelist. The youth appears to be painted from the same model as the saint in a Lamentation by Savoldo. (The Lamentation, painted in 1537-38 for the high altar of the church of Santa Croce at Brescia, was destroyed at Berlin in 1945.)
Rome. Capitoline Museum.
*Portrait of a Lady. Canvas, 91 x 123.
The unidentified lady's sumptuous dress, with brocaded and fur-trimmed sleeves, and the gloves she holds nonchalantly in her right hand speak of her wealth and aristocratic status. The small leather-bound book she holds in her left hand, a finger marking the page, allude to her piety and learning. A weasel or marten head on a chain was a fashion accessory at the time (it is seen, for example, in Lotto’s Lucina Brembate of 1532 at Bergamo). But in this case, the head resembles a dragon, the attribute of St Margaret. The daisies embroidered on the lace bodice might also allude to the saint (as Margherita means daisy in Italian). Margaret might have been the sitter's name-saint, or perhaps the sitter wished to identify with the virtues associated with the saint. The picture was once called a portrait of Duchess Eleanor of Urbino, and it shows some similarities of composition with Titian’s portrait of the Duchess, painted in 1536, in the Uffizi. Proposed datings for Savoldo’s portrait have ranged from the early 1520s (ie. before Titian’s portrait) to about 1540. From the Pio collection, which was assembled in the seventeenth century by Cardinal Carlo Pio di Savoia and acquired en bloc in 1750 by Pope Benedict XIV, founder of the Capitoline Gallery. The portrait, which is quite dark in tone, is not in the best condition.
San Diego. Timken Art Gallery.
*Temptation of St Anthony. Wood, 70 x 120.
St Anthony Abbot, a third/fourth-century saint, was tempted several times by the Devil in the desert; the story is told in the Golden Legend and other medieval texts, and was quite popular in art. However, the subject is exceptional for Savoldo, who generally avoids depicting physical action and prefers themes evoking quiet contemplation. The entertaining demonical episodes were inspired by the Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch (whose paintings of infernal subjects were already in the Doge’s Palace in Savoldo’s day). Once dated around 1530, the San Diego picture has more recently been considered among Savoldo’s earliest works (early 1510s?). The figure of St Anthony fleeing his demons resembles one in Giovanni Bellini’s Martyrdom of St Peter Martyr of 1509 (now in the Courtauld Institute, London). As the saint is dressed as a Carmelite monk, the picture could have been commissioned for a church or convent belonging to that order. Formerly in a private New York collection; acquired at Agnew’s in 1965.
Terlizzi (near Ruvo in Apulia, 30 km west of Bari). Santa Maria la Nova (or del Rosario).
Nativity. Canvas, 200 x 140.
The picture still hangs over the altar (sixth on the left) of the Scalera family, who may have commissioned it. (The grandiose Baroque frame is much later, of course.) The painting is a variant of the Nativities in the Brescia Pinacoteca and the church of San Giobbe at Venice – both of which are said to be (or have been) dated 1540. Restoration in 1943 revealed Savoldo’s signature on the rock beneath the Child.
Treviso. San Nicolò.
*Altarpiece. Wood, 625 x 365.
The Virgin and Child are seated on a high throne under the open vault of a classical building with the sky as background. An angel plays a viol on the step. Pope Benedict XI (Niccolò Boccasini of Treviso), St Nicholas of Bari (holding three golden balls) and St Dominic (with lily and book) stand on the left. St Thomas Aquinas (displaying his writings to the Virgin and Child), St Jerome (in cardinal's robes and studying his Vulgate Bible) and St Liberale (in black armour and holding the flag of Treviso) are on the right. This huge altarpiece, in the Bellini-Giorgione tradition, was commissioned by the Dominican friars of San Nicolò on 13 April 1520 from a mysterious artist called ‘Fra Marco Pensaben' or 'Fra Marco Maraveia', who was a monk at the Dominican convent of Santi Giovanni e Paolo at Venice. To judge from a signed Sacra Conversazione in the Accademia Carrara at Bergamo, Pensaben was a pedestrian follower of Giovanni Bellini. He disappeared suddenly from Treviso, leaving the altarpiece unfinished, and Savoldo was engaged to complete it, which he did the following year, 1521. Savoldo was paid 248 lire for his 80 days work on the picture (while Pensaben was paid only 193 lire and 9 soldi for his 250 days). While Pensaben might have been responsible for the general, Bellinesque composition, the execution appears to be almost wholly Savoldo's. The altarpiece is still in its original location over the high altar and in its original frame. It was restored in situ in 1990.
Turin. Galleria Sabauda.
Nativity with St Francis and St Jerome. Wood, 90 x 137.
Jerome lifts the bedcover to reveal the Child to the worshippers; usually it is the Virgin who lifts the cloth in this way. Comparison with a variant at Hampton Court, in which a male and a female donor are substituted for the two saints, suggests that it may have been cut down at the bottom edge. Both pictures were formerly ascribed to Pordenone and first correctly attributed to Savoldo by Crowe and Cavalcaselle. The Hampton Court picture is said to have been dated 1527; the Turin one might be slightly earlier. Acquired in 1824 from the Palazzo Reale (Durazzo) at Genoa.
Adoration of the Shepherds. Wood, 97 x 141.
An Arcadian nocturne, painted on a canvas of a favourite size for Savoldo but with figures that are unusually small for him. Also from the Palazzo Reale at Genoa. Ascribed to Titian until 1869, when Otto Mündler published it as a work of Savoldo in his edition of Burckhardht’s Cicerone. It may date from the early 1520s.
*St Anthony Abbot and St Paul the Hermit. Wood, 165 x 137.
Paul of Thebes, traditionally the first Christian hermit, fled to the Egyptian desert to escape persecution. He was visited there, at the reputed age of 113, by the 90-year-old Anthony Abbot. The two aged hermit saints are depicted praying together outside the mouth of St Paul's cave. Signed, bottom centre, on a stone. The date, formerly interpreted as 1510, has been read as 1520 (or 1516) since a restoration in 1977, but the panel is still Savoldo’s earliest dated picture. The figure of St Paul seems to be based on an engraving, dated 1512, by Dürer of St Jerome. Acquired in 1856 from the Manfrin collection with funds provided by the Emperor Franz Joseph. The Elijah, now in Washington, which was also in the Manfrin collection and is identical in size, was probably painted as a pendant. They were possibly intended for the Carmelite monastery at Brescia: Elijah and SS. Anthony and Paul were venerated as precursors of the Carmelite Order. A third panel from the Manfrin collection, a lunette of David (now lost), may also have belonged to the same complex.
*Annunciation. Canvas, 174 x 114.
In an unusual composition, perhaps influenced somewhat by Titian's Annunciation at Treviso, the angel (holding a lily and pointing heavenwards) and the Virgin (kneeling at a prie-dieu) are shown frontally. Through the window behind, God the Father appears in a blaze of light to release the dove of the Holy Spirit. As confirmed by an inscription on the back, the picture came from the church of San Domenico di Castello at Venice. Francesco Sansovino (1581) mentions pictures there by Savoldo in a chapel founded by Antonio Caresini. (Two other pictures painted by Savoldo for the chapel, representing St Dominic and St Veneranda and St Anthony Abbot and St Vincent, are dated 1530 and inscribed with the patron's name; they are in private hands.) The Annunciation was re-ascribed to Titian's nephew Marco Vecellio by the seventeenth century. The church of San Domenico di Castello was closed in 1806, when the Napoleonic Gardens were created, and the picture subsequently ended up at the Marciana Library. Then, in the late 1830s, it was sent at the request of Conte Leandro di Prata to the little parish church of Santi Pietro e Paolo at Ghirano di Prata, near Pordenone. There it remained, misattributed and largely forgotten, for almost a hundred and fifty years. It was rediscovered, in a poor state, in 1983 and subsequently restored. Until comparatively recently, it was exhibited at the Museo Civico in Pordenone.
Venice. San Giobbe. Ante-sacristy.
Adoration of the Shepherds. Canvas, 180 x 127.
Recorded in the church, as a work of Savoldo, by Boschini in his guidebook of 1664 (Le Ricche Minere della Pittura Veneziana). It is said to have borne the date 1540. It was probably painted as an altarpiece for its present location, and it retains its original frame, which is built into the wall of the chapel. There is an almost identical picture in the church of Santa Maria la Nova at Terlizzi (which, like San Giobbe, was in the hands of Franciscan Observants).
Verona. Santa Maria in Organo.
Madonna and Child in Glory with Saints. Canvas, 305 x 165.
The Virgin and Child appear to four standing saints: Peter (with key and book), Bernard (in the white habit of the Cistercian Order), Zeno (identified by the fish hanging from his crosier) and Paul (with sword and book). Dated 1533 on a stone on the left. The picture may have been commissioned by a member of the Della Torre family, whose coat-of-arms (not original) appears bottom right. It is a smaller variant (sometimes attributed to Savoldo's workshop) of the great altarpiece commissioned nine years earlier for the church of San Domenico at Pesaro and now in the Brera. Damaged and restored. It was cut down at the top in the eighteenth century when it was moved to a new marble altar. The figure of St Paul is repeated (half-length) in a painting at the Courtauld Institute, London.
A highly finished study (carefully executed in black and white chalk on discoloured blue Venetian paper) for the figure of St Peter is preserved in the Getty Museum at Los Angeles. It is one of only around ten drawing securely attributed to Savoldo.
Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Entombment of Christ. Wood, 73 x 119.
The dead Christ is supported on the lid of the sarcophagus by Joseph of Arimathea, while Mary Magdalene, open-mouthed with horror, cradles Christ's feet and the grief-stricken Virgin wipes her tears with her veil. Comparison with a seventeenth-century engraving shows that the picture has been cut down substantially on all sides, removing much of the sky at the top right, part of the figure of Joseph of Arimathea at the left edge, and much of Mary Magdalene on the right. The picture is said to have come from the church of Madonna dell’Orto at Venice. (There is an old copy in the church.) Once probably owned by the Priuli family, it was one of the many pictures acquired by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm when the Duke of Hamilton’s collection was dispersed after the English Civil War. Described as a work of Lotto in Tenier’s 1659 catalogue, it retained this attribution until 1871, when Crowe and Cavalcaselle recognised Savoldo’s hand. Probably early (before 1520). A replica was sold as ‘Savoldo and studio’ at Sotheby’s in 1976.
Prophet, Apostle or Philosopher. Wood, 79 x 57.
The unidentified subject is a heavily bearded, curly haired man, seen half-length, wearing a loose green tunic and holding a parchment scroll in his left hand. Probably the ‘picture of a man by Giorgione or Gia. Girolamo Bressano’ recorded in the early seventeenth century in the collection of Bartolomeo della Nave at Venice. Another of the Duke of Hamilton’s pictures acquired by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, it was described in the 1659 inventory as ‘De Giorgione Original’. Attributed to Savoldo by Giovanni Morelli (1880). A fragmentary signature on the scroll was first noticed by Gilbert (1955). Gilbert dates the picture about 1530, but for Frangi (1992) it is one of Savoldo’s earlier works.
Washington. National Gallery.
*The Prophet Elijah. Canvas (transferred from panel), 167 x 137.
The prophet is being miraculously fed by ravens at the brook Cherith (I KIngs: 17, 1-6). In the sky to the left, he ascends to heaven in a fiery chariot. Probably a pendant of the St Anthony Abbot and Paul the Hermit in the Venice Academy, which is signed and dated 1520(?). It was possibly painted for the Carmelite monastery at Brescia (Elijah was the legendary founder of the order). It was first recorded, with an attribution to Savoldo, in 1851 in the Manfrin collection at Venice. Sold in Paris in 1870, it was acquired by Charles Loeser in the 1890s and inherited by his daughter, Mrs Richard Calman. Bought by Kress (via Contini Bonacossi) in 1954. Unusually well preserved for a transferred picture.
*Portrait of a Young Man as St George. Canvas, 88 x 73.
He wears a breastplate over his doublet of crimson velvet, rests a broken spear against his left shoulder and raises his right hand as though about to address the viewer. Through the large window behind, there is a view of a distant landscape with St George slaying the dragon. The portrait may date from the middle or late 1520s. Regarded as a work of ‘Moretto or else of Savoldo’ in the early seventeenth century, when it was in the famous Venetian collection of Bartolomeo della Nave, it was unattributed in the 1659 inventory of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s collection, and given to Giorgione in nineteenth-century catalogues of the gallery of the Princes of Liechtenstein. Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871) were apparently the first to return it to Savoldo. Bought by Kress in 1951.
Adoration of the Shepherds. Wood, 85 x 120.
A night scene, in which the Virgin and three shepherds are illuminated by the light radiating from the Child. In the top right corner, the angel appears to the shepherds. Vasari mentions a ‘night nativity’ by Savoldo in the house of Tommaso da Empoli at Venice. The design of the adoring Virgin occurs in several other paintings by Savoldo (including one at Turin, where she is flanked by SS. Francis and Jerome, and another at Hampton Court, where she is flanked by two donors). Now generally accepted as an autograph late work (after Creighton Gilbert had dismissed it as a copy by a ‘Caravaggiesque Northerner’ and Fern Rusk Shapley had classed it as only ‘attributed to Savoldo’ in the 1979 catalogue of Italian paintings in the Kress collection). From the collection of Don Bartolo Bremuda, near Brescia; acquired by Kress (through Contini Bonacossi) in 1950. The composition and light effects are remarkably similar to those of Gerrit van Honthorst's Adoration of the Child (1620) in the Uffizi.