Pietro Liberi (Padua 1614 – 1687 Venice)
The Martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria
Pen and brown ink over traces of black chalk, 199 x 287 mm (7.8 x 11.3 inch); historically laid down onto a stiff paper support
Numbered '15' (pen and ink, lower right) and inscribed ‘Del Cavalier Liberi’ (verso, pen and brown ink, in an 18th-century hand)
- Anonymous sale, Sotheby’s, London, 13 December 2001, lot 39 (as ‘Pietro Liberi’)
- Jacques and Galila Hollander, Paris, until 2014
Pietro Liberi was one of the leading Venetian artists of the second half of the seventeenth century. In his youth he travelled extensively, to Constantinople, Tunis and throughout Italy. In Rome he studied in Pietro da Cortona’s studio and afterwards travelled to Tuscany where he absorbed Cesare Dandini’s and Guido Reni’s influence. He settled in Venice, where he was influenced by Luca Giordano. Between 1656 and 1658 Liberi executed the frescos of The Battle of Dardanelles for the Ducal Palace. In 1658 he travelled to Vienna and was appointed court painter under the patronage of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm.
In 1671 Liberi, by now a Cavaliere (knight) and Count, had gathered such wealth that he had a palace built on the Grand Canal in Venice and he established a painting academy, which became a meeting point for artists and poets. Liberi is sometimes known as ‘Libertino’, the Libertine, an alias derived from his love of depicting the female nude, and obviously a pun on his family name.
Despite being one of the most prolific painters of the Venetian Baroque, very few drawings can be attributed to him. The attribution of his drawings is made more difficult because they are rarely related to paintings, and because very few have reliable early attributions to the artist. Two drawings with early attributions are preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford: the Holy Family with St Caecelia,2 and the Baby Moses Trampling on Pharaoh’s Crown (see last fig.).3 This makes the fact that our drawing bears an early identification as Liberi all the more interesting. It furthermore shares all the characteristics of the two drawings in Oxford: some figures are drawn with more attention and detail than others, which have been only sketchily indicated. The diagonal ziz-zag hatchings are also highly distinctive, applied without lifting the pen.
SOLD TO A PRIVATE COLLECTOR, USA
1. For the artist, see Ugo Ruggeri, Pietro e Marco Liberi. Pittori nella Venezia del Seicento, Rimini 1996.
2. Pen and brown ink, 182 x 141 mm, inscribed ‘Cavaglire libri da Venetia’; Ruggeri, op. cit., p. 260, No. PD 22, repr.
3. Pen and brown ink, 194 x 263 mm, inscribed ‘Cav.r Liberi’; Ruggeri, op. cit., p. 260, No. PD 23, repr.