The Sacrifice of Noah

Date
1649-51

Medium
oil on canvas

Dimension
101 x 117 cm

Date
1649-51

Medium
oil on canvas

Dimension
101 x 117 cm

Provenance

Odescalchi Palace, Rome

Related literature

A. Blunt, ‘Poussin Studies XIII: Early Falsifications of Poussin’, The Burlington Magazine, CIV, no. 716, November 1962, pp. 489-90.

R. E. Spear, ‘The Source of an Early Falsification of Poussin’, The Burlington Magazine, CVI, no. 734, May 1964, p. 234, as a lost work by Maratti or Sacchi.

A. Pigler, Barock-Themen, Vol. 1, Budapest, 1974, p. 27, as Andrea Sacchi.

Essay

Set against a vibrant blue sky, the paterfamilias Noah celebrates his survival from the Flood, surrounded by his sons and family. Iridescent blue draperies, the trademark pigment on Maratti’s palette, draw the eye around this artfully contrived ovoid composition. The image is anchored by the brilliant silvery white cloak of the central figure, perhaps Noah’s son Japheth, by tradition regarded as the father of the European people. Recent cleaning and its perfect state of preservation allow one to appreciate all the subtleties of the drawing, the modeling of forms, and the delicate chromatic range of this splendid painting.

Maratti depicts that moment of the covenant between God and Noah when, having celebrated their deliverance from the Flood, Noah and his family give burnt offerings to God, who says, “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake . . . neither will I again smite any more every thing living as I have done” (Genesis 8:20–21). This pact was sealed with a rainbow as a sign of the covenant “between me and you and every living creature” (Genesis 9:2–17). The scene, which is both a reminder of the power of the wrath of God when challenged by Man’s sin and God’s subsequent reconciliation, was frequently painted by, among others, Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, Poussin, and Maratti’s contemporaries in Rome, Pietro da Cortona and Romanelli.

Until its recent rediscovery and recognition by Stella Rudolph, this important early work was known only through prints and copies, believed to be after a lost work either by Poussin or by Maratti’s teacher, Andrea Sacchi. The painting can be dated to ca. 1649–51, shortly before Maratti completed the highly successful Nativity for the church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami in Rome, which made his name as an independent artist. The clarity of this composition, articulated with a series of expressive gestures and lapidary profiles, is a powerful statement of Maratti’s intentions as a proponent of an entirely new dramatic, classical style. Maratti deliberately incorporates recognizable elements deriving from antique prototypes, among which is the standing figure to the left modeled on the Apollo Belvedere. The influence of Sacchi, who steeped his pupil in the classical idiom, as Maratti’s numerous early drawings after the antique attest, is evident but there is already here a precocious grace of line, color, and mood which is all Maratti.

Fig. 1 Carlo Maratti, preparatory drawing for The Sacrifice of Noah, Private Collection. Photo courtesy of Kekko Gallery.

Maratti’s working method is evidenced by the existence of several preparatory drawings directly related to this Sacrifice, many now held at the Academia de San Fernando, Madrid. Notable among them is one of the standing figure to the left (inv. no. 1584); the leaning female figure to the left (inv. no. 1584); Noah’s right leg and the arms of the figure behind the altar (inv. no. 1478); the hands and legs of the kneeling figure in the foreground (inv. no. 1572). There is, in addition, a red chalk drawing (formerly Kekko Gallery, Brussels) which shows the entire composition in its oval format (fig. 1).

Fig. 2 Louis Cossin after Carlo Maratti, The Sacrifice of Noah.
Fig. 3 Mathieu Liart after Carlo Maratti, The Sacrifice of Noah, 1767, ©British Museum, London

As noted earlier, this composition was, for understandable reasons, identified first with Poussin and then Sacchi. This was on the basis of two engravings, one by Louis Cossin (fig. 2) made in the seventeenth century then believed to be after a painting by Poussin, and the second by Mathieu Liart (1767; fig. 3) made after a second version of our painting in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire, Chatsworth House, which identified that picture as by Sacchi. Both attributions were questioned by Blunt and Spear (see literature), the latter suggesting that the Chatsworth painting was by Maratti and that it was after a lost prototype by either Maratti or Sacchi.

This prototype has now resurfaced and is, Rudolph believes, the current painting. The Cossin engraving and some of the Madrid drawings suggest that there may have been another rectangular version with the figure of God and the rainbow. Conservation has shown traces of unpainted ground on some of the edges of this original canvas which, together with the Kekko drawing and the oval format of the Chatsworth picture, lead one to believe that Maratti, who was well capable of updating ideas when he made replicas, originally conceived of his treatment of this subject as an oval. The flow of the figures around the standing patriarch and the positioning of the landscape and ark to the right make it impos- sible to reconcile this painting with the rectangular version engraved by Cossin..❖

more from this artist