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: The Ottoboni Diana


Robert Enggass



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Finally we are beginning to have a clear idea of what Gaulli was doing in the latter part of his life when Carlo Maratta was getting some of the best commissions for paintings for the churches of Rome. He was carrying out some of the best commission for the palaces, among them the Ottoboni Diana.Giovanni Battista Gaulli, called Baciccio (1639-1709), is still known above all for his religious paintings. He has by no means regained the eminence he once enjoyed in his own day as a portraitist, and he is only beginning to be recognized for his mythologies. All of these paintings—portraits and pagan themes alike—have been out of sight in private collections for centuries and are just now beginning to come to light. Certainly one of the most important examples of this whole group of late works done for private patronage is the large, handsome Diana that once belonged to the Ottoboni and is now in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.1The painting is in every way typical of Baciccio's work around 1690. The strong, angular garment folds with crisp edges (often rolled over to reveal both the outer and the inner surface) is a development out of the sculpture of Bernini. The same treatment of garment folds appears in the St. Ignatius in Glory which Baciccio painted at the Gesù in 1685.2 The fresco also provides examples of another Bacicciesque motif seen in the Diana at Minneapolis: the fingers arched up and a row of dimples running across the back of the hand. Still another characteristic of Baciccio, and one that is not at all typical of late Seicento painting in general, is the combination of large foreground figures (here the Diana) with tiny figures in the background (here the nymphs of Diana taking part in a boar hunt). The motif appears in Baciccio's paintings almost from the beginning. We find it, for example, in his St. John at S. Nicola da Tolentino, a canvas that can be dated about 1670. It reappears in his work intermittently, throughout his life.3But his palette is his signature. Gaulli is one of the great colorists; his colors are unmistakable. Our eye is drawn at once by the strength of the blues: the royal blue of Diana's cloak, the brilliant blue of the cliffs coming down to the sea (recollections of Baciccio's Ligurian home), the gentler but still insistent blue of the sky, and the clouds that are neither white nor gray (as we might expect) but also blue. The landscape in the middle distance is green intermixed with tans and browns. Here Baciccio tends to crowd the darks to offset the blues all around them. Another aspect of color scheme is Baciccio's bold cangiantismo. Diana's inner skirt is a gleaming white that shades off into pale, cold blue, then changes suddenly, on its undersurfaces, into a bewildering variety of reddish browns. Cangianti appear even in the tiny figures in the background. The archer nearest Diana wears a blue robe touched up with rose in the highlights. Such touches of staffage in the sunlit clearing provide us with a lyric interlude.4 In short, the palette is typical of what we should expect of Baciccio in the decade from 1685 to 1695. The colors are still very strong, but they are cooler than what we have seen previously and laid on with smoother, more concealed brushwork. The flesh tones are still rosier than they will be at the very end of Baciccio's life. But Diana's face has a certain paleness and dryness about it, a powdery, rouged effect, that is idiosyncratic of Baciccio's last phase.The animals in the painting are usual for Baciccio, but they are not without precedent. There is a dog in his first major work, The Madonna with St. Anthony and St. Roch in S. Rocco in Rome.5 These are finer. Impasto gleams across the reddish brown coat of the furry dog on the left. The greyhound is white suffused with soft pink. Both figures are obviously individual portraits: dogs dear to the man who commissioned the painting. One carries on his collar a heraldic device: two double-headed eagles. This, as we shall see, allows us to identify the patron as Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (1667-1740).Almost immediately after he ascended the papal throne in October of 1689 Alexander VIII raised his nephew, Pietro Ottoboni, then twenty-two years old, to the rank of Cardinal. The Ottoboni pope died a year-and-a-half later thus depriving his nephew of the full fruits of his nepotism, but the young man went on to become the last great art patron of Baroque Rome.6 Francesco Trevisani, Maratta's successor, did endless paintings for him, and he commissioned works by Sebastiano Conca, Guiseppe Maria Crespi, and Sebastiano Ricci. The Ottoboni Cardinal sponsored an important opera company. He himself on occasion provided the librettos and no less an artist than Filippo Juvara designed the stage sets. He also encouraged Baciccio.“Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, nephew of Pope Alexander VIII, had high regard and affection for Gaulli” wrote Ratti in 1769, adding that “he [the Cardinal] wished him [Gaulli] to make a portrait of his uncle the Pope.”7 He also commissioned him to do his own portrait, which though it can no longer be traced, was, judging from the engravings of it,8 almost handsome. The Diana he commissioned from Baciccio was likewise long thought to be lost until it was rediscovered n London in 1968.9 Pascoli wrote in 1730 in his Life of Gaulli: “When Alexander VIII ascended the throne he [Gaulli] made some pictures for Cardinal Ottoboni, nephew of his Holiness. That of Diana was extraordinary. His Eminence then gave it with three others no less extraordinary than the first to Abbot Adami, by whom these precious jewels are still jealously guarded.”10 Ratti adds “Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, nephew of Pope Alexander VIII . . . commissioned him to paint various narrative paintings, some of which, through the gracious give of the cardinal, passed into the hands of Abbot Adami . . . Among these paintings, that of Diana the Huntress is superb.”11The large scale of this Diana, its completely finished appearance, and above all the double-headed Ottoboni eagles on the greyhound's collar are convincing evidence that this is the one Ottoboni painting by Baciccio, apart from the portraits, that both Pascoli and Ratti thought sufficiently impressive to name.12 It must have been done about 1690. Pascoli implies that Baciccio painted it during the brief pontificate of Alexander VIII and this, as we have seen, is entirely consistent with the palette. The canvas is the equal of anything we have by Baciccio on a secular theme. Minneapolis can be proud of having acquired it.Robert Enggass is Professor of Art History at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of The Painting of Baciccio (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1964), Italy and Spain 1600-1750, Sources and Documents in the History of Art, with Jonathan Brown (Prentice-Hall, 1970), and numerous articles for The Burlington Magazine, the Art Bulletin, the Art Quarterly, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Paragone, Bollettine d'Arte, and Commentari.Endnotes
  1. 69.37. The Frances E. Andrews Fund. Oil on canvas, 5’2 3/4” x 6’10 5/8”.
  2. R. Enggass, The Painting of Baciccio, Giovanni Battista Gaulli, 1639-1709 (University Park, Pa., 1964), p. 178, fig. 97.
  3. Enggass, p. 147, fig. 18. Cf. The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Academia di San Luca, Rome, p. 150, fig. 19; Adoration of the Shepherds S. Maria del Carmine, Fermo, p. 123, fig. 29; Death of St. Francis Xavier, Sant'Agostino, Ascoli Piceno, p. 123, fig. 46; Preaching of John the Baptist, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, p. 123, fig. 125; St. Francis Xavier Preaching, Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, Rome, p. 141, fig. 136.
  4. In this section the surface has been abraded, producing a certain transparency. Thus the legs of the nymphs read through the body of the deer.
  5. About 1633-1666. See Enggass, p. 147, fig. 2.
  6. Francis Haskell, Patrons and Painters (London, 1963), pp. 164-166.
  7. My translation from Raffaello Soprani and Carlo Giuseppe Ratti, Vite de' pittori, scultori ad architetti genovesi . . ., Vol. II (Genoa,1769), p. 82. One version is now in Venice in the Corrado Collection, for which see Enggass, p. 159, and fig. 113.
  8. See Enggass, p. 171. The engravings are by R. V. Auden Aerd and B. Farjat.
  9. Enggass, p. 169, under “Lost Works” lists “Diana as Huntress. . . for Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni.”
  10. My translation from Lione Pascoli, Vite de'pittori, scultori ad acchitetti moderni, Vol. I (Rome, 1730), p. 203.
  11. My translation from Soprani-Ratti, Vol. II, p. 82.
  12. In the city of Rome the double-headed eagle is a much rarer heraldic motif than one might suspect. Among the coat-of-arms of the many popes it appears nowhere except on the Ottoboni escutcheon.
Referenced Work of Art
  1. Giovanni Battista Gaulli. Italian (1639-1709). Diana The Huntress, ca. 1690. Oil on linen, 63-5/8” x 83-1/4”. The Frances E. Andrews Fund, 69.37.
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Source: Robert Enggass, "The Ottoboni Diana," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 58 (1969): 42-45.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009