Ferraù Fenzoni

(Faenza 1561/2 – 1645 Faenza)

Saint John the Baptist

Oil on canvas, 32 x 25.5 cm

Provenance: Private Collection Germany, ca. 1980-2013.

Price: 22.000 € (including the preparatory drawing)



Brown pen and ink over red chalk on light beige paper, 30 x 20,5 cm.
Inscription: „Ferrau Fenzonio da Faenza invt. esque … imp. da Fran. Villamena …“.
Collection mark Henry Scipio Reitlinger (1882-1950; Lugt 2274a) on a small plate (glued on the reverse).
Provenance: October 14, 2015, Doyle, no. 6

The painting shows John the Baptist as a penitent in the desert. On his chest leans the cross staff with white cloth, which reveals the inscription „ECCE“. The Baptist leans on a boulder indicated in the foreground, on which lie a bowl with handle and remains of a locust. The desert is suggested in the background by sparse vegetation and rugged rock formations.

John the Baptist is depicted as the lone caller in the desert. The cross staff with the banner „ECCE [AGNUS DEI]“, the fur robe and also the pointing gesture are to be understood as attributes. As a young man, John withdrew to the desert, led an ascetic life and gathered followers around him. He fed on locusts, wild honey and wore a robe of camel’s hair. He saw himself as a preacher of repentance, spreading the good news of the announcement of the Messiah.

The present painting is compositionally similar to a drawing from the hand of Ferraù Fenzoni, which in turn served as a model for an engraving by Francesco Villamena. The painting, the drawing and the engraving are similar except for a few minimal differences, for example, the figure of John is larger in the drawing than in the painting and in the engraving. The dimensions of the painting (32 x 25.5 cm) are also almost the same as those of the drawing (30 x 20.5 cm).
In the lower part drawing there is the following inscription: „Ferrau Fenzonio da Faenza invt. esque … imp. da Fran. Villamena …“. The engraving also mentions in its inscription the place and date of creation: „Ferra Fensionius inventor/F. Villamoena sculpsit Rome/Aspectu fruitur… antra puer/cum Privilegio… 1613“.

It is interesting to note that the mirroring of the image that would otherwise result from the printing process did not occur; instead, the painting, drawing, and engraving are on the same page. One can assume that Fenzoni first created the drawing and then the painting and the copperplate engraving were made on it.
In any case, the year „1613“ can be considered a fixed date. The present painting may have been created shortly before that year. The artistic execution fits the characteristics of Fenzoni’s late style with an exaggerated elongation and emphasis on the musculature of the figure, combined with an expressive expression. The dark background and sense of detail – such as the grasshopper in the foreground – are also found here.

The attribution of the present work to Fenzoni was confirmed by Dr. Guiseppe Scavizzi on the basis of a photograph, who dated the painting to around 1590.

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