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Art in Eighteenth-Century Rome


Giovan Gioseffo dal Sole
Bologna 1654–1719 Bologna

Cain Killing Abel

oil on copper
18 7/8 x 14 5/8 inches
48 x 37.2 cm



with La Galleria Fondantico, Bologna, 2007
Private Collection, Bologna



Daniele Benati, Quadreria emiliana. Dipinti e disegni dal Quattrocento al Settecento, Bologna, 2007, exh. cat., pp. 96-98, no. 22, reproduced p. 97.

The first crime in human history is depicted here in a ghostly landscape over which hangs a leaden sky enlivened only by the presence in the distance of a sacrificial fire. According to Genesis (Gen., 4, 3–5), Cain sacrificed to God the harvest of the fields, however his brother Abel ‘brought…fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So, Cain was very angry…Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field”. While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him’. Dal Sole dramatically foregrounds his two protagonists in the field, with Abel thrown to the ground, futilely trying to dodge the stave with which Cain is about to kill him. This beautiful work on copper is a hitherto unknown, and in a way unexpected work by Giovanni Gioseffo dal Sole, a figure of considerable importance for Bolognese painting in the transition from the 17th to the 18th century. The artist had an extensive and varied education, beginning his studies with Domenico Maria Canuti (1625–1684). He then studied the works of the Carracci and other masters in the collection of Count Fava, after which he perfected his skills in the workshop of Lorenzo Pasinelli (1629–1700). Dal Sole went on to be a pupil at Zanotti’s Accademia Clementina in Bologna, where students absorbed their teacher’s classical taste and his admiration for the great Bolognese artists of the seicento, specifically Guido Reni.

Dal Sole completed the important Faith and Charity frescoes in the bay above the high altar of S. Biagio in Bologna in 1686, however his fame was really cemented by his brilliant, illusionistic frescoes for the cupola of the Bolognese church of S. Maria dei Poveri in 1692. The admiration that Dal Sole felt for the Carracci and Guido Reni can also be seen in the Worship of the Trinity altarpiece, executed eight years later in 1700 for Del Suffragio in Imola.

In this copper we see Dal Sole’s transitional style, evident in the elegant design of the forms and the smooth quality of the brushwork, which lightens the physical mass of the classicizing figures in a way that anticipates the new 18th-century style. Dal Sole’s role in the history of Bolognese painting at the end of the 17th century is evident in his ability to reconfigure cues offered to him by an earlier tradition. Both the example of Guido Reni, to whom he could refer through the mediation of one of his teachers Lorenzo Pasinelli, and that of the Carracci, through the work of his other master Domenico Maria Canuti, merge in his art. Out of this fusion, Dal Sole develops a clear pictorial language which made him a forerunner of the barochetto style of the following century exemplified by the Gandolfi. This was evident as early as 1692 in Dal Sole’s great frescoes for the dome of the Bolognese church of S. Maria dei Poveri.

This characteristic makes him unique among his contemporaries. Our painting has none of the heavy physicality of Domenico Maria Viani’s version of the same subject (Museo Davia Bargellini in Bologna), a work whose emphatic play of light and shadow makes it far more massive and sculptural. In a similar vein, which one might define as neo-Carraccesque, are Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665–1747) and Aureliano Milani (1675–1749) whose paintings of Hercules and Cacus and Hercules and Achelous, exemplify a comparable approach. These paintings recently resurfaced in Castel Thun near Trento and were originally part of a painting ‘competition’, promoted by Count Francesco Ghisilieri on the theme of the ‘Labors of Hercules’, in which Dal Sole himself took part with a now lost Hercules and Iolus.

Compared to the works of the painters just mentioned, this Cain and Abel betrays, by contrast, the overriding influence of Reni, who was for Dal Sole more important than the Carracci and inspired him to employ the graceful cantilevering of the figures we see here against the brooding background. In its formal definition and refined draftsmanship, this painting resembles other paintings by Dal Sole such as the Sacrifice of Polyxena in the Molinari-Pradelli collection and the Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Brest, both datable to ca. 1700.

Dal Sole enjoyed the patronage of an exceptionally high-born international clientele including Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine, the Prince of Liechtenstein, and Prince Eugene of Savoy. He received but declined an invitation to become court artist to the King of Poland. In 1716, Dal Sole visited Rome where he stayed with Cardinal Casoni and was fêted by Pope Clement XI Albani.

We are grateful to Dott. Daniele Benati for his assistance in the cataloguing of this painting.❖

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