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Saint Thomas

Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (Lucca 1708 – Rome 1787)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1740 - 1743

Materials

Oil on canvas

Measurements

73 x 60.5cm (28¾ x 23¾ in)

Order this image

Collection

Basildon Park, Berkshire (Accredited Museum)

On show at

Basildon Park, West Berkshire, London and South East, National Trust

NT 266904

Summary

Oil painting on canvas, Saint Thomas by Pompeo Batoni (Lucca 1708 – Rome 1787), 1740-43. A half length, left elbow rests on pedestal and holds his attribute, a set-square in hand ( a rerference to an apocryphal romance, the Acts of Thomas. book in right hand, while he looks earnestly to his left. Dark hair and beard. Wears yellow tunic and blue cloak. Moulded gilt frame. Part of set with NT/BAS/P/13-15,17-20.

Full description

Sets of Apostles - more usually in sculpted than in painted form, or simply symbolised by crosses, with or without the emblems of their life or martyrdoms - form part of the basic iconography of churches . It is more unusual, as Francis Russell has said, that they should have been painted as a set of pictures for a private collection (though Rubens painted a set for the Duke of Lerma around 1611-12, and Van Dyck another for an Guilliam Verhagen around 1620/21 , for which there were precedents ), and even more so that the major part of one such set should adorn an English country house . If anything - despite the fact that the Apostles were amongst the saints that the Anglican church continued to recognise - sets of Sibyls were more common as an adornment of English country houses than were the Twelve Apostles. One reason for this was, perhaps, that paintings were very rarely collected in England for their content; if anything, they were collected in spite of it (otherwise, not only the profusion of Madonnas and Saints, but also the early English taste for Murillo, with his proliferation of child-angels, would be inexplicable). Yet even in Italy, where these particular Apostles once formed part of the greatest single concentration of Batoni's work - the Merenda collection in Forlì - it was unusual to commission religious subjects specifically for a picture-gallery as opposed to collecting them après coup - and it normally betokened, if anything, a weakening of religious sensibility, that such was the destination for which pictures of the kind were painted. Batoni, who was personally pious, also responded to this commission with artistic energy: although each saint has a traditional defining attribute, the artist was -as with his Meekness and Purity of Heart - not content to leave it to these to characterise them, but has done so by giving each one strongly individual physical characteristics and an emphatically differentiated pose. In doing this, he was following the precedent set by Rubens and Van Dyck; in the case of the latter's complete set, indeed, although they would all appear to have been painted within a relatively brief timespan, the strength of the differences in their characterisation is such as to have led some to believe that they were painted over an extended period. Russell proposed a similar extended timespan for the present set of Apostles, beginning with the St. Peter and the St. Thomas around 1740, and ending with the last - unspecified - saints some two to three years later. Clark & Bowron, however, whilst accepting the idea of such a timespan and its date-range, do not in practice suggest particular placings for any individual Apostle within that period of c.1740 to c.1743, contenting themselves instead with listing and illustrating them simply in alphabetical order . As this implicitly acknowledges, it seems likely that Batoni in fact executed his set within a much shorter span of time, and that it is only the strong differentiation of the character that he has given to each Apostle that has given rise to the divergences that have been interpreted as those of a developing style. A set of replicas of Rubens's Christ and Apostles, executed by the artist's pupils, retouched by him, and originally offered to Sir Dudley Carleton in 1618, later found their way instead to the Pallavicini Collection in Rome . It seems more likely that it was these, rather than the incomplete set of full-length Apostles painted by Sacchi and Maratta for the Barberini, as proposed by Russell, Clark and Bowron, that were Batoni's immediate inspiration. Count Cesare Merenda (1700-1754) and his friar-brother Fra Giuseppe (1687-1760) were Batoni's most dedicated patrons, commissioning at least 32 recorded pictures from the artist between about 1740 and 1750. They came from an old patrician family of Forlì, and the collection appears to have been begun by their grandfather, Giuliano Merenda; it ultimately consisted of about 370 pictures, of every kind. Although it contained Old Masters - on whose acquisition Batoni gave advice - one of its chief strengths lay in 18th-century Roman painting. Here, the fact that Count Cesare had been a lawyer practising in Rome since 1723 was no doubt of key importance. His brother, who also functioned locally as an architect, albeit primarily on ecclesiastical commissions, designed a new gallery in the family palazzo in Forlì in the 1730s. It was for this that these and most of the other Batonis were intended. It suggests a closer than usual rapport between artist and clients that no less than three of Batoni's pictures were sketches, one for a painting of which they also owned the larger version; that the artist painted two variants of one composition for them (presumably one for each brother); and that he was even prepared to improve a picture by his former teacher, Agostino Masucci, by repainting a face in it . The two most celebrated pictures, the reclining figures of St Mary Magdalen and St John the Baptist (the former probably Batoni's most repeated painting: in addition to the 27 copies listed by Clark & Bowron, another is at The Argory, Co. Armagh), were somehow acquired by King August III of Saxony-Poland by 1754. They were destroyed by the Allied fire-bombing of Dresden on 13 February 1945, just as the Merenda palazzo with its gallery had been destroyed by the Allied bombing of Forlì on 10 November 1944. The pictures had mostly been removed to safety to the family villa, but, deprived of their natural location, were then largely sold over the next twenty years or so, many of them through the Rome gallery of M. & C. Sestieri. The Apostles and God the Father were sold to four different buyers: St Andrew was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago, St Bartholomew to Tony Clark himself, and St James the Less to Morris Kaplan in Chicago; but the main group of seven Apostles (St James the Greater, St John the Evangelist, St Matthew, St Paul, St Peter, St Philip, and St Thomas) and God the Father were acquired by the dealer Julius Weitzner in London. All but one of these (St James the Greater, which he sold to the Bob Jones University Collection, Greenville, South Carolina) were in turn acquired by Colnaghi's, from which they were bouhgt by Lord and Lady Iliffe, as was the St James the Less when it reappeared on the market in 1968. The distinguished collection of primarily Settecento pictures formed at Basildon by Lord and Lady Iliffe was bought from, or with the advice of, Agnew's and Colnaghi's. The late James Byam Shaw at the latter was one of the pioneering dealers to promote the taste for paintings and drawings of this period amongst an Anglo-Saxon clientele after World War II (Ralph Dutton's collection of paintings at Hinton Ampner was also largely formed through Colnaghi's). The one curiosity about the Merenda Apostles and God the Father is that, though they formed a set of a dozen pictures, they were incomplete as a set of Apostles. Although other Apostles are named by Egidio Calzini in his Guide to Forlì in 1893 , and by Luisa Marcucci in her article of 1944 , these seem to have been simple misnomers, since the total number of Apostles is the same, as it is in two ms. house lists of the collection. The missing Apostles are St Judas Thaddaeus ('St Jude') and his fellow-martyr, St Simon; and - though he is often not included when St Paul is there to make up the twelve - St Matthias, who was chosen by the other Apostles after the Ascension to fill the place left vacant by the apostasy and suicide of Judas Iscariot. It is also curious that Christ himself is not amongst the set, when the other two members of the Trinity are present in one of the pictures: that showing God the Father, with the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. Russell suggested that the Ecce Homo still in the possession of Count Cesare Merenda Farneti at Forlì was the pendant of God the Father, outside the series, but he was unaware that it is barely half the size of God the Father and all the Apostles, or that it was singled out, as a picture on its own, as a special legacy from Count Cesare Merenda to his friar-brother Giuseppe . It is also striking that there is no Virgin Mary. It therefore seems highly possible that the Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist recorded in one of the manuscript lists of the collection, and by Marcucci in 1944, supplied the appropriate images of the Madonna and Jesus, as well as of the cousin and forerunner of Christ - although there was a separate picture of him on his own, that might otherwise have formed part of the set . In the absence of dimensions, we cannot know; but given what would appear — from the subjects of their other commissions to Batoni - to have been the very orthodox piety of the Merenda brothers, it would seem highly likely. Even in its incomplete state, however, the set - represented here by two pairs of pictures: SS Peter & Paul, and two Evangelists - still in its original Roman 'Maratta' frames ("con cornice cimaso dorata" was how that on the Ecce Homo was called in Count Cesare's will in 1754), makes a vivid and arresting group. (i) See Alastair Laing, 'Baroque Sculpture in a Neo-Baroque setting', in The London Oratory: Centenary 1884-1984, ed. Michael Napier & Alastair Laing, London, 1984, pp.65-83, with further references. (ii) See Margaret Roland, 'Van Dyck's Early Workshop: the 'Apostles' series and the 'Drunken Silenus', The Art Bulletin, vol. LXVI, June 1984, pp.211-223; exh. cat. Anthony Van Dyck, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1990-91, nos. 19 & 20. (iii) Susan Urbach, 'Preliminary Remarks on the Sources of the Apostle Series of Rubens and Van Dyck', Revue d'Art Canadienne/Canadian Art Review, vol. X (1983), pp.5-22. (iv) Francis Russell, 'Batoni at Basildon', National Trust Studies 1981, ed. Gervase Jackson-Stops, London, 1980, pp.35-42. The partial set of (five) Apostles by Van Dyck formerly at Althorp should nonetheless be remembered. (v) Anthony M. Clark & Edgar Peters Bowron, Pompeo Batoni:Complete Catalogue, Oxford, 1985, nos. 74-85, pp.27 & 231-33 & pls. 73-85. (vi) SeeFederico Zeri, La Galleria Pallavicini in Roma, Florence, 1959, nos. 431-43, pp.233-37 & pls. Already owned by G.B. Pallavicini in Antwerp in 1665, they are first recorded in Rome in the collection of Cardinal Lazzaro Pallavicini in 1679. Batoni painted a Visitation for the collection about this very period (Zeri, cat.cit., no.20, p.35 & pl.). (vi) Clark & Bowron, op.cit., nos. 37, 40 & 111 (the sketches, the last being for no.112, which has the dimensions of a house-altar); nos. 53 & 54 (a Holy Family, and its reduction to a Madonna and Child; a further reduction to the bust of The Virgin alone became Batoni's second most popular composition [cat.no.56], a very good version of which, unknown to Clark & Bowron, is at Calke Abbey); no.128 (Christ and the Woman of Samaria - the head of the Woman of Samaria repainted by Batoni). (v) Egidio Calzini & Giuseppe Mazzatinti, Guida di Forlì, Forlì, 1893, pp.530-54; cf. also Calzini's 'La Galleria Merenda in Forlì e le pitture del Batoni in essa contenute', Arte e Storia, vol. XV, nos. 17 & 18, (10 & 30 September 1896), pp.129-30 & 138-9, which includes some extraordinarily bossy strictures over "la pedante, irrazionale simmetria" of the hang, condemned as that of a century behind, and exhortations for its rehanging on modern museological lines, but fails - despite the promise of its title - to discuss the Apostles. (vi) 'Pompeo Batoni a Forlì', Emporium, vol.XCIX (1944), pp.95-105, esp. list p.95 n.1. (vii) Clark & Bowron, op.cit., no. 75, p.231 & pl. 74. (viii) Clark & Bowron, op.cit., under 'Untraced Paintings', p.368. (adapted from pre-publication/unedited version of Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995)

Provenance

Commissioned by Count Cesare (1700-1754) and Fra Giuseppe (1687-1760) Merenda, for the picture-gallery of the Palazzo Merenda, Forlì, c.1740-43; there till 1945; Villa Merenda - Salecchi, near Forlì, till 1959, when sold (probably via M. & C. Sestieri, Rome) to the dealer Julius Weitzner (1896 - 1986), London; with P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London, 1959-60; by whom sold in 1960 to Lord & Lady Iliffe; by whom presented to the National Trust, together with the house and grounds of Basildon Park, and a substantial part of their collection of paintings, in 1979

Credit line

Basildon Park, The Iliffe Collection (National Trust)

Makers and roles

Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (Lucca 1708 – Rome 1787), artist of original

References

Clark and Bowron 1985 Anthony M. Clark & Edgar Peters Bowron (ed.), Pompeo Batoni A Complete Catalogue of his Works with an Introductory Text, Oxford 1985, no. 85, p. 233

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