(Verona 1666 - Verona 1740)
The Virgin and Child Adored by Saint Aloysius Gonzaga
Inscribed Anto Balestra in the lower right margin.
270 x 151 mm. (10 5/8 x 6 in.) [image]
290 x 174 mm. (11 3/8 x 6 7/8 in.) [sheet]
The Balestra scholar Andrea Tomezzoli has noted of this fine drawing that, ‘in the transition from paper to canvas, there seems to be greater self-control, a more markedly ‘classicizing’ spirit that prizes gestures in calmer, more composed forms...The lively, sparkling, barochetto vivacity [of the drawing] has been sacrificed in the name of a more marked solemnity.’ While the present sheet is a undoubtedly study for the Castiglione delle Stiviere altarpiece, its degree of finish has led some scholars to suggest that it may have been intended either as a presentation drawing to be shown to the patron of the painting, or as a finished, independent work of art in its own right, to be sold to a collector.
The same year that Balestra painted The Virgin and Child Adored by Saint Aloysius Gonzaga for Castiglione delle Stiviere, he received his first commission for a major painting for a Roman church; a Virgin and Child with Saints Gregory the Great and Andrew for the high altar of San Gregorio al Celio, completed in 1735. The artist’s initial idea for that composition, represented by a drawing in a private collection in Washington, D.C., was derived from the Castiglione delle Stiviere altarpiece. Both the Washington drawing and a much larger and more finished study for the same San Gregorio al Celio commission, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., are stylistically comparable with the present sheet.
Other depictions of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga by Balestra appear in a much earlier altarpiece of The Virgin and Child with Three Saints of 1704 in the Venetian church of Santa Maria Assunta, better known as the Gesuiti, as well as in a later painted standard, executed in 1727, which is now in the Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona.
The distinctive collector’s mark stamped at the bottom of this sheet is found on a number of Italian drawings dating from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The mark had at one time been thought to be that of Prince Henry of Bourbon-Parma, Count of Bardi (1851-1905), who resided at the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi in Venice, but this remains hypothetical. The same mark appears on drawings by or attributed to Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Francesco Fontebasso, Johann Carl Loth, Giambattista Piazzetta, Pietro Rotari, Andrea Schiavone and Giambattista Tiepolo.
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 6 July 1999, lot 64
Flavia Ormond, London