oil on canvas
95.5 x 105 cm
oil on canvas
95.5 x 105 cm
(Possibly) Pietro Cussida Collection, Rome, by descent to
Gianfrancesco Cussida, Rome, 1622, by descent to his daughter,
Laura Cussida, Rome, described in 1624 as ‘un quadro con ritratto di un filosofo con cornice indorata’, passed on to her guardian,
Nicolò Gavotti (d. 1674), Rome, upon her marriage to Mario Massimo in 1641, by inheritance to
Carlo Gavotti Collection, Rome, 1674-1702
the heirs of Carlo Gavotti
Thereafter, said to have descended from a noble Tuscan family, at least from the early 19th century
Gert Jan van der Sman, Caravaggio and the Painters of the North, Madrid, 2016, exh. cat., pp. 36-37, reproduced fig.17.
Wayne Franits, ‘A New Painting by Dirck van Baburen’, in The Primacy of the Image in Northern European Art 1400-1700: Essays in Honor of Larry Silver, Boston, 2017, pp. 436-473, reproduced p. 464, fig. 34.1.
The exciting discovery of Dirck van Baburen’s Philosopher constitutes the first painting from the Utrecht Caravaggist’s Roman period to surface in over a decade. Born in 1592 or 1593 near Utrecht, Baburen – along with Gerrit van Honthorst and Hendrick Terbrugghen – was one of the first Dutch artists to travel to Rome after the death of Caravaggio and to bring back the master’s legacy to their native city. Baburen’s career, abruptly cut short by his sudden death at the age of thirty, was nevertheless a successful one and his Roman period is considered the high point of his artistic achievement. A Philosopher brings the number of extant pictures from this phase of his career to fourteen and his complete oeuvre to around forty works, most of which are now in public collections such as the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Vienna and the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
At the age of nineteen, Baburen left the workshop of Paulus Moreelse (1571-1638) for Italy in 1612/1613, and spent most of his time there in Rome. Following the death of Caravaggio in 1610, the decade of Baburen’s arrival in the Eternal City witnessed the apogee of the Caravaggesque movement in Rome, owing to the popularity of the novel style, both among patrons and the influx of artists, foreign and Italian, who practiced it. In the second decade of the seventeenth century, this ‘school’ centered around the achievements of the Spanish émigré, Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), who was already living in Rome by 1605 and who might have known Caravaggio before he fled the Eternal City in 1606. Baburen, in turn, was surely influenced by Ribera who was to make a name for painting pictures of ‘Philosophers’, usually looking directly at the viewer and often holding a book. Ribera’s impact upon Baburen appears to have been decisive, even if it remains underappreciated today, and a meaningful comparison can be made between our Philosopher and Ribera’s Five Senses, especially Touch (fig. 1), commissioned in Rome by Pietro Cussida (d. 1622) and painted shortly before this picture.
Pietro Cussida, a Spanish diplomat, art agent, and collector was also an important patron of Baburen in Rome. He commissioned from the artist and his colleague, David de Haan (ca. 1600-1622), the decoration of the Pietà Chapel in San Pietro in Montorio, which was executed between 1618-19. Baburen’s other patron of note was Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani (1564-1637) – one of the great maecenases, connoisseurs, and collectors of this era, who commissioned Baburen’s Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples, now in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin (fig. 2), which originally hung next to Ribera’s Christ Among the Doctors.
Baburen’s Philosopher is especially interesting for its possible link to Baburen’s most important patron, Pietro Cussida. In addition to the commission for his chapel mentioned above, Cussida had a significant collection of paintings in his palace on the Via del Corso in Rome. This was passed on to his son, Gianfrancesco Cussida, in 1622. Gianfrancesco himself died the following August. It was in connection with his death that the contents of the collection were documented in two inventories, compiled respectively, in 1623 and 1624. Unfortunately, the names of the artists were not recorded but one of these paintings is listed as ‘un quadro con ritratto di un filosofo con cornice indorata’ (a picture with a portrait of a philosopher with a gilt frame), which may well be our painting.
This beautifully preserved Philosopher bears a striking resemblance to Baburen’s Doctor of the Church (fig. 3), which may not be a coincidence as Franits suggests that this latter picture might have also once belonged to Pietro Cussida. Beyond similarities of space, composition and their bookish subject matter, the broadly brushed execution of the figure’s flesh and clothing is analogous. Baburen’s Philosopher almost certainly dates from the same period as his Doctor of the Church and even though the two paintings are not identical in size, it is tempting to consider them as pendants or parts of a larger series. ❖