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EARLY FOLLOWER OF CARAVAGGIO (Cecco del Caravaggio) Working early 17th century

The paintings now attributed to “Cecco del Caravaggio” form a highly individualistic group of mostly genre scenes. They all show close interest in low-life but are painted with a delicacy and sensitivity which is quite unlike most other Caravaggesque work. There is still discussion about the precise definition of the artist’s output and modern scholarship has made many different and sometimes conflicting attempts to prove who the artist was.

Christopher Wright writes: The identity of “Cecco del Caravaggio” has become one of the most controversial and ultimately unresolved questions of recent research into the Baroque. Asmall group of pictures exist, ostensibly but not certainly by the same hand. Benedict Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement, Oxford, 1979, p. 42, listed some sixteen works but did not include the Flute Player in Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, which has always been associated with a similar work in the Wellington Museum, Apsley House. Nicolson assumed that the “Francesco, detto Cecco del Caravaggio”described by Mancini c. 1629 was an artist of Spanish origin, working in Rome in the second decade of the 17th century. On stylistic grounds this hypothesis would fit, although Nicolson also noted the influence of Louis Finson, a Flemish artist working in the south of France. There is still dispute from other scholars as to whether the Ashmolean Flute Player should be included. The contradictory current thinking by GianniPappi, Cecco del Caravaggio, Soncino, 2001, is that the Cecco group, a slightly different assembly of pictures to those used byNicolson, are by Francesco Boneri. Pappi comes to terms with the Spanish influence by attributing some “Ceccos” to Pedro Nunez del Valle.

This painting falls into the small category of pictures which have been loosely associated with artists of various nationalities, all working in Italy in the wake of Caravaggio in the second and third decades of the 17th century. The guitar player and the flute player is undoubtedly related to the small group of works labelled “Cecco del Caravaggio” and it was to this master that the compiler verbally attributed the painting, when shown it early in 2002. Pappi also isolates another small group of pictures from Cecco whom he calls the Monogrammist RG and the key picture in this group is a Guitar Player, Genoa, Casa di Risparmi di Genova e Imperia, Pappi, op. cit., pl. XLV. The monogram, interpreted as RG, appears as part of the decoration of the lute. Alute with similar decoration appears in The guitar player and the flute player here but it cannot be interpreted as the monogram RG, and in any event the Genoa picture forms part of the Cecco group. The fact that Pappi’s “Monogrammist RG” is so close to Cecco himself indicates that The guitar player and the flute player are part of the Cecco group.

The guitar player has a distinctively lined face and this is an especial feature of Cecco’s work, found in almost all his male models. Another similarity is the handling of white cloth, in this case the cravat, which also appears throughout his work. Other distinctive characteristics are the use of still life elements in the composition, introduced to show skill. Afinal comparison is the particular way which the hands are drawn and lit.

This haunting picture has overtones of the early work of Velasquez in his Seville period and it was to this great master that the painting was formally attributed. The scholarly suggestions that “Cecco” may well turn out to be Spanish now seem to make sense given the strong realism and powerful brushwork which seem so Spanish in themselves. The flute player in the background seems especially Spanish. Anumber of Spanish academics believe the painting to be Neapolitan. Cecilia Grilli suggested Rombouts. The flute player has the timeless quality of Giorgione or Titian seen through Terbrugghen-like eyes; this eclectic painting still defies an attribution and it may continue to do so.
EARLY FOLLOWER OF CARAVAGGIO (Cecco del Caravaggio) Working early 17th century EARLY FOLLOWER OF CARAVAGGIO (Cecco del Caravaggio) Working early 17th century

The guitar player and the flute player

Oil on canvas: 101 x 76 cm. (42 x 29 3⁄ 4 in.)

Provenance: From the collection of Canon Leigh, anon. sale, Paris, Hotel Drouot, 16th January, 1936, lot 48, as by Velasquez. In a private collection France, and bought from de La Scala Gallery, Paris. Brentwood Holdings Assets Ltd. Spier collection.

Literature: Nicola Spinosa, Napoli l’Europa, Ricerche di Storiadell’Arte in onore di Ferdinando Bologna, ill. 177, as by Hendrick van Somer. An expertise kindly provided by the late Prof. Leonard Slatkes, March, 1994, as by Matthias Stomer.

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