Turin, two masterpieces by Orazio Gentileschi compared: dossier exhibition at Galleria Sabauda

Two masterpieces in comparison by Orazio Gentileschi: Saint Ceclia playing the spinet and an angel, from the National Gallery of Umbria, and the Annunciation from the Royal Museums of Turin. At the Galleria Sabauda, the exhibition Dossier.

The Royal Museums of Turin are offering, on the second floor of the Sabauda Gallery, from September 7 to December 12, 2021, a great opportunity to admire two masterpieces by Orazio Gentileschi in comparison: Saint Cecilia playing the spinet and an angel, on loan from the National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia, and theAnnunciation kept in the Royal Museums.

The picture gallery, which had already been enriched in 2018 thanks to two acquisitions by Carol Rama and Carlo Mollino, has been partly rearranged on the occasion of this new dossier exhibition, especially in reference to the context dedicated to Caravaggesque painters and the Lombard masters of the early 17th century.

The collaboration with the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia intends to focus attention on the strand dedicated to the great artists influenced by Caravaggio and intends to consolidate the strengthening of relations with other national museums and institutions, with a view to building a virtuous network that accentuates and enhances the riches of each museum reality.

The comparison between these two masterpieces by Orazio Gentileschi gives visitors the opportunity to approach his working method, which consists of reusing cartoons or transparencies to compose single figures or entire scenes. The face of St. Cecilia playing the spinet and an angel, painted between 1615 and 1620 and coming from the monastery of San Francesco al Borgo in Todi where it was found in 1973, returns with similar attitude in that of the Virgin in theAnnunciation in Turin, donated by the same artist to Duke Charles Emmanuel I of Savoy in 1623 and now on display in the Galleria Sabauda.

In the first work, Cecilia, a Roman aristocrat who converted to Christianity and suffered martyrdom by beheading around 230 A.D., has her head crowned with flowers, a symbol of chastity, and touches the keyboard of a spinet with her fingers, accompanying with music the tacit song of prayer, inspired by the notes of the score offered to her by an angel. The existence of a single figurative model, reinterpreted with slight variations, is evident from the comparison with the Annunciation. A letter sent along with the gift reveals Gentileschi’s awareness of the work’s very high quality and his desire to curry favor with the duke in order to be called to the service of the court of Turin, underscored also by his choice of subject, a tribute to the Savoy family who had been awarded the chivalric order of the Annunziata.

In the Perugia painting, the figures emerge from the darkness, invested by a light that enhances the definition of the drawing and accentuates the chromatic values of Cecilia’s red robe, her white shirt and the angel’s ochre tunic; the direction becomes more complex in the Turin canvas, however, where the natural glow of divine light penetrates the room, revealing the details of the domestic environment. In his compositional choice, skillful use of light, and use of an elaborate and precious color palette, Gentileschi manages to skillfully combine the archaic setting, derived from the Florentine 15th-century tradition, with the novelties of Caravaggio’s realism and the Flemish lesson, from Rubens to van Dyck.

Ph.Credit DB Studio / Daniele Bottallo

Turin, two masterpieces by Orazio Gentileschi compared: dossier exhibition at Galleria Sabauda
Turin, two masterpieces by Orazio Gentileschi compared: dossier exhibition at Galleria Sabauda

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