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SEICENTO FIORENTINO: Sacred and Profane Allegories

Giovanni Battista Vanni (1600-1660), Esther and Ahasuerus, Oil on canvas, 201 x 262 cm.

Exhibition preview

FOLLOWING its New York debut, Moretti Fine Art is presenting SEICENTO FIORENTINO: Sacred and Profane Allegories, the inaugural exhibition of the new London gallery at 2a-6 Ryder Street, St James’s, on view from June 20 to July 30, 2012.

The Seicento, or the 17th century, refers to Italian cultural and social history during this tumultuous period, characterised by wars, conflicts and invasions, as well as the patronage of the arts and architecture. It was also the period which saw the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Counter Reformation and the Baroque era together with advancements in Italian science, philosophy and technology.

Being unveiled in London is Esther and Ahasuerus by Giovanni Battista Vanni (1600-1660), a large painting illustrating the Bible story narrated in the Old Testament (pictured). Esther, a young Jewish woman married to the king of Persia, Ahasuerus the Great, better known as Xerxes I (485-465 BC), was the brave heroine credited with the salvation of the Jewish people.

The work was executed for a Florentine gentleman and recorded in the documents of the Accademia del Disegno in a lawsuit that took place in 1650. The archive reveals that Vanni asked the Accademia to intercede with regard to payment from his patron.

The painting was evaluated by the painters Giovanni Martinelli, Lorenzo Lippi, Mario Balassi, Baccio del Bianco and Agostino Melissi, but no agreement was reached so it is probable that the canvas was returned to the artist. It was subsequently owned by the Serristori family until 1977.

Apollo by Cesare Dandini (1596-1657), formerly owned by the Marquis Ottaviano Acciaiuoli, was probably painted in the 1640s, the artist’s most spectacular period. This magnificent canvas depicts one of the most elegant and refined representations of the god Apollo in an aristocratic pose, reminiscent of a classical statue.

The laurel crown symbolises the importance of Apollo in poetry while the lyre alludes to his supremacy in music. The musical challenge between Apollo and the Phrygian satyr Marsyas is narrated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Apollo’s victory symbolised the triumph of his sublime beauty over the sub-human bestiality of Marsyas.

Dandini trained in the workshop of Francesco Curradi and then at those of Cristofano Allori and Domenico Cresti, also known as Passignano, before enrolling into the Florentine Accademia del Disegno in 1620.

He served a “very short period of confinement” for his involvement in a murder, after which he probably went to Rome to complete his education. Here he assimilated such recent influences as Caravaggesque naturalism spread by the ‘Manfrediana Methodus’ and Emilian classicism, returning to Florence in 1623.

The two most refined collectors of the Medici family, the brothers Prince Don Lorenzo (1599-1648) and Cardinal Carlo (1596-1666), were among the first and most earnest protectors of Dandini.

The Guardian Angel, a religious masterpiece by Carlo Dolci (1606-1686), probably the greatest painter in Florence in the Seicento, is a hitherto unpublished important addition to the artist’s oeuvre.

A boy of precocious talent who completed his artistic apprenticeship in the Florentine workshop of Jacopo Bignali, Dolci became an independent painter at the age of nine. By the time he was fifteen he was able to execute a masterpiece such as the Portrait of a Young Man, now in the Galleria Palatina in Florence, and the following year, 1632, the magnificent Portrait of Ainolfo de’ Bardi now in the Uffizi.

The Guardian Angel, an oval preparatory sketch for the painting in the Devonshire collection at Chatsworth, was probably painted around the same time. The intensively devout Dolci was enormously popular in his lifetime both with his fellow Florentines and British visitors.

The exhibition is curated, and the accompanying catalogued edited, by Francesca Baldassari, an independent scholar in Florence, who has achieved international recognition for her expertise on Florentine painting of the 17th and 18th centuries.

She is the author of monographs on Tuscan artists of the period, Carlo Dolci, Cristoforo Munari, Giovanni Domenico Ferretti and Simone Pignoni as well as two important publications, in English and Italian, La collezione Piero ed Elena Bigongiari. Il Seicento fiorentino tra favola e dramma and La Pittura del Seicento a Firenze. Indice degli artisti e delle loro opera.

Fabrizio Moretti opened his gallery in Florence in 1999 with the inaugural exhibition From Bernardo Daddi to Giorgio Vasari and soon established a respected reputation in the field of Italian Old Masters. The gallery works closely with the most notable scholars and public institutions and is known for its dedication to research and for handling works of the highest quality as well as for making this particular area more accessible to private collectors.

In 2005, Moretti opened a gallery in London which takes part in the annual Master Paintings Week as well as being a regular exhibitor at TEFAF Maastricht and the Biennale Internazione dell’Antiquariato di Firenze. In 2007, Moretti opened a gallery in New York in collaboration with Adam Williams Fine Art, just steps from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In December 2011, Moretti Fine Art moved its London headquarters to Ryder Street in St James’s. In 2012, Fabrizio Moretti was invited to become a member of the Selection Committee of Frieze Masters, a new fair in London’s Regent’s Park, staged to coincide with Frieze Art Fair in October 2012.