The Birth of Venus, 1734 - 1802
Oil on canvas
59.7 x 69.5 cm / 23.5 x 27.3 in
Moscow, Private Collection With Hazlitt, London, by 1977 With Galerie Kurt Meisner , Zurich, 1977 With P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London, 1977 British Rail Collection Pension Fund, 1978 On anonymous loan to The Art Institute, Detroit, 191900
With Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, Ltd., London, circa 1990.
C. Volpe, I Gandolfi, in L'Arte del Settecento Emiliano. La Pittura: L'Accademia Clementina, exhibition catalogue, Bologna 1979, pp. 118-119, cat. no. 239, reproduced, no. 144 R. Roli, "
Un Nucleo di disegni dei Gandolfi," in Prospetiva, 33-36, p. 297 B. Maino, "
La pittura Emilia Romagna nella secondo met del Settecento S. Barozzi J.A. Calvi U. Gandolfi G. Gandolfi M. Gandolfi G.B. Frulli, D. Pedrini F. Pedrini G. Santi," in Pittura in Italia, Il Settecento, I and II, Milan 1990, p. 728 P. Bagni, I Gandolfi, Affreschi, Dipinti, Bozzetti Disegni, Padua 1992, pp. 362-365, no. 343, reproduced p. 365 (as a pendant to Diana and Callisto) M. Cazort, Bella Pittura: the Art of the Gandolfi, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Canada 1993, p. 65, no. 42 (as a pendant to Diana and Callisto) D. B. Maino, Gaetano Gandolfi, Turin 1995, p. 375, no. 120, reproduced no. 137.
Bologna, Palazzi del Podest e di re Enzo, L'Arte del Settecento Emiliano. La Pittura: L'Accademia Clementina, September 8 - November 25, 1979, cat. no. 239; Detroit, The Art Institute, anonymous loan, 1982-1990; London, Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, Italian and the Italianate, 1990, cat. no. 27; Ottowa, National Gallery of Canada; Little Rock, The Arkansas Arts Center, Bella Pittura: the Art of the Gandolfi, June 18 - November 28, 1993, p. 65, no. 42.
On 21 December 1819, the artist Mauro Gandolfi (1764-1834) wrote a letter from Milan to Luigi Sedazzi, a friend in Bologna, instructing his correspondent to track down and purchase two red chalk preparatory drawings by his father, Gaetano Gandolfi, which he identified by their subject matter. The letter, now in the archives of Biblioteca Comunale, Bologna, reads in part: '...fare ogni diligente ricerca, se esistono tuttora e presso di chi si trovino, due disegni di mio Padre all'apis rosso e gesso, rappresentanti l'uno il bagno di Diana, l'altro la nascita di Venere e Amore posti in una conchiglia sostenuta da vari Tritoni, con sul davanti degli amoretti che scherzano coi delphini. Servirono cotesti disegni a due quadri che dipinse per un Moscovita'. ('...make every diligent inquiry as to whether there still exist, and with whom they might be found, two drawings by my father in red and white chalk, one depicting the bath of Diana, the other the birth of Venus and Cupid situated on a shell held up by various Tritons, with little cupids frolicking with dolphins. They had served as models for two paintings that he made for a Moscovite.')
In 1977, two exquisite, highly finished oil sketches of Diana and Callisto (fig.1) and The Triumph of Venus appeared on the London art market with Hazlitt; the association between these bozzetti and the two paintings that Mauro said his father had made for 'a Moscovite' was recognized by Carlo Volpe, who published them in 1979. Some years after Volpe's publication of the bozzetti, Pierre Rosenberg came across old photographs of the finished paintings that had been made for the unnamed Russian collector in the photo archives of the Documentation du Louvre, where they were identified as having been in a collection in Kromar, Lithuania with a misattribution to the late 18th-century French history painter, Louis Jean François Lagrenée.
By 2002, the finished painting of The Triumph of Venus (fig. 2) had migrated from Lithuania to a private collection in Brussels, and was unveiled to the public in Cento in an exhibition curated by Donatella Biagi Maino, Gaetano e Ubaldo Gandolfi: Opere scelte (no. 32), although its pendant remained missing. In 2008 Biagi Maino published also a version of Diana and Callisto in the National Museum, Warsaw (2008, p. 117) that she proposed as the rediscovered original but in 2010 an other version, judged by the same Biagi Maino as the original by Gaetano, was offered for sale at Christie’s, New York and on January 27th it established a record for Gaetano Gandolfi being sold for 4.114.500 US dollars.
The inclusion of the two bozzetti in the important Bolognese exhibition in 1979, dedicated to Emilian art from the 1600s and curated by Volpe, reintroduced Gandolfi to a modern audience. Subsequently, when owned by Hazlitt Gallery, London, both paintings were exhibited in Canada, together with a red chalk drawing from a French private collection (1993, p. 90). Although the drawing was evidently executed as a preparatory sketch for this Birth of the goddess, there are substantial differences in the figures of Venus and Cupid. Another magnificent drawing, a study for two of the nymphs that helped shame Callisto, was published in Gandolfi’s monograph by Biagi Maino. The drawing depicts sketches of the figure at the extreme right of the painting, covering her head with a blanket and holding the ill-fated Callisto.
In Gandolfi’s monograph, a possible identity of the patron of the paintings is proposed, based on information mentioned in a letter by Mauro Gandolfi, the son of Gaetano. It is not implausible to suggest that this client might be Prince Nicolaj Borisovich Yusupov (1750-1831), a great landowner and member of one of the noblest families in Catherine II’s Russia. Prince Yusupov was so highly regarded by the Empress that he was entrusted to accompany the Grand Duke and Duchess of Russia on their tour of Europe. Eventually, he was given the roles of minister plenipotentiary and special envoy to the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia and Turin, where he stayed from April 1782 until returning home in 17891 . During his stay in Italy he purchased a great many works of art and paintings to add to his already extensive collection. According to Louis Réau, Yusupov’s collection was considered at the time to be one of the most important in Europe. It was housed in a palace in Saint Petersburg and in a residence in Archangelskoe. A large majority of the collection came into the Hermitage’s possession in 1925.
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