DescriptionGIACOMO CERUTI, known as "IL PITOCCHETTO" (Italian 1698 - 1767)
Portrait of a Print Seller, circa 1730s
Oil on canvas
38-3/8 x 30-3/4 inches
Girolamo Colombo, Via Manzione 14 (Presso Societa Triestina [near the Triestina Society, which is a noted sailing club]), Milan (on old framer's label verso printed with P. CAMPANA, CORNICE E OGGETTI D'ARTE, BRESCIA);
Property of a Gentleman
Il Pitocchetto or "Little Beggar" was the artistic nickname of Giacomo Ceruti, a Northern Italian painter who established himself in Brescia as a portraitist, a painter of religious images, but most significantly as a specialist in sympathetic paintings of low life subjects. Although he was one of several painters from the region of Brescia and Bergamo who explored the theme of beggars, peasants, and vagabonds extensively (among them were Paolo Borroni, Antonio Cifrondi, and Giacomo Francesco Cipper known as "il Todeschini"), Ceruti was one of the most gifted. He had a portraitist's ability to evoke a powerful presence from a wide variety of physical types, such that the distinctions between genre painting and portraiture are often nearly obscured in his work. Rather than stock types, Ceruti seems to have painted actual individuals. Indeed, in paintings that feature just a single figure seen at close range, at the half or three-quarter length scale that is generally reserved for aristocratic portraiture, Ceruti is often at his very finest. For such images, the artist restricted his palette largely to earth tones, and frequently modeled his deep brown backgrounds with considerable care so that they reflect light and suggest depth, in the manner of a Frans Hals or a Rembrandt. Against plain but active backgrounds, Ceruti indulged, and deliberately showcased, his love of rendering the texture of patched cloth, old leather, and not least of all, old skin. Even though his technique is comparatively much broader and more gestural, Ceruti's skill in painting old men and women is perhaps matched during the eighteenth century only by the tighter masters based further north, notably Balthasar Denner and Christian Seybold.
Although it does not bear his signature, the present painting of a crusty man in a heavy overcoat, carrying a bulky leather pouch, proffering what appear to be engraved prints with religious subjects, and carrying a pole with a strange paper bird dangling from it has all the hallmarks of the best work by Giacomo Ceruti from the mid-to-late 1720s, and 1730s. The way the paint is laid on the canvas on the figure's face (especially in the tightly creased forehead right above the eyebrow), hair, and beard is quite distinctively dry and can be compared with similar areas in his Bust of an Old Man (private collection, see Mina Gregori, Giacomo Ceruti, catalogue raisonné, Bergamo, Silvana Editorale, 1982, no. 153 ill.) and his marvelous Beggar with his hat in hand in the Konstmuseum, Göteborg (Gregori, 1982, no. 111 ill.). Another idiosyncrasy of Ceruti's work include faces that seem a little unnaturally compressed such that the face forms a kind of pentagonal shape, and the space between the tip of the nose and chin as well as the zone between the brow and the eyes appears a little squashed. This feature is present in the lower half of the "print seller's" face and can be also seen in Ceruti's well-known work Two Wretches (Brescia, Pinacoteca Civica Tosio-Martinegro, inv. no. 550; Gregori, 1982, no. 82a ill.). Ceruti also had some difficulties in painting hands, and came up with a personal convention, which results in hands that seem too short and pudgy, have very square palms, possess very knobby knuckles, and have thumbs that do not convincingly connect with the rest of the hand and also appear too short. The print seller's hand has all these qualities as well as a yellow, brittle, and split thumbnail that can be found in several of Ceruti's paintings. (For comparative works see the aforementioned Two Wretches in Brescia; his well-known Portrait of Count Giovanni Maria Fenaroli of 1724, ill. Gregori, 1982, no. 9; his stunning Old Peasant Woman in a private collection, ill. Gregori, 1982, no. 79; and for the broken yellow thumbnail see in particular his Resting Beggar, ill. Gregori, 1982, no. 59a).
One of the fairly consistent features of Ceruti's paintings, which functions both as a symbol of the beggar and the vagabond, is the staff. The artist uses it also as an important design element in most of his genre scenes and his portraits much as he does in the present work, to activate the space and create an indication of depth. Staffs, sticks, and poles appear in many works including his marvelous depiction of three beggars in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (ill. Gregori, 1982, no. 106) as well as in his own Self-Portrait as a Vagabond (Abano Terme; see Commune di Brescia, Monasterio di s. Giulia, Giacomo Ceruti. Il Pitocchetto, exh. cat., Milan, 1987, no. 50 ill).
Condition report available upon request.
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