Charles Joseph Natoire
Nimes 1700 – Castel Gandolfo 1777
La Vierge et l’enfant devant Dieu le père avec saint Georges tuant un dragon
Pen and brown ink with watercolour over black chalk drawing. Reprises by Natoire in pen and brown ink over watercolour and gouache. Inscribed on the lower right in pen and brown ink: Baciccio invenit Roma 165 (?). Numbered on the verso in pen and brown ink 7 (?) 3
488 x 358 mm (19 3/16 x 14 1/16 in.)
Paris, Louis Galichon collection (collector’s stamp, Lugt 1061); his sale March 4th-9th, 1895, Lot 69, as Giovanni Battista Gaulli known as il Baciccio; London Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd, 2004.
Susanna Caviglia-Brunel, Charles Joseph Natoire, Paris, Arthena, 2012, p. 138, illustrated; p. 503, R 57, illustrated.
Despite its inscription naming Giovanni Battista Gaulli, known as Il Baccicio (1639-1709) as the artist, the sheet presented here was originally a project carried out within Pietro da Cortona’s (1596-1669) circle. It is inspired by two famous compositions by Cortona from which it borrows diverse elements. One of the compositions represents Saint Michael the Archangel and the Holy Trinity and appears to have been painted by Cortona around 1656 for Saint Peter's Basilica on the order of Pope Alexander VII who was enthroned the previous year. The painting is now lost but is known from several engravings and a drawing belonging to the Art Institute of Chicago (Fig. 1). The second composition depicting The Immaculate Conception before God the Father was painted for an altarpiece in San Filippo Neri church, Perugia, and was copied several times. François Spierre’s (1639-1681) engravings after these two compositions (Fig. 2 and 3) were undoubtedly based on preparatory drawings such as the Art Institute of Chicago’s example, for insertion into Alexander VII’s luxurious Missale Romanum published in 1662.
The composition of this large drawing and its figures are typically Cortonesque and its dimensions are similar to the Chicago sheet. It could be a compositional proposal produced on the occasion of the Messale Romanum publication by a student of Cortona involved in the project – Ciro Ferri or Lazzaro Baldi or perhaps Carlo Cesi, Guglielmo Cortese, Jan Miel and the engraver François Spierre. Precise identification of the author is impossible because Natoire retouched the drawing, working over its contours with a pen and adding additional watercolour. Ciro Ferri was the Cortona student most involved in the missal project. His style is often softer and it would not be unreasonable to designate him as the presumed author of our work. Lazzaro Baldi is another logical choice: having copied the Immaculate Conception composition for the church of San Filippo in Ripantransone, he was very familiar with this type of composition and subject.
Director of the French Academy in Rome from 1751 to 1777, Natoire was deeply involved with his students who he took to draw in the countryside and provided with numerous drawings for use as working models. He practiced copying after the Italian masters extensively and also drawing retouching. Susanna Caviglia-Brunel observed that Natoire’s practice of retouching (which was intended above all to be educational) developed in three directions: he retouched either drawings by artists who were his contemporaries, most often his students; counterproofs of drawings made after Italian masters by residents of the French Academy in Rome; or finally older drawings made by French or Italian artists as is the case of the drawing we present here. In addition to the educational purpose of this practice, Natoire was doubtless searching for an engagement with the style of the 17th century Italian masters – a style he then absorbs into his own graphic and pictorial technique. In addition to its undeniable aesthetic qualities of large dimensions and a spectacular visual effect, our sheet is also of interest in terms of understanding the construction of Natoire's own style and its evolution towards a calm rococo and sentimental religiosity, which derived from his study of artists such as Ciro Ferri.
The provenance of this drawing should be pointed out: Louis Galichon was Émile Galichon’s brother, an art historian and specialist in German engravings who was also the owner of the Gazette des Beaux-arts from 1863 onwards and the founder of the Société française de gravure. Émile Galichon assembled a collection of drawings and engravings that was greatly admired by his contemporaries and from which 39 drawings were bequeathed to the Louvre by his son. Louis, a member of the Academy of Mâcon and a collector himself, bought abundantly from his brother’s sale.
 According to documentary sources, a version in the church of San Filippo de Neri in Ripatransone was commissioned by Damiano Bonomi and the Duchess of Strozzi for, “un allievo di Pietro da Cortona, su disegno del maestro, simile a quello della Congregazione di Perugia e da lui stesso rivito e ritocato” (see Carlo Grigioni, La congregazione dell’oratorio e la Chiesa di S. Filippo in Ripatransone, Tipografia Bagalini, 1904). The work is attributed to Lazzaro Baldi. Luca Giordano also appears to have been very strongly inspired by this composition, which he reproduced to within a few details and orientated in the same direction as the engraving while borrowing the hydra from Cortona’s composition in St. Peter, for his painting in the Cosenza Duomo (Scavizzi, Luca Giordano, p. 277-278, A 172, fig. 251, illustrated).