Il Volterrano and a Baroque Florentine frame: part of a thematic programme?

0 Il Volterrano Woman with a fishing rod or Fraud Sothebys 7July2021 Lot 41

Il Volterrano (1611-90), La pescatrice (The fisherwoman), or an Allegory of Fraud, 1650s, o/c, 37 x 28 7/8 ins (94 x 73.5 cm.), Sotheby’s Old Masters, 7 July 2021, Lot 41

A very beautiful and enigmatic painting by Il Volterrano, framed in strikingly Baroque style, is to be sold by Sotheby’s, London, in July 2021; and the frame, as well as the picture, seems to owe its existence to the artist.  Baldassare Franceschini, Il Volterrano, was notably versatile in his ability to tackle all genres of painting, and to produce designs for a vast panoply of objects. His drawings include studies for cupolas, escutcheons, pedestals, buildings, architectural mouldings, metalwork, tempietti, altarpieces, vases, cartouches – and picture frames – and a great many of these drawings fortunately survive; indeed, around 200 of them were dispersed through a great sale of Volterrano’s drawings at Sotheby’s in July 1980 [1].

1A Il Volterrano Study of three windows Red chalk pen&ink 17x26cm Artcurial 11Feb2021 Lot 192

Il Volterrano (1611-90), study of three aedicular frames, sanguine and pen-&-ink, 17 x 26 cm., Artcurial, 11 February 2021, lot 192 

1B Il Volterrano Study elevation of a façade Capponi family arms BM 563126001

Il Volterrano (1611-90), Study for the elevation of a façade with Capponi family arms, red chalk & wash, 45 x 57.6 cm., © Trustees of the British Museum 

His father, the sculptor Gaspare Franceschini, seems to have been similarly able to work in a range of materials, and to paint as well; Volterrano began his training in the family workshop, later becoming a pupil of Cosmo Daddi (pre-1575-1630), Matteo Ròsselli (1578-c.1650), and then assistant to Giovanni da San Giovanni (1592-1636).

2 Il Volterrano Assumption of the Virgin 3

Il Volterrano (1611-90), Assumption of the Virgin, s. & d. 1631, Oratory of Sant’Antonio Abate, now Museo Diocesano, Volterra. Photo: Sailko 

When he was twenty, he painted this charmingly unconventional and relatively small Assumption of the Virgin, apparently commissioned by the chaplains of the cathedral in his home town, Volterra, and later moved to the Oratory of Sant’Antonio Abate. It has a magnificent walnut and parcel-gilt Mannerist frame, and it would be nice to think that Franceschini senior – who carved in wood, as well as in various sorts of alabaster, stone and tufa – might have had a hand in its design, and/or its manufacture, or possibly that the son produced a design for his father to carve [2]. Whatever its genesis, Volterra evidently absorbed the architectural and decorative vocabulary of such frames in his youth, as they infiltrated his own sketches and designs for mouldings, frames and ornament, where he interpreted them in a Baroque idiom.

3A Il Volterrano Architectural ornament Morgan Library 267983v_0001

Il Volterrano (1611-90), studies of architectural ornament, red chalk, pen-&-ink, 10 ¾ x 14 3/8 ins (27.3 x 36.5 cm.), Morgan Library 

This sheet of studies, for instance, executed much later than his early painting, shows how he imagines, evokes and refines Baroque variants of the Mannerist scrolling brackets on the sides of the Assumption frame in Volterra.

3B Volterrano sheet 2 recto 38 x 26cm

Il Volterrano (1611-90), designs for a fluted and an outset corner frame, recto, sanguine, 38 x 26 cm., private collection. Photo: Paul Mitchell

This sheet takes the fluted convex moulding around the Assumption frame, and develops it into much more sculptural concave and ogee mouldings for a frame with acanthus leaf corners; another frame with outset corners lurks behind it. On the same sheet some of the profiles of the mouldings are carefully worked out, demonstrating a close grasp of the three-dimensional architectural and sculptural volumes of his chosen ornaments.

Volterrano and the frames for his frescos

By the time he was twenty-six Volterrano was working for Lorenzo de’ Medici in the Villa La Petraia, just outside Florence, where – over the course of nearly ten years – he produced a cycle of frescos in the courtyard of the villa, glorifying the Medici.

3C San Michele Arcangelo cacia Lucifero e altri diavoli fresco c1637 San Michele Castello Florence

Il Volterrano (1611-90), The Archangel Michael defeating Lucifer, fresco, c.1637, San Michele, Castello, Florence 

He painted another grand ceiling fresco for Lorenzo in the nearby Villa di Castello, and one in the church belonging to the villa (above); the latter has a particularly beautiful and imaginative trompe l’oeil painted frame with runs of architectural mouldings (astragal-&-triple-bead, acanthus leaf-tip, beading), and a receding perpendicular frieze which appears to be decorated with an alternating fluted ornament – save that, when closely inspected, each flute turns out to be the open roaring mouth of a small lion mascaron. In the same years as these commissions from the Medici, Volterrano also travelled through Emilia-Romagna and further north, to Venice, financed by a Medici grant [3].

4A Elijah on a chariot of fire 1642 Orlandini chapel Santa Maria Maggiore Florence

Il Volterrano (1611-90), Elijah in his fiery chariot, 1642, ceiling of the Cappella Orlandini, Santa Maria Maggiore, Florence. Photo: Sailko

He accepted other religious commissions, including the decoration of the ceiling and walls of the Cappella Orlandini in Santa Maria Maggiore, Florence. This included an oval scene of Elijah ascending to Heaven in the centre of the vault, with shaped cartouches in the corners, and figures in the spandrels beside the window and above the pediment of the altarpiece. Alessandro Grassi notes that Volterrano was obliged to construct his scheme, with its central oval scene and adjacent cartouches, over a 14th century cross vault [4]. The whole scheme was set in an operatic framework of stucco mouldings, linked by clasps and strapwork, painted and parcel-gilt, also designed by Volterrano, who

‘subverts the rigid division between sculptural and painted elements, in order to facilitate an interaction between the two: indeed, the festoons of foliage in the corners overlap the painted figures of the angels, who, in turn, seem to be fixing their inscribed scrolls to the festoons, breaking through the boundaries of the stucco frames’ [5].

In fact, Grassi suggests that Volterrano may have executed as well as designed the stucco mouldings himself – or, at least, ‘those parts which are in contact with the paintings’, as he is reported to have done at the Villa La Petraia [6].

4B Alessandro Vittoria ceiling c1575 Sala delle Quattro Porte Palazzo Ducale Venice 2 Steve Shriver

Alessandro Vittoria (1525-1608), ceiling (c.1575) in the Sala delle Quattro Porte, Palazzo Ducale, Venice. Photo: Steve Shriver 

Volterrano’s rôle in designing in the stucco framework is particularly interesting, given its proximity in time to his trip to Venice, where he presumably saw the work of Alessandro Vittoria in the Palazzo Ducale.  The innovative style of stuccowork used for the ceiling above the Scala d’Oro and in various upper state rooms was as seminal for Mannerist structures and ornament as Michelangelo’s architecture, and influenced, for example, the development of the ‘Sansovino’ frame [7]; it seems to have had a similar effect on Volterrano’s style, transposed into the language of a later period.

5A Il Volterrano Vigilance & Sleep c1641to42 Villa di Castello

Il Volterrano (1611-90), Vigilance & Sleep, c.1641-42, Villa di Castello, Florence. Photo: Sailko 

The fresco he painted in the Villa di Castello (Vigilance and Sleep), for example, has an integral frame which  evokes the Baroque in its grandeur and theatricality. It has a trompe l’oeil bolection moulding inside a blue-grey frieze, which is outlined with beading; four massive cartouches pin the image to the ceiling like the clasps of a jewellery setting, remaking elements of the mouldings and festoons used in the Elijah ceiling. The curvaceous scrolls, hints of horn-shaped shells and fleshy folds hark back to the Auricular motifs of an earlier Mannerism, but the main structure is clean and rectilinear, and although the cartouches are so large, they seem to act like hands, drawing open curtains onto the painted scene rather than distracting from it.

5C Il Volterrano Christ served by angels 1650 Prato

Il Volterrano (1611-90), Christ comforted by angels, 1650, now Museo di pittura murale,  San Domenico, Prato 

5B Il Volterrano Christ served by angels 1650 34.3x48.8cm Inv 1169 Cabinet des dessins Mus du Louvre

Il Volterrano (1611-90), Christ comforted by angels, 1650, red chalk & wash with highlights, 34.3 x 48.8 cm., Inv 1169, Cabinet des dessins, Musée du Louvre 

These cartouches – which appear in so many of the borders of Volterrano’s frescos, but particularly emphatically in the Villa di Castello ceiling – must have been sketched and refined in innumerable drawings which have been lost, or are little publicized; however, one of them survives on the architectural setting  in the study for Christ comforted by angels, which was painted in the refectory of the convent of Santa Teresa in 1650.

5D Il Volterrano Christ served by angels Cartouches

Like others of its brethren it provides space for an inscription, which may interpret or comment on the image it helps to frame; although just as many are purely decorative – great butterflies perched around Volterrano’s pictures. This particular cartouche has an interestingly fleshy, Auricular lining, white and anatomical, inside the metallically hard scrolling outer shell; it echoes the Mannerist elements in the painting, and suggests that both may exist on a sort of bridge between 16th century Mannerism and 18th century Rococo.

6A Il Volterrano St Cecilia in Glory and Angels 1643to44 Cappella di San Biagio SS Annunziata 1

Il Volterrano (1611-90), St Cecilia in glory with musical angels, 1643-44, Cappella di San Biagio, SS Annunziata, Florence. Photo: Sailko 

Volterrano produced another sacred scheme in the early 1640s: an oval painting of St Cecilia in glory in the vault of the Cappella di San Biagio, SS Anunziata, Florence. The architectural setting, real and trompe l’oeil, is not so lavishly enriched as the ceiling with Elijah, but includes parcel-gilt modillions, nested shells at the corners, gilded festoons of fruit, and Mannerist games with classical mouldings. The painted mouldings fit almost imperceptibly into the real architectural setting of the chapel, echoing the classicizing lines of the plain stepped entablatures, and demonstrating his command of the integrated interior and image.

6B Il Volterrano St Cecilia in Glory SS Annunziata detail & Studies of archit mouldings Met Mus NY

Il Volterrano (1611-90), St Cecilia in Glory…, SS Annunziata, detail of moulding and cherub; from sheet with studies of architectural mouldings, chalk and pen-&-ink, detail with cherub, Metropolitan Museum, New York 

The detail, above, top, from a sheet of studies in the Metropolitan Museum, shows Volterrano trying out similar motifs to those which help to frame his frescos. If not connected to the specific ceiling in SS Annunziata, such details indicate how he might in general work out elements which sited his paintings within the constraints of an interior. The two details together, fresco and sketch, form a vivid statement of the lack of division between image and frame for those artists working on architectural paintings, where the fabric of the building itself would be recruited to serve as background and compositional structure.

7A Il Volterrano Niccolini Chapel 1653 on Santa Croce

7B Il Volterrano Niccolini Chapel 1653 on Santa Croce detail

Il Volterrano (1611-90), Coronation of the Virgin, 1653 onwards, and detail of a Sibyl, Niccolini Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence 

The same is true of the vault in the Niccolini Chapel, Santa Croce; again it is almost impossible to distinguish the three-dimensional architecture from the paintings. The whole decorative scheme is an extremely sophisticated play of geometric forms, within which the paintings seem to grow organically. Seen directly from beneath, it is based on a chain of segments linked to the central oval by the scrolling cartouches which are such a feature of Volterrano’s designs, the squinches (or pendentives) which hold four gigantic figures of sibyls extending the design like the projecting corners of a vast frame; and this sits within a rectilinear border formed by the entablature of the wall beneath, stepped to produce four outset centres. All this is implicit in the architecture, but it is the designer’s talent which has transformed the basic geometry of a dome sitting on a rectangle into such an operatic vision of the Virgin in heaven. She is crowned by the Trinity within an infinity of receding golden light, and is introduced to the worshippers in the church below by the intermediate figures of the sibyls, who perch on cushions of cloud upon the real mouldings of the chapel.

8 Il Volterrano Truth illuminating Human Blindness 1st floor of Palazzo della Gherardesca

Il Volterrano, Truth illuminating Human Blindness, 1651-52, sala on the first floor of Palazzo della Gherardesca 

Besides his sacred images Volterrano produced a great body of mythological works and portraits, both of which appear, for instance, amongst paintings for the Gherardesca family; the most significant of these surviving in the Palazzo della Gherardesca is the fresco Truth illuminating Human Blindness. It was executed from1651-52, and includes a double frame of a trompe l’oeil cassetta in faux marbre with scrolling cartouches and foliate strapwork, within a garland frame of golden fruit. The cartouches are even larger, relative to the painting, than those framing Vigilance & Sleep, but because they are white, they recede from the picture and coloured outer frame, creating a less overwhelming and more domestic effect. The Gherardesca possessed at least four oil paintings by Volterrano, as well, and a large volume containing 400 or so of his drawings [8]. The paintings ‘deserve to be placed amongst the most beautiful works of his hand’ [9], and include the Guardian angel now in the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (where there is sadly no hint as to its frame).

8B Il Volterrano Truth illuminating Human Blindness Palazzo della Gherardesca detail

Il Volterrano, view of the sala containing Truth illuminating human blindness, 1651-52, with later architectural elements in the coving and overdoors: on the right with the bust of the Guardian angel in scrolling frame, Palazzo della Gherardesca, Florence

However, Gerhard Ewald reports that bust-length copies in fresco of, separately, the angel and child (Isaac?) from this oil painting also decorate the overdoors in the room containing Truth illuminating human blindness (these may possibly be by Volterrano himself), and are set in scrolling faux stone frames, by a later hand, supported by putti of a very Volterranesque type. They indicate how deeply the connection of his paintings and settings must have impressed his audience, perhaps even as late as the 19th century, by the creation of appropriate frames on the walls beneath his fresco [10].

The Ridolfi easel paintings and their frames

The oil paintings for the Gherardesca are not the only group of portable easel works produced by Volterrano. At some period in the 1650s he painted four ovals and a larger rectangular canvas for the Marchese Ferdinando di Niccolò Ridolfi, and this is the group to which the present painting, La pescatrice (The fisherwoman), or an Allegory of Fraud, belongs [11].

9 Il Volterrano Woman with a fishing rod or Fraud

Il Volterrano (1611-90), La pescatrice (The fisherwoman), or an Allegory of Fraud, 1650s, o/c, 37 x 28 7/8 ins (94 x 73.5 cm.), Sotheby’s Old Masters, 7 July 2021, Lot 41 

10 Il Volterrano Perseus with the head of Medusa Staatsgalerie im Neuen Schloss Schleißheim

Il Volterrano, Perseus with the head of Medusa, 1650s, 95 x 72.5 cm., Staatsgalerie, Schloss Schleißheim 

10 Il Volterrano Venus and Cupid c1650 Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

Il Volterrano, Venus and Cupid, 1650s, 94.7 x 72.5 cm., Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart 

The unusual and impressive frames of the oval paintings, of which Fraud possesses the sole complete example, share ornament which appears in a number of Volterrano’s designs and were almost certainly executed from his own drawings.

In the early 1650s he had made further trips to Bologna and Rome, and the influence of both Bolognese and Roman Baroque fashion can be seen in the profiles and ornament of these frames. Their structure is very unusual for moveable frames, the torus moulding which forms the oval top and sight edge being set over a frieze at the back with an octagonal contour. Unfortunately this outer octagonal moulding has been sawn bodily away at some point from the two frames on the Venus & Cupid and Perseus, excising parts of the leaves and scrolls which fall onto the angles of the frieze beneath them, and giving both frames a bizarrely incomplete appearance. This act of utter vandalism is the more regrettable as they can be seen as the translation into the smaller scale of a wall frame of Volterrano’s compositional tricks with nested geometrical shapes in his ceiling paintings. This is an early feature of the architectural, stucco and painted frames in Volterrano’s chapel ceilings and other frescos.

11 Palazzo Ridolfi ceiling

A ceiling in the Palazzo Ridolfi, Florence

In the context of the Palazzo Ridolfi, the home of the easel paintings, the combination of octagon and oval may also be an echo of ceilings surviving from the 16th century, where – in the example above – an octagonal nest of borders contains a squared oval at the centre.

12A Il Volterrano 1611to90 a cartouche Christie’s 27Sept2016 recto 2

12B Il Volterrano 1611to90 a cartouche Christie’s 27Sept2016 verso

Il Volterrano (1611-90), 2 designs for frames or ceiling compartments, recto & verso, black & red chalk, 24.7 x 26 cm., Christie’s, 27 September 2016 (Brian Sewell’s sale), lot 23 

Volterrano’s drawings include a number of examples of frames, cartouches, or framed compartments for oval paintings or inscriptions, in which he is trying out both individual settings and methods of linking a series of ceiling paintings. These working ideas for frames – like the frescos in their painted borders – create a feeling of dramatic tension by opposing the clean curves of the sight edge with a much more dynamic outer contour. The ornament between the two may be made up of scrolling foliage, strapwork, clasps, shells, wings or putti, with exaggerated flutes adopted from earlier Mannerist borders; it is pulled into rough rectilinear and octagonal forms by the extension of the corners into swoops and volutes.

12C Volterrano sheet 1 recto 29 x 20cm

Il Volterrano (1611-90), designs for an octagonal frame with angels, recto, sanguine and pen-&-ink, with annotations, 29 x 20 cm., private collection. Photo: Paul Mitchell

He designed frames for easel paintings as well – more conventional mouldings shaped into Baroque silhouettes, with variously rich finishes. On the sheet above, the chosen frame (‘questo’, to which the sketch of the profile above it probably belongs) has been worked up a little in ink, and a note added across the middle indicating that the sight edge is to be walnut. There is an oval wreath of angels suggested within the picture, which would probably surround a Madonna and Child or an Ecce Homo, and this oval is set against the shaped octagonal mouldings and the dynamic outer framework of carved angels. The annotations in the bottom corner read:

‘A Pietra serena gilded with imitation marble [as the marble is imitation, the pietra serena may be, too]

B Cherubs of carved and gilded wood

C Walnut sight and gilded pine back

    gilded and washed with lacquer as well

    carved wooden crown of thorns

    and back of red velvet

D The small frame is walnut and gilded’

Volterrano evidently had very precise ideas on the materials and finish of the frames he wanted; these may be aides memoires of his own, choices offered to or made by the client, or directions to the framemaker. They show that the control he exercised over the design of the stucco frames on his frescos was transferred to the wooden frames of his easel paintings.

12D Volterrano sheet Figures on clouds black chalk 27x27.5 Sotheby s 1980 Lot 48

Il Volterrano (1611-90), study with figures on clouds, black chalk, 27 x 27.5 cm., Sotheby’s, Thursday 3 July 1980, Lot 48

The drawing above may reveal a further insight as to his working methods: as the entry in the sale catalogue points out,

‘It appears that this sheet has been carefully cut – possibly by Volterrano himself – in order to fit it over another drawing showing the same theme; this would be in perfect accordance with the artist’s practice as seen in many of his studies, including several in this group.’ [12]

Such an approach to working up painted compositions is equivalent to a primitive cut-&-paste function – the equivalent to a photomontage – and raises the intriguing possibility that it may have been applied to Volterrano’s frame designs: i.e he may have cut out drawings around the sight edge, and applied them to sketches of the paintings – either for his own purposes, or, again, to help a client’s choice. The particular drawing would then have been given to the framemaker, explaining the rarity of complete finished frame designs amongst his work.

12E Volterrano sheet 1 recto 29 x 20cm

Il Volterrano (1611-90), designs for an octagonal and an oval frame, recto, sanguine & black chalk and pen-&-ink, Sotheby’s, Thursday 3 July 1980, Lot 5

In the case of the frames of Fraud and her siblings, the energy of his cartouche and stucco designs has been constrained by a slightly more sober geometrical structure, possibly influenced by Roman models – possibly being worked out in studies such as the sheet above. There may also have been constraints imposed by the interior where the paintings would hang – the lines of architectural elements, other frames, or furnishings – as, for example, in the ceiling in the Palazzo Ridolfi, illustrated above.

13A Il Volterrano Fraud empty frame

Il Volterrano (1611-90), Fraud: empty frame

The oval sight edge of the frame sits calmly in the outer octagon, and the sense of Baroque theatricality derives instead from the use of a prominent sculptural torus moulding, the strong contrast of light and shade produced by the concave moulding behind it, and the grotesque masks with their topknots of leaves and flames which clasp the angles of the octagon.

13B Il Volterrano 1611to90 designs for a silver basin Sotheby s 6July2005 Lot 128

Il Volterrano (1611-90), studies for a silver basin, red chalk & brown ink, 29 x 15.1 cm., Sotheby’s, 6 July 2005, Lot 128        

13C Il Volterrano 1611to90 Studies of architectural mouldings &c Recto Met Mus NY

Il Volterrano (1611-90), studies of architectural mouldings, &c., red chalk, brown ink, recto,  28.5 x 20.7 cm., Metropolitan Museum, New York 

A characteristically Baroque ornament has been used to decorate the torus (this is actually an undercut or ‘bird’s beak’ moulding): a bold flute curves around it and – because of the oval format – appears to radiate outwards from the painted image, drawing the attention inexorably towards that image, and increasing the effect of perspectival recession within the picture-space. The finials of the masks emphasize and add to this optical effect. Similar flutes appear in Volterrano’s drawings for vases, basins and architectural mouldings (as well as in the specific design for a frame included above). The combination of this radiating ornament with the opposition of convex and concave mouldings is a trick designed to push the painted surface forward towards the spectator, isolating it from the richly-coloured interiors of the 17th century and capturing the attention amidst competing decorative claims. The impact of the fluting is increased by the finish of the frames: each concave flute has been textured with punchwork, creating a foil to the raised areas of burnished ornament; the frieze is also punched.

14A Il Volterrano Sea Supremacy of Tuscany c1637to46 fresco detail Villa La Petraia near Florence

Il Volterrano (1611-90), Supremacy at sea of Tuscany, c.1637-46, detail of fresco in the Villa La Petraia, Florence 

14B Villa La Petraia Florence

Fountain with a grotesque mascaron, detail of fresco in the Villa La Petraia, Florence

14C Il Volterrano Dec details for Villa La Petraia black chalk 27x27.5 Sotheby s 1980 Lot 11

Il Volterrano (1611-90), decorative details for Villa La Petraia, including two studies of a mascaron, black chalk, 27 x 27.5 cm., Sotheby’s, Thursday 3 July 1980, Lot 11

The masks are interesting; they appear to take the form of three different animals in all the surviving frames – a birdlike being (probably intended to be a dophin), a lion and a monkey. Volterrano uses grotesque masks both in his ornamental designs and in his paintings; they can be found, for example, in the frescos of the Villa La Petraia, on a helmet and a fountain, where their presence seems to be purely decorative.

15A Detail of mask from Fraud

15B Detail of lion mask from Fraud

Details of the masks from Fraud: a birdlike dolphin, top, and a lion, below, seated on the frieze and leaf-tip moulding form the octagon. Photos: Paul Mitchell

15C Detail of monkey mask from Venus & Cupid Stuttgart

Detail of a mask (a monkey) from the frame of Venus & Cupid, Stuttgart, projecting out to the point where the excised frieze and moulding should underpin it. Photo: Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart 

The masks on the frames, however, may have a symbolic as well as an ornamental aspect. They are stylized and deformed in the decorative style borrowed from the 16th century Mannerism of Michelangelesque sculpture, and its contemporary version seen in ‘Medici’ frames, but they can also be interpreted as representing various ideas and qualities. Thus we have the dolphin which sometimes accompanies Cupid (the soul’s journey towards Platonic, ideal love); the lion, also shown with Cupid (‘Love conquers all’), symbolizing loyalty and courage; and the monkey, which represents fraud and lust.

The theme of the group of paintings which Volterrano produced for Ridolfi, although at first sight disparate and unconnected, may also, under this reading, be linked in an allegorical procession of types of love. Perseus represents the bravery and self-sacrifice of love, which, like the lion, faces danger in its cause. The dying Cleopatra (now lost) stands for the fidelity of love, again like the lion. Fraud warns of false love, which betrays, like the lustful monkey, whilst Venus and Cupid may represent the two faces of love (eros and agape, or fleshly and spiritual love). Orpheus and Eurydice, a very much larger rectilinear painting likewise commissioned by the Marchese di Ridolfi and now in the collection of the Pucci family, may also have or have had a related frame binding it to the other works, amongst which it would stand for the journey of the soul towards divine love, and the survival of love beyond death.

16A Clasp showing torch or lion s mane

16B det2.1

Details of the decorative finials of the masks, clasped over the fluted torus of the frames: a burning torch (top, on the frame of Fraud; photo: Paul Mitchell), and a sprig of leaves or an iris flower (bottom, on the frame of Venus & Cupid)

16C Detail of hollow with bellflowers

Detail of the alternating bellflowers carved below the top edge of the frames (from the frame of Fraud; photo: Paul Mitchell)

The masks are surmounted on the top and inner side of the frame by two types of decorative motif. One of them seems to depict a flaming torch, representing Eros or Love; the other is a sprig of leaves or petals – perhaps myrtle leaves, an attribute of Venus, or irises, attribute of the goddess Iris, companion of the souls of women on their journey to Elysium (this would fit with Maria Cecilia Fabbri’s thesis, that the Orpheus and Eurydice was commissioned by Ridolfi after the death of his brother’s wife) [13]. The hollow moulding beneath the fluted top edge is decorated with bellflowers, known as ‘Venus’s looking-glass’, set between S-scrolls on a punched ground. The number of motifs on these frames which bear some association with love in all its forms, taken with the subjects of the paintings, does give some justification for regarding Ridolfi’s commission as having a thematic coherence. Perhaps the room where the pictures hung in the Palazzo Ridolfi contained furniture which continued the theme – consoles, armchairs or looking-glass frames decorated with amorini.

17A Andrea Brustolon armchair with amorini

Andrea Brustolon (attrib., 1662-1732), Venetian Baroque armchair carved with putti or amorini, original upholstery, 91.5 x 71.5 x 71 cm., Royal House Antiques, Wimbledon 

1972.73 Overall

Italian Baroque display case on stand, late 17th century, polychrome & parcel-gilt limewood and walnut, with putti & Atlas, 231.1 x 152.4 x 62.2 cm., Metropolitan Museum, New York 

The framemaker

18 Veronese Baptism of Christ c1580 Iliad Room Palatine Gallery Frame designed Volterrano carved Foggini 1667+ 2

Veronese (1528-88), Baptism of Christ, c.1580, o/c, 196 x 133 cm., frame designed by Volterrano, carved by Jacopo Foggini (c.1610s-84), 1667 onwards; Iliad Room, Palazzo Pitti, Florence

It would be very satisfying if it were possible to track down the carver of the Ridolfi frames. A lead in this respect is the frame designed by Volterrano for Veronese’s Baptism of Christ in the Palatine Gallery. This was carved sometime from 1667 by Jacopo Maria Foggini, the father of a dynasty of Florentine sculptors and architects, who, besides being an almost exact contemporary of Volterrano, was also frequently employed by the Medici. Foggini moved from stone carving to wood, and became president of the Compagnia dei Legnaioli – the guild of woodcarvers – as well as running his own school of carving [14]. However, he is relatively little-known in comparison with his nephew and pupil, Giovanni Battista Foggini; one of the main contemporary records of his work derives from a commission given him more than a decade earlier by Filippo Baldinucci.

19A Jacopo Maria Foggini Ecce Homo San Marco 2

Jacopo Maria Foggini (sculptor; c.1610s-84), Il Volterrano (painter; 1611-90), Ecce Homo, c.1654, polychrome limewood & papier mâché, 160 cm. h., San Marco, Florence. Photo: Sailko 

Baldinucci, the biographer (referred to above, notes 4 & 5) of 17th century artists including Volterrano, commissioned this statue of Christ from Foggini, carved from limewood, and painted – it turns out – by Volterrano himself, in the style of a Spanish polychrome wooden sculpture; it is now in the church of San Marco [15]. Baldinucci describes it as

‘…large as life, carved with great care and completely unsparingly, in limewood: and this figure he executed in the year 1654 for the writer of these lines,’ both artists achieving such spiritual intensity that ‘many times in the year he [Baldinucci] has found it fitting to lend it to various churches and convents of the religious, where it has been displayed for the devotions of both clergy and congregation’ [16].

19B Jacopo Maria Foggini Crucifix San Maria Maggiore

?Jacopo Maria Foggini (c.1610s-84), Crucifix, Santa Maria Maggiore, Florence 

He states that Foggini ‘…also made with his own hands many images of our Crucified Lord, both smaller and larger than life…’ [17], one of which may be the Crucifix on the high altar of Santa Maria Maggiore [18].

19C Volterrano & JM Foggini Virgin St John Evangelist & Pietro dAlcantara Chiesa dei SS Quirico Lucia & Pietro d'Alcantara 2

Il Volterrano (painter; 1611-90), Jacopo Maria Foggini (sculptor; c.1610s-84), The Virgin, SS John the Evangelist and Pietro d’Alcantara, c.1684 or earlier, o/c, 340 x 190 cm., with carved figure of Christ Crucified, after 1681, and detail, high altar of SS Quirico and Lucia, Montelupo Fiorentino 

Thirty years later the two artists were again closely associated in the high altarpiece of the Medici church in Montelupo Fiorentino, in the grounds of the Villa dell’Ambrogiana. Volterrano painted the canvas scene of the Crucifixion, and Foggini carved the figure of the Crucified Christ which is  attached to the painted Cross. He almost certainly executed (or produced through his workshop) the inner frame of the altarpiece, with its arched and shouldered gilded moulding, outset on the bottom rail, and carved with a centred ribbon-bound torus of bunched bay leaves, in the French Louis XIII style; and probably the outer aedicular frame, as well. Apparently the pediment once contained one of Volterrano’s inscribed cartouches [19].

Given these three important known collaborative works, it seems highly probable that it may have been Jacopo Foggini who carved the Ridolfi frames to Volterrano’s design, and that they are part of a highly considered Gesamtkunstwerk, which functions aesthetically, to enhance the paintings; optically, to focus attention on them; architecturally, to blend in with their surroundings; and iconographically, to unite them in a thematic series exploring the idea of love. If this thesis is accepted, it is even more unfortunate that the paintings in the group have all been dispersed, the Cleopatra lost, the frames of two of the others vandalized, and the Orfeo shut away. The present work, Fraud, seems to stand as the only intact survivor of a highly intriguing programme by an artist of multiple talents.

0 Il Volterrano Woman with a fishing rod or Fraud Sothebys 7July2021 Lot 41

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With thanks to Paul Mitchell and Cecilia Treves

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[1] Sotheby’s, Catalogue of drawings by Baldassare Franceschini, called Il Volterrano, Thursday 3 July 1980, London

[2] See the entry for Baldassarre Franceschini in the Treccani Dictionary of biography, 49, 1997 

[3] Ibid.

[4] Alessandro Grassi, ‘Scheda degli affreschi nella cappella Orlandini in Santa Maria Maggiore a Firenze’, in Volterrano, Baldassarre Franceschini 1611-90, by Riccardo Fabbri, M. Cecilia, et al., 2013, p.118

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., quoting Filippo Baldinucci (1625-96) in his Notizie de’ professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, 1681 onwards, vol. V, p. 159, and pp. 149-50

[7] See ‘Frames in Focus: Sansovino frames’ 

[8] The oil paintings are mentioned by Baldinucci, op. cit., vol. V, p. 164; the drawings were recorded in a 17th century inventory of the palazzo, and noted by Francesco Gabburri, Vite di pittori, 18th century MSS. Both sources are quoted by Gerhard Ewald, ‘Unknown works by Baldassare Franceschini, called Il Volterrano (1611-1689)’, Burlington Magazine, May 1973, vol. 115, no 842, p. 279, notes 29 and 30

[9] Baldinucci, ibid.

[10] Ewald, op. cit., p. 280

[11] The fourth painting, of the dying Cleopatra, has disappeared

[12] Sotheby’s, Catalogue of drawings…, op. cit., Lot 48

[13] Fabbri, Grassi & Spinelli, &c., Volterrano, 2013, pp. 216-17

[14] See the entry for the Foggini family in the Treccani Dictionary of biography, 48, 1997 

[15] Ibid.

[16] Quoted by Cristiano Giometti, ‘Sculture in legno d’età barocca a Firenze: ricerche preliminari e qualche riflessione’, in Scultura in legno policromo d’età barocca, Lauro Magnani and Daniele Sanguineti, 2017, p. 522, from Baldinucci, op. cit., vol. V, p. 399

[17] Ibid., note 14

[18] Suggested by Alessandro Grassi; ibid, note 12; also in the Treccani Dictionary, op. cit., where it is described as ‘documented in the church of SS Michele & Gaetano in Florence’ from 1668-71

[19] There is still uncertainty as to whether the figure of Christ was carved first, as a stand-alone sculpture for the high altar, and the canvas painted later – possibly even after Foggini’s death; or whether the combined painting/ sculpture was intended from the beginning, and the times staggered due to Volterrano’s other engagements. See Fabbri, Grassi & Spinelli, &c., op. cit., cat. entry 119