Francesco Giovani (Rome 1611 – 1669 Rome)
St Francis in Adoration for the Christ Child
Pen and brown ink, brown ink framing lines, 417 x 256 mm (16.4 x 10.1 inch); laid down onto a 17th- or 18th-century collector’s sheet with framing lines in brown ink
Inscribed with William Young Ottley’s collector’s mark ‘wyo’, in ligature (brown ink, lower left) and ‘48’ (brown ink, lower right), and inscribed ‘francois Giovani’ on the mount (brown ink)
- William Young Ottley (1771-1836), London (Lugt 2665)
- Private collection, Belgium
Also known as Francesco Juveni, Juvanis and Juvants, this little-known painter and etcher is generally called Francesco Giovani. Originating from Rome, Giovani was first apprenticed to the studio of Andrea Sacchi, and then worked with Pier Franceso Mola for a long period, possibly until the latter’s death in 1666. Giovani imitated Mola’s style successfully, and indeed many of his pictures are still attributed to Mola.1 A series of heads of bearded old men are typical for the artist, including works in the Galleria Pallavicini, the Galleria Doria-Pamphilj and the Accademia di San Luca, Rome, the Musée des Beaux Arts, Nantes, and the Art Institute, Chicago. Giovani’s masterpiece is the altarpiece of The Baptism of Christ in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Ascoli Piceno (see fig.).2
The artist also worked as an etcher and engraver, and produced plates after Carlo Maratti, such as the Adoration of the Shepherds of c. 1660, and after his former teacher Mola, Christ and the Woman of Samaria at the Well.3 The etching of Saturn Sleeping in the British Museum is possibly after his own design (see last fig.);4 the putti depicted in the etching are distinctly reminiscent of the putti in our drawing. Giovani’s works are exceedingly rare: an oil painting of the bust of a man in armour was offered at Christie’s Milan on 26 May 2009, lot 5, and a drawing in red chalk of a blacksmith was sold at Finarte Semenzato, Rome, 27 October 2004, lot 105 (254 x 178 mm).
St Francis in Adoration for the Christ Child is only the second drawing by Giovani to be discovered and throws new light on this enigmatic artist. The large dimensions and the careful technique indicate it must have been intended for sale to collectors of works on paper, and the careful handling is typical for an an engraver.
In the early 19th century our drawing was owned by William Young Ottley (1771-1836), a distinguished collector of Italian art, writer on the arts, amateur artist, and Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. Ottley is best known for being an early enthusiast of Italian 14th and 15th-century ‘Primitive’ painting. In 1805 he started publishing his illustrated series The Italian School of Design, a series of etchings by himself after drawings by Old Masters.
SOLD TO A PRIVATE COLLECTOR, USA
1. Giovani’s first biographer was N. Pio, Le vite di pittori sculturi et architetti, c. 1724; the best modern account of his life is given by Andrea G. de Marchi, ‘Francesco Giovani: plagio o arte della sopravvivenza?’, Paragone, 53, January 2004, pp. 20-33, plates 16-32.
2. De Marchi, op. cit., p. 21, pl. 18.
3. Vatican Library, Rome, BAV, Stampe.V.26(33); British Museum, London, Department of Prints and Drawings, reg. No. V,10.31.
4. British Museum, London, Department of Prints and Drawings, reg. No. 1869,0410.2444.Request more information »