Francesco Cairo, also known as Francesco del Cairo, is one of the last protagonists of the great flowering of Milanese baroque art at the beginning of the seventeenth century. He is best known for his series of tragic heroines, usually painted on an intimate scale, which depict an equivocal moment of extreme emotion and a morbid fascination with violence and death. Cairo was probably taught by Morazzone (1573–1626), whose rich palette of oranges, purples and greens and whose blend of mannerism and ecstatic baroque sentiment he adopted. In 1633 Cairo was summoned to Turin to work as court painter to Victor-Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy. It is in the Galleria Sabauda in Turin that one can see the greatest concentration of Cairo’s work including such famous compositions as Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, Herodias with the Head of St John the Baptist and the Martyrdom of St Agnes. These were extremely popular and he painted several autograph versions and variants of each. Both the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York own versions of Herodias.
Books on Francesco Cairo
Virginia Brilliant, Faithful to Nature, Eleven Lombard Paintings 1530-1760, exh. cat., New York, 2019.
Francesco Frangi, Francesco Cairo, Turin, 1997 and 1998.
Bona Castelotti, La Pittura lombarda del ‘600, Milan, 1985.
Francesco Cairo 1607-65, exh. cat. Milan, 1983.
Peter Cannon-Brooks, ed., Lombard Paintings c. 1595-c.1630: The Age of Federico Borromeo, exh. cat. Birmingham, 1974.