Antiques -
Reference: Z6696

Frans van de Casteele (Kasteels) called Francesco da Castello (Brussels, ca. 1541 - Rome, 1621) Adoration of the shepherds crowning with thorns First decade of the 17th century. Tempera and gold on parchment, 290 x 240 mm (with frame). Original wooden frame with cut silver foil applications; in the corners, medallions with the four evangelists. This beautiful pair of Agnus Dei is made up of two oval miniatures on parchment representing the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Crowning with Thorns, framed by contemporary frames of perforated silver sheet, on a blue taffeta background, inscribed in turn in frames of ebonized wood. In the corners of both trimmed silver frames, four medallions with miniatures of the Evangelists on a gold background are included, while in the center of the lateral margins, four angelic heads and three silver rosettes are respectively applied. The two central miniatures, perfectly preserved, represent a joyful and a painful episode in the life of Jesus Christ. The first shows the Holy Family surrounded by shepherds in an adoring attitude, offering gifts to the Child Jesus. The shepherd in the foreground, kneeling with his back to the viewer, rests one hand on a wide-brimmed hat and with the other offers a basket. Another shepherd gives him a sheep with its legs tied, a symbol of the Christian sacrificial lamb, while a third plays the panpipe accompanied by four other characters and a long-nosed dog. The scene takes place outdoors, next to a stable from which the ox and the donkey show their heads, before a landscape of hills with the ruins of a temple. At the top center, an angel in luminous glory holds a phylactery with the text “Glory [...]”. The Virgin tenderly shows those present the Child wrapped in a white cloth, while Joseph leans on a pillar behind her. The miniature, with a bright and vivid color enhanced with chrysographs, has in its lower area the characteristic pile of dark earth with a twig, an unmistakable signature of the artist that appears in all his landscape setting miniatures. The Crowning with Thorns is an episode of the Passion cycle that follows that of the flagellation and precedes that of Ecce Homo, after which Christ was led to crucifixion. The scene takes place in a courtyard, in the center of which Jesus, seated on a platform and clothed in a purple cloak illuminated with chrysographs, wears the crown of thorns and holds a reed as a scepter in one hand. Two soldiers place the crown on Christ's head with two canes that when intersected form the symbol of the cross, making his forehead bleed, while another henchman kneels before him to mock him. In the background, some guards with characteristic turbans attend the scene under a green curtain lined in red, while in the lower area an open hole appears in the pavement that constitutes a characteristic motif of the artist present in all his miniatures set indoors. Both miniatures, of great artistic quality, are undoubtedly the work of Francesco da Castello, the Italianized name of Frans van de Casteele (Brussels, ca. 1541 - Rome, October 23, 1621). Francesco da Castello, painter and miniaturist, arrived in Rome during the pontificate of Gregory “At that time, Francesco da Castello came to Rome from Flanders, who already had some knowledge of painting. But here in Rome he perfected himself, and delighting in working small, to which he felt inclined, the genius led him in that direction, becoming a good miniaturist, and he produced beautiful works, which went to Spain, as he also worked for various characters and great princes, and accomplished things that brought him great praise. He also painted large, successfully, and did many works for the Spanish nation. [...] This man painted few things for public places, because he was very busy making miniatures, which he carried out excellently, and were paid a good price; and many of his works have remained in the hands of private individuals, and some of the most beautiful were sent to other parts of the world” (cf. G. Baglione, Le Vite de' Pittori..., Rome 1642, pp. 86-87 ). In Rome Francesco da Castello developed a brilliant career, he was portrayed by Hendrick Goltzius and he interacted with important Flemish figures and scholars, among them Philips van Winghe, Abraham Ortelius and Hendrick de Raeff of Delft, called Enrico Corvino, who in 1603 married his daughter Caterina. Added to the Congregation of the Virtuosi of the Pantheon, from 1577 he was a member of the Academy of Saint Luke, of which he was consul in 1588 and 1591. His house soon became a meeting place for artists where many of his compatriots found hospitality and a valuable point of reference to enter the Roman environment. Furthermore, together with Francesco da Castello they learned "the good way of painting small", appropriating the essential features of the master's style, as Baglione narrates about his German disciple Sigismondo Laire (ca. 1552-1639), who specialized in “coloring small figures in copper” and that “he painted on various jewels, such as lapis lazuli, agates, emeralds, carnelians, and other things” (cf. ibidem, p. 353). From these news it is clear that Francesco da Castello was an artist appreciated by his contemporaries and well integrated into the Roman artistic and cultural environment. In recent years the catalog of works by the Flemish artist, known above all for his large altar blades, has been increased with new miniatures preserved in museums and private collections around the world. Among his most beautiful miniatures is the Adoration of the Magi from the Lázaro Galdiano Museum in Madrid, characterized by fiery chromaticism with iridescent effects and a descriptive preciousness typical of the flamenco style. Another miniature, with the Annunciation, previously in the Luigi Koelliker collection, is the reworking of a widespread iconographic model derived from the famous Trecento fresco of the Annunciation in the church of the Most Holy Annunciation in Florence, from which the face of the Virgin, which according to tradition had been painted by angels, it was particularly venerated and considered miraculous. In the middle of the 15th century, the sacred image acquired a special value for the Medici, who prohibited its reproduction at least until the early eighties of the 16th century, when due to continuous requests by influential figures of the time, permission was granted. to copy it. In 1584 Alessandro Allori painted a replica of it commissioned by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, to send it as a gift to Philip II of Spain, which is still preserved today in the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. A delicious image of the Guardian Angel, recently located in a private collection in Valencia, in addition to fulfilling a devotional function – typical of this genre of works – gave protection to whoever owned it. The cult of saints, ratified in the XXV and last session of the Council of Trent (1563), had firmly spread the belief that their intercession increased when reciting prayers in the presence of their relics or their images, especially if the latter They had been in contact with his remains or had been blessed by the pope. The power to grant or transmit indulgences to those who possessed them was often associated with relics and sacred images. This gave rise to a desire among the powerful to have numerous relics and increased the production of devotional images that often represented especially venerated or miraculous subjects, such as the antiquae madonnas of Roman basilicas. Thus a flourishing artistic market developed, largely made up of small sacred images, of medium or high quality, the most prestigious specimens of which were kept in reliquaries or refinedly framed, intended for a Catholic clientele not only Italian but also foreign. Among the recipients of these objects were numerous representatives of the most important noble lineages of Spain, eager to imitate the extraordinary devotion of Philip II for the relics that the monarch kept in thousands in the Monastery of El Escorial and that he adored and kissed with great care. reverence. A complex portable ebony altar made up of various compartments with miniatures, sold at Sotheby's with an erroneous attribution to Giovanni Battista Castello the Genoese (Genoa, 1549-1639), is however most certainly the work of Francesco da Castello. The central miniature represents the Virgin of the Rosary with the Child and Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585-1590) kneeling at her feet with various saints in adoration, among whom Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Dominic can be distinguished in the foreground. . The central scene is surrounded by the fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, in the lower part the Last Supper appears and above, at the top of the frame, the Angelic Paradise, while in the corners the four evangelists appear followed by two other compartments with the apostles Pedro and Pablo. In relation to the examples cited, the two refined miniatures of the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Crowning with Thorns are works of the artist's full maturity, dateable in the first decade of the 17th century, characterized by a formal simplification and by pure colors in the workmanship of the clothing that stands out against the ebony incarnations of the characters. Among the numerous motifs comparable to those of other miniatures by Francesco da Castello, the small medallions with the Evangelists barely outlined on a golden background, closely recall the miniatures, of reduced dimensions, inserted in the compartments of the frame of the little altar with the Mysteries del Rosario, as well as those of another small painting with compartments with the Tree of Jesse preserved in the Valencia Institute of Don Juan in Madrid, of which there is another version from an earlier period and with marked Flemish influence with a frame-reliquary currently in the Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia. Furthermore, another version of the Crowning with Thorns, of rectangular format and slightly weaker workmanship, was sold at Christie's with an erroneous attribution to Giovanni Battista Castello the Genoese, although the miniature must be safely attributed to the “romanized” Flemish master Francesco da Castello . Thanks to Ms. Elena De Laurentiis Dr. University of Genoa for carrying out the study.

· Size: 23,5x1,5x28,5 cms.

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