Giovanni Stefano Danedi called Montalto
Jael and Sisera, early 1640s
Koelliker collection, Milan.
Francesco Frangi and Alessandro Morandotti, Dipinti Lombardi del Seicento. Collezione Koelliker, Turin, 2004, no. 46, p. 196.
According to the Old Testament Book of Judges, Sisera, a Canaanite general and enemy of the Israelites, sought refuge in the tent of Jael after his defeat on the battlefield, mistakenly believing her to be an ally. Having plyed Sisera with food and drink, thus inducing him to sleep, Jael hammered a tent peg into his head, nailing him to the ground. This bloody but noble act earned Jael a place among the heroines of ancient Israel. In the present painting, within the shadowy confines of her tent, the crouching figure of Jael glances upwards, seemingly seeking divine sanction, in the moments just before she hammers the tent peg into the sleeping Sisera’s neck.
The present painting has been attributed by Francesco Frangi and Alessandro Morandotti to Giovanni Stefano Danedi called Montalto. Like his youngest brother Giuseppe Danedi, Giovanni Stefano was steeped in the tradition of the early Seicento Milanese painters Cerano, Camillo and Giulio Cesare Procaccini, Daniele Crespi, and Francesco Cairo, but especially Morazzone, in whose workshop they trained. Morazzone, who had worked at the Sacro Monte at Varallo, was a master of illusionism, naturalism, and dramatic pathos, which in the later years of his career veered towards eccentric if extraordinarily beautifully lit renditions of intensely macabre subjects. Montalto, as can be seen in the present work, followed closely in his master’s footsteps, especially early on his career, to which the painting can be dated. Although a precise chronology for Montalto’s work is difficult to establish, the present work compares extremely well with other works placed in the artist’s early maturity in the 1640s, including his Herodias with the Head of the Baptist (private collection) and the Death of Dido (Musei Civici del Castello Sforzesco, Milan). In any case, it certainly precedes the artist’s 1648 frescoes in the cathedral of Monza, which mark a sharp turn towards a new Baroque exuberance, a lighter palette, and more classical approach.
The hand in which Jael holds the hammer is somewhat truncated, suggesting that at some point the painting was slightly cut down at the left side.
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