(1571 – Siena – 1639)
The Virgin and Child with St. Michael
oil on canvas
39 ⅘ x 30 ⅓ inches (101 x 77 cm.)
Private Collection, Rome, by 1975; Private Collection, Vienna; sale, Koller, Zurich, 21 September 2007, lot 3042.
F. Todini, ‘Rutilio Manetti: note in margine a una mostra’, Paragone, 347 (1979), pp. 64-72, ill. pl. 50.
Rutilio Manetti, once a complicated artist to understand on account of his ceaseless eclecticism, is now considered to be one of the most important figures in seventeenth century Caravaggism in Tuscany. A strong revival of interest in his works has resulted from greater research into the Caravaggisti in general, as well as a recent examination of Sienese painting during the late cinquecento and early seicento.
Although Caravaggio did not train any pupils in his studio, he had a vast number of followers who were greatly influenced by his work, and the diffusion of his style extended throughout Europe. However, as Cesare Brandi notes, it remains a mystery how Caravaggio’s influence reached Siena. Manetti developed his manner of Caravaggism in the 1620s after he abandoned the Mannerist models of the Florentine school and instead, employed a dramatic sense of chiaroscuro and an extraordinary naturalism. He must have experienced the art of Caravaggio directly, in a visit to Rome; however, precisely when this undocumented trip took place is unknown.
Manetti received his training in Siena from the late Mannerist artists Francesco Vanni and Ventura Salimbeni. His early painting reveals his teachers’ influence. Also evident in his early style are the Florentine models and prototypes from Passignano and Empoli. Although Manetti’s approach developed and changed considerably, certain aspects of his Sienese Mannerist origins—such as his crowded compositions and oval facial types—may be evidenced throughout his career.
Manetti’s style underwent a dramatic change in the beginning of the seventeenth century. Presumably, he traveled not only to Rome, but also to Bologna where he was directly exposed to the works of Lanfranco and the Tuscan Caravaggisti (especially Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi). By the 1620s, Manetti fully established his own personal style, which exhibited a greater sense of naturalism and chiaroscuro. In this period, he successfully executed a large number of important Sienese commissions for altarpieces — many of which featured imposing figures in mysterious atmospheres.
According to Filippo Todini, The Virgin and the Child with St. Michael belongs to a series of pictures depicting figures in profile, dating from the 1620s. These works were executed in an obvious Caravaggesque style, inspired above all by Orazio Gentileschi. A similar painting, Lot and his Daughters (Museo Provincial, Valencia), also belongs to this period in Manetti’s career and displays the same facial types in sharp profile. The artist’s pupil, Bernardo Capitelli, used the preliminary drawing for Lot and his Daughters to produce his reproductive etching.
In the present work, the Virgin lovingly supports the Christ Child in her arms as he offers scales to a young man wearing fanciful armor. Both Virgin and Child are crowned with delicately painted halos, illuminated against the dark background. Clad in a dark green cloak and burnished helmet with a feathery plume, the man graciously extends his hand to accept the scales. His masculine attire, along with the Virgin’s billowing garments, contrast with the fleshy, pink skin of the Christ Child. The powerfully sculpted folds of the Virgin’s dress recall the drapery of Saint Jerome in Manetti’s splendid Saint Jerome comforted by the angels, signed and dated in 1628.
The man in our painting has been identified as one of the patron saints of Siena, Saint Crescentius, the venerated child martyr whose relics were translated to the city of Siena in the early eleventh century. However, based on his attire and physical appearance, he may also be Saint Crescentinus, the holy warrior and patron saint of Urbino. The presence of scales in the painting most convincingly suggests that neither patron saint is the most likely candidate; instead, the man may be identified as Saint Michael the Archangel, whose attribute is a pair of scales, for the weighing of souls.
The compact composition of the present work, with its crisply defined forms and chiaroscuro, demonstrates a complete assimilation by Manetti of the naturalist innovations of Caravaggio. Our painting is a superb example of the culmination of Manetti’s artistic quest, when the artist brought to full fruition his own sophisticated, Caravaggesque style.