ITALIAN masters         




(1585 Rome 1652)

Allegory of Love

 oil on slate; 13 inches in diameter (33 cm.)


London, Whitfield Fine Art, Caravaggio’s Friends and Foes, 27 May – 23 July, 2010

C. Whitfield, Caravaggio’s Friends and Foes, exhibition catalogue, London, 2010, p. 98.

D. Semprebene, Angelo Caroselli 1585-1652 Un Pittore Irriverente, Rome, 2011, p. 177.


The following text is cited from the Caravaggio’s Friends and Foes exhibition catalogue, Whitfield Fine Art, 2010.

Caroselli was one of the young painters in Rome who was swept off his feet by the example of Caravaggio, and took to the profession in “totale imitatione” (Baldinucci) of the master, and without any apprenticeship to a studio.  Although he had paid his dues to the Accademia di San Luca in 1604, doubtless he was one of those who was excluded from the voting roster under the statues that raised the age limit to 30 introduced after Paul V’s election in 1605.  It was the participation of self-taught artists like Caroselli that the conservative majority fought against.  Caroselli, like Caravaggio himself, had started among the ranks of copyists and restorers, and had a reputation for producing imitations that he passed off as real.  He had more than a certain reputation for his ability to counterfeit the works he copied; Baldinucci refers to the deception he was able to achieve with works that seemed to be by Titian and Caravaggio.  Nicolas Poussin could not distinguish a Madonna that Caroselli had painted after Raphael from the original.  The example of Caravaggio’s success was inspirational rather than a teaching model, but Caroselli soon had a considerable activity, and he was employed at the Chiesa Nuova to paint the wall paintings in the Vittrice Chapel for which Carvaggio had provided the Entombment, now in the Pinacoteca Vaticana.  Like Caravaggio himself, he did not work in fresco, and these panels of two Prophets and the Pietà were executed in oil paint on plaster, like Caravaggio’s ceiling of the Casino Del Monte of the Elements.

Caroselli was fascinated with the naturalistic effects that Caravaggio had achieved, and with the direct observation that he focused on, so much so that he contributed in no small way to the expansion of Caravaggesque iconography.  If Caravaggio’s Fortune Teller represents the essence (and sum) of his observation of street life in Rome, it prompted a whole range of picturesque subjects that were illustrated by artists suddenly struck by the visual possibilities that surrounded them in the Italian capital.  This established the vocabulary for a whole generation.  Caroselli collaborated with Giovanni Francesco Guerrieri when he was in Rome between 1615 to 1618, providing decorations still very much in the Caravaggesque idiom for Palazzo Borghese in Campomarzio: he then shared a studio with Pietro Paolini after the latter came to Rome from Lucca in 1619, and was a formative influence on his whole career.

The subject of the present work would have appealed to the Dutch painters who came to Rome, like Honthorst and ter Brugghen, for instance the Violinist and Girl with a Glass in the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefield (1624, Slatkes & Franits, Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen, 2007, A 66).  The gesture of the coins in the girl’s hand is a reference akin to that of the Procuress in Vermeer’s painting in Dresden, and typical of the kind of subject that proved so popular among the Northern Caravaggisti around Baburen in the second decade of the century.  This was undoubtedly also part of the literary phenomenon of the picaresque novel, which had great popularity from the late sixteenth century onwards, with subject matter that revolved around colorful characters and soldiers of fortune.  This was a journey into a fantasy world, with rich costumes and suggestive postures: Caroselli enjoyed virtuoso gestures, and the voice that seems to sing, the instrument that plays, a colorful echo from a lively imagination.

Caroselli was also engaged in the exploration of optical effects, as in the panel of a witch (perhaps the same model as in this tondo) with a concave mirror, wherein the image reflected includes apparitions as well as the artist himself at his easel.[1]  There are many speculative elements in his work, prompted as much by the reputation of Caravaggio’s association with the occult through the alchemy of his patron Del Monte.


[1] Sale, Sotheby’s, London, 4 April 1984, lot 98.  In addition, the artist’s Couple in Masquerade Costumes (Sale, Phillips, London, 2 December 1997, lot 48) has a similar composition to the present work and is also painted on slate.