DescriptionMatteo Loves (Italian, active 1625-circa 1645)
The Virgin Mary adoring the Christ Child, circa 1645
Oil on canvas
60-3/4 x 44-1/4 inches (154.3 x 112.4 cm)
PROPERTY OF A TEXAS MUSEUM
Liechtenstein collection (unverified) (1);
Normand collection (2);
Newhouse Galleries, New York (label preserved verso), as by Guercino;
William Lewis Moody III (1894-1992), San Antonio, Texas;
Presented by the above (as by Guercino) in 1969 to the present owner.
Prisco Bagni, Benedetto Gennari e la bottega del Guercino, Bologna, 1986, p. 267, illus. p. 275, fig. 144 (dates painting to before 1630);
Massimo Pirondini, "Matteo Loves," in La scuola del Guercino, ed. by Emilio Negro et al., Modena, 2004, p. 293, illus. p. 286, fig. 437.
The attribution of this Madonna and Child to the Cologne-born, Emilian-trained painter, Matteo Loves, is first recorded in Prisco Bagni's study of the workshop of Guercino (1986, cited above). This opinion, otherwise unelaborated, was presumably based on a verbal attribution by the Guercino scholar, Sir Denis Mahon, who had published a seminal article on Loves in 1950 (D. Mahon, "The Author of a False Liss-An Englishman," Burlington Magazine, XCII, April 1950, pp. 98-102). According to Bagni, who located the work in an unspecified private collection, Mahon had also stated that the painting had formerly belonged to the collections of the princely Liechtenstein family of Austria.
In the sustained study of Loves' short career and small oeuvre, Massimo Pirondini (2004, cited above, pp. 285-308) dated the present work to the early 1640s. The substantial, broadly lit figure of the Christ Child, in fact, bears comparison with several of the angels in Loves' dated altarpiece of 1642, the Madonna and Child in Glory with Saints Peter and Paul in the parish church of San Pietro in Casale, a town about five miles east of Cento (for a color illus. of that work, see M. Pirondini, p. 304, fig. 461). On the other hand, the lush draperies of the Virgin Mary, with their subtle color harmonies, invite comparison with Guercino's paintings of the late 1620s and 1630s. (Bagni, without making any comparisons with Loves' other work, dated the present painting to before 1630.)
Loves expresses here the theme of the Madonna and Child in an eminently clear and touching manner. A sophisticated iconography, however, is also evident. The crossing of the Virgin's hands and her deeply-absorbed facial expression indicate her awareness of Christ's future sacrifice for all mankind. As for the Christ Child, his raised left arm reinforces this bond with the adoring Mary. He lies on what is clearly an altar, where Christ's death and resurrection are commemorated in the Mass. Moreover, the white cloth on which he rests is a time-honored reference to the winding cloth in which Christ was placed after the Crucifixion, as evident in the Madonna paintings of such Renaissance masters as Giovanni Bellini (for example).
Overall, this spirited, devotional work epitomizes Loves' mature painting style, as described by one scholar: "Closely bound in his stylistic development to that of his master [i.e. Guercino], he united a reflection of Guercinesque, chiaroscuro-laden realism with a constant exploration of a beautiful form, harmonious and well-proportioned, according to the norms of contemporary Bolognese classicism." ("Strettamente legato nel suo percorso stilistico a quello del maestro, unisce il ricordo del realismo chiaroscurale guercinesco alla costante ricerca di una bella forma, armonica e proporzionata, secondo le norme del classicismo bolognese dell' epoca." Nora Clerici Bagozzi in Dizionario enciclopedico Bolaffi dei pittori e degli incisori italiani dall' XI al XX secolo, VII, Turin, 1975, p. 54).
Loves is first mentioned in a document of February 10, 1625, in which "Matteo di Paolo Loves di Colonia Agrippina [i.e. Cologne]" was wed in the town of Cento to Violante Fabbri, from a local family who were early protectors of Guercino. The latter in fact became godfather to the first of the couple's four daughters. At this time, most likely, Loves was still a pupil of Guercino, a relationship attested to by the leading seventeenth-century historian of Bolognese painting, Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Felsina pittrice, vite de' pittori bolognesi, Bologna, 1678, II, p. 386. In 1632, Guercino, Loves and another painter were invited by Duke Francesco I of Modena to execute his portrait and that of his spouse, Maria Farnese. The two works are lost, but are recorded in copies (Musée de l'Art et de l'Histoire, Geneva) that are usually attributed to Loves. In 1640 the painter is documented at Bologna, and again in 1643 and 1644, which is the last mention of Loves. Presumably he died later that year or perhaps in 1645.
(1) According to P. Bagni, 1986 (cited above), p. 267, citing information from Denis Mahon.
(2) According to Dallas Times Herald, December 1, 1969, p. 2.
Glue lined canvas on newer stretchers which date to circa 1969. Under UV examination there is heavy varnish which has been selectively cleaned in the area of the figures and architectural elements. The background zones remain largely illegble under the varnish. There are scattered areas of inpaint and strengthening but are mostly confined to the area of the lower left quadrant in the zone where the various types of drapery meet. it appears that lines were added along the perimeter of the child's feet and along the lines of the Virgin's mantle to differentiate the various textures where pigment discoloration occurred. One of the blue pigments describing the Virgin's mantle and the drapery at upper left has degraded. There are a few zones of losses and paint lifting: in the area above her head, in the corner of her eye, and just above her left shoulder. Craquelure is most noticeable in the the degraded areas. Otherwise it has been stablized by the lining.
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