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    BARTOLOMEO PASSAROTTI (Italian 1529-1592)
    Two Grotesque Heads, circa 1575
    Oil on canvas
    19 x 25 inches (48.3 x 63.5 cm)

    The imagery of this extraordinary painting by the Bolognese artist Bartolomeo Passarotti ultimately derives from Leonardo da Vinci's expression studies, which are considered some of the earliest caricatures--or precedents to caricature--in Western art. During the course of the Renaissance, the intention behind the creation of such studies went through a subtle evolution. It began as a device for studying human character, particularly under the auspices of the pseudo-science of physiognomy, i.e., outward appearances revealing traits of personality, intelligence, and other more elusive internal qualities. Through an exaggeration of certain facial features, these heads soon became a powerful device for humorous portraiture, for personality types or characters seen as the counterpart of the Renaissance ideal, and eventually for satire. The term 'caricature' was first applied to the work of the Carracci, also based in Bologna, around 1590.

    Bartolomeo Passarotti was a central and fascinating figure within the development of character studies and caricature proper in Italy during the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Although one facet of his work (his altarpieces) can be properly described as Mannerist, and exceedingly decorative, another side displays an intense exploration of the phenomenon of Nature in all its manifestations. These Two Grotesque Heads are a prime example of the latter, while still maintaining a quite decorative quality. In Bologna, Passarotti engaged in continuous dialogue with an enlightened circle of intellectuals: educated patrons, professors of the University, and learned doctors and collectors, all of whom had an enormous impact on his art, and his interest in realism (the unvarnished side of Nature). One of his most important friends and influences was Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605), the important Italian naturalist and the moving force behind Bologna's botanical garden, one of the first in Europe. Both Carolus Linnaeus and the Comte de Buffon regarded him as the father of natural history. For Passarotti, Androvandi's passion for observing and documenting Nature in an encyclopedic manner provided a model for his approach to art. Passarotti's openness to a wide range of influences enabled him to contribute to something entirely new and fresh in Italian painting--a focus on low life subjects, scenes of everyday life, and the use of such imagery for moralizing or allegorical painting.

    Passarotti is best known for his ground-breaking works in the arena of genre painting, which was virtually unknown in Italy. He painted market stalls and butcher shops depicting peasants selling their wares, often engaging the viewer directly with weather-worn faces and toothless grins not dissimilar from the heads in the present work. Such imagery was painted earlier in Flanders, and was probably introduced to the south by a painter such as Joachim Beuckelaer who was active in Cremona for a period. Passarotti's encyclopedic disposition would have attracted him to this type of painting, which records a subject previously absent from the Italian canon.

    The exotic costumes of these figures suggest a possible connection with the Italian Commedia dell'Arte, popular Italian theatre. Within this connection, they also might have allegorical significance as well. The facial types and the disposition of heads in this work have close parallels to a painting by Passarotti in a Parisian private collection showing a pair of intoxicated lovers in which a coarse man presents the viewer with the breast of his companion, a slatternly prostitute (see Carinna Höper, Bartolomeo Passarotti (1529-1592), Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft Worms, II, cat. no. G 96, ill. Plate 21b).

    Passarotti exemplified a style typically northern in taste which is evident in the satirical and "genre" qualities of the subjects, and provided a springboard for the achievements of the Carracci. In contrast with Passarotti's tendency to treat low life subjects as material for coarse burlesque representations, the Carracci tended to observe scenes from everyday life without the subtext of allegory.

    Condition Report*: relined, scattered strengthening throughout, 1.25 x 2 inch tear repaired in the white turban of the right figure, strong colors
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2007
    24th-25th Thursday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,746

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $9) per lot.

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