(1581 Genoa - 1644 Venice)
Bust of Saint Cecilia
Oil on canvas; 25 ¼ x 19 in
Private collection, Rome; Sale, Van Ham, Cologne, lot 512.
One of the most important representatives of the Italian Baroque, Bernardo Strozzi was known as a painter of genre scenes, portraits, and religious paintings, such as the present work depicting Saint Cecilia, executed between 1620-25. He began his artistic training in his native city, working briefly under the tutelage of the painter and antiquarian Cesare Coerte before moving to the atelier of the Sienese painter Pietro Sorri, who was working in Genoa from 1595 to 1597. Although Strozzi entered the Capuchin Monastery of San Barnabà in 1598, he continued to paint while a monk, producing mainly small devotional images. The influence of Strozzi's time with Sorri is particularly evident in the artist's early paintings, which demonstrate the vibrant palate and rhythmic poses of Tuscan Mannerism that he absorbed from his master. By 1610, Strozzi had been granted leave from the monastery so that he could work full time as a painter, in order to support his recently widowed mother and unmarried sister. In the years after his departure from the monastery, the influence of the Caravaggisti travelling through Genoa – artists like Orazio Gentileschi, Angelo Caroselli, and Bartolomeo Cavarozzi – became increasingly evident in Strozzi’s style, which begins to embrace the lively naturalism and chiaroscuro of the Lombard artist’s followers. In 1630, following the death of Strozzi's mother and the marriage of his sister, the monastery attempted to compel his return, but Strozzi fled to Venice. There he established a large workshop and resided for the remainder of his life.
Known for making frequent use of preparatory oil sketches, Strozzi executed the present modello for a large painting of Saint Cecilia, of which two finished versions exist. In the Nelson-Atkins’ painting (fig. 1) we see the patron saint of music flanked by an organ and classical columns, alluding to Saint Cecilia's aristocratic Roman heritage, and holding a palm frond in her right hand symbolizing her martyrdom.  Nearly identical in appearance, our figure wears the same diaphanous white collar, although her dress is yellow instead of pink, and she wears a crown of leaves upon her head in lieu of a tied ribbon. With the slight tilt of her head, Saint Cecilia engages the viewer with a directness and confidence that belie her youth. Northern Italian in appearance, the figure’s fair complexion and flaxen hair appear luminous against the dark background. Though the canvas is small, Strozzi’s artistic skill is readily seen in the thick broken brushwork that efficiently describes the fabric and leaves of the wreath. The work of Rubens and Anthony van Dyck in Genoa led painters like Strozzi, with roots in that city, to work in this broad and lively manner. Furthermore, the influence of Federico Barocci, who’s Crucifixion was placed in the Cathedral of Genova in 1596, is evident in the glow of red highlights that enliven Strozzi's figure studies; these reds are present in Saint Cecilia's ears, nose and chin.
Saint Cecilia, c. 1620-1625
Oil on canvas; 170 x 121 cm
Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum
 The other version is in Rovereto at the Accademia degli Agiati.