Portrait of Francesca Gommi
oil on canvas
98.5 x 74.5 cm
oil on canvas
98.5 x 74.5 cm
Rome, Ceci Collection
Luigi Koelliker Collection
Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, Mostra del Ritratto Italiano, 1911
Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, Mola e il suo tempo. Pittura di figura dalla Collezione Koelliker, 22 January–23 April 2005
AA.VV., Il Ritratto italiano dal Caravaggio al Tiepolo, Bergamo, 1927, pp. 191, 280, Tav. XV.
S. Rudolph, An instance of Time thwarted by Love: Carlo Maratti’s portrait of a unusual lady, in “Labyrinthos”, no.21–24, 1992–93, p. 193.
F. Petrucci, Traccia per un repertorio della ritrattistica romana tra‘500 e‘700, in M. Natoli and F. Petrucci, Donne di Roma, Rome, 2003, p. 24.
S. Rudolph, Carlo Maratti. Ritratto di Francesca Gommi Maratti, in F. Petrucci, Mola e il suo tempo. Pittura di figura dalla Collezione Koelliker, exh. cat., Milan, 2005, pp. 228–29.
F. Petrucci, Pittura di Ritratto a Roma. Il Seicento, Rome, 2008, vol. II, pp. 342–43, vol. III, p. 650, no. 420.
This painting was recognized a few years ago as a major late portrait of Francesca Gommi by Carlo Maratti. It is an autograph version of a painting of a nearly identical composition (fig. 1) but of smaller dimensions in a private collection in London, the identification of whose sitter was made by Rudolph on the basis of portraits of Francesca Gommi drawn by Maratti (Albertina, Vienna, and Academia de San Fernando, Madrid) and to the profile bust of her sculpted in bass relief by Camillo Rusconi in 1712 for her tomb in the church of San Faustina in Camerano. These comparisons allow us to date this portrait to about 1701 and the circumstances that inspired this pair of images are evidently closely connected to the personal life of the artist. Petrucci (see literature) believes this portrait to be earlier in date on the basis of her youthful appearance; however, we believe that her appearance in this painting is entirely consistent with her actual age in 1701.
The circumstances which surround the genesis of these portraits were brilliantly described by Rudolph in 1992–93 (see literature). Her article is the essential literature on this subject with its references to Maratti’s relationship with Francesca Gommi as well as their daughter and to such tropes in Renaissance portraiture as Titian’s ‘La Schiavona’ (fig. 2).
So eloquent is Rudolph’s article that it is worth quoting her opening paragraph on Maratti as a portrait painter:
“By the end of the Seicento Carlo Maratti, having reached the age of seventy-five and now the doyen of Roman painters, owed his European renown in no small measure to portraiture, a staple of the diversified pictorial repertory he had purveyed for over half a century. His contribution to the evolution of this genre, in a period when the Baroque style still emanated from Rome, was so faceted and indeed trenchant as to leave a durable imprint on particular modes of representation that now were subsiding from the pitch of novelty into the mainstream of convention. For example, in the 1650s he revitalized the norm for effigies of prelates through a canny dosage of accessories and décor, including the artefice of pictures within the picture that denote the recondite interests of the sitter; in the 1660s he launched the iconography of the Grand Tourist, positioned against a landscape background among the vestiges of antiquity, a scheme that would be perfected by Batoni only generations later; in the 1670s he articulated the society vogue for costume pieces in declensions that range from the trappings of a condottiere (resuscitated to enhance the image of a papal nephew) to the tenue displayed by the most enticing number in the ‘Beauties’ Galleries’ currently in demand as an adjunct to the interior decorations of princely residences. Twenty years later Maratti was at work on an ambitious design for the apotheosis of his major patron in a tableau vivant with Apollo, the Graces and himself among the supporting cast. Having thus sublimated Baroque allegory (from its mythological underpinnings and inflation into grandiose ornamental frescoes) into that apotheotic effigy, his ultimate venture in this sphere was an unwonted attempt to revive the emblematic portraiture coined during the Renaissance.”
On December 20th, 1700 Carlo Maratti was finally able to celebrate a late marriage to Francesca Gommi after the death of his wife from whom he had been separated since 1659. Gommi had been his faithful companion for many years as well as the mother to his daughter Faustina, born in 1679, and her long-delayed marriage to Maratti was now able to be commemorated in these fine portraits, with their touching allusions to her, and the artist’s private life. They convey coded and intimate messages, transmitted through the subjects of the monochrome artworks which Francesca presents to the audience. In the London portrait the ‘painting within the painting’ represents a Cupid Driving Away the Old Man Time in the Act of Threatening a Young Girl, while in the painting exhibited here the drawing represents Venus Forging the Arms of Cupid at the Anvil of Vulcan. Thus, Maratti puts two emblematic glosses on his relationship with Francesca Gommi: the arms of Love will conquer all and the strength of Love will prevail, even over Time. Whether the allusion to Love defeating Time is to the many years Maratti had to wait to wed her or to his enduring love for a woman no longer in the first flush of youth is open to interpretation.
This example differs from the London portrait on account of its more vigorous brushstrokes in the draperies and for a more uncompromis- ing naturalism evident in the chiaroscuro with which the artist renders the face of a lady who is approaching fifty years of age. She is portrayed in both portraits showing off the jewelry given by her husband (in this version, the brooch on her shoulder is excluded and the bracelet and little chains are different) and both these dignified, courtly portraits exude the couple’s confidence in their new status. Our painting may be identified with one of the versions described in Francesca’s inventories of 1705 and 1711. A copy by Maratti’s pupil Procaccini, sold at auction at Christie’s in Rome (18 June, 2003, lot 435), reprises the drawing depicting Venus Forging the Arms of Love rather than Time, which suggests that this painting was the original prototype of what was, for the artist, a significant composition. ❖