Luigi Amidani ST. SEBASTIAN2018-10-22T16:51:25+00:00

Luigi Amidani

1591 Parma after 1629

ST. SEBASTIAN

Oil on canvas – 103.5 x 78.8 cm.

 

The saint, who is no more than an adolescent, is portrayed in full-length profile, with his arms raised above his head and his hands tied to the branch of a tree that towers over him. A single arrow has pierced his side, causing a small trickle of vermilion blood. As if trying to free himself, the curly-haired figure throws his head back and tenses the fingers of his right hand, bracing himself with his left leg. A lily-white cloth clings to his sides, highlighting the slender profile of his buttocks, and is tied with plentiful drapery hanging from the waist below the taut stomach. The frail musculature of the arms and the chest contrasts with the strong legs and the oversized feet typical of an undernourished boy from a poor background who was already used to hard work. However, a particularly striking aspect is the milky pallor of the skin, which is only reddened at the elbows and the prominent knees, as if he had never spent any time outdoors. This effect is highlighted by the way the figure stands out against the dark landscape – in the foreground there is a steeply sloping hill on which there stands the tree to which the saint is tied. To the right the hill begins to rise, covered in thick vegetation, while the view to the left opens out towards a group of ruins set in woodland and, further in the distance, towards the pale blue ring of mountains. The light falling from the left shines on the buildings and sharply defines the saint’s arched chest and legs, leaving his head, partly hidden by his arm, cast in shadow: only his nose is illuminated by a ray of light.
The painting has a surprising feel as though there were a direct relationship with reality as if the artist had studied the model posing in his studio, rather than planning a specific commission. The pleasantly fluid and rapid brushstrokes intensify the impression that this is a life study: the numerous ‘pentimenti’ in the arms and legs emphasise the effect of naturalness, imbuing the image of the saint with an extraordinary vivid quality that contrasts with the carefully studied landscape added at the end as the ‘setting’ for the figure.
The naturalism of the style reflects the influence of the Carraccis. In their early phase in Bologna, Annibale and Ludovico Carracci had painted similarly experimental works: for example, the work is reminiscent of Annibale’s beautiful St Sebastian which became part of the extensive collections in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden1; the painting also shows similarities with Ludovico’s youthful Flagellation in the Musée de la Chartreuse in Douai2, where the figure of Christ is portrayed in profile with an extremely similar effect. The painter of the St Sebastian discussed here seems to have been particularly influenced by the latter painting. Indeed, the loincloth worn by Christ in Ludovico’s work, for which there exists a magnificent autonomous study in lead pencil3, displays clear links with this painting.
As is revealed by the landscape, the work should not, however, be attributed to an artist from Bologna and belongs to a later phase than the examples cited above which date to the early 1580s. The painting can be identified as the work of Luigi Amidani, an artist from Parma whose stature as a painter of quality with unpredictable phases in his career has been demonstrated by modern research. After an initial phase spent by Amidani in his native Parma, which has already been studied by other scholars4, Alberto Crispo has investigated the artist’s activity in Milan (beginning in 1620) and subsequently in Spain, an experience that led to a radical change in his style5.
However, the painting examined here is an early work of Amidani’s. Born in Parma in 1591, he soon came under the influence of Bartolomeo Schedoni (1578-1616), an artist from Modena who had been summoned to work for Ranuccio Farnese in Parma in 1608. Amidani therefore became part of the lively artistic environment that changed local painting, based on a new interpretation of Correggio, inspired by the innovations introduced by the Carraccis in Bologna. As in the work of Schedoni, there are surprising aspects of Amidani’s stylistic choices which, where the chronology is unknown, would convincingly suggest a date in the 1580s. In this guise he began working on an important project, together with Schedoni, in the outer chapels of the Capuchin monastery of Fontevivo. Only part of the original work survives (of the nine paintings by Amidani, only the Holy Family and the Exaltation of the Cross are now kept in the Museum of Capodimonte in Naples)6.
The Crucifixion of St Peter (fig. 1) in the parish church in Vigatto (Parma)7 has been dated to 1612. In the late eighteenth century Romualdo Baistrocchi,a scholar from Parma, praised the painting for the “power of the rogues who hold up the cross”, taken from a life study, with the “limbs that do not lose their gracefulness despite their sturdiness”8: this observation could also be applied to this painting of St Sebastian where, in similar fashion, the ‘“sturdy’ forms of the legs do not lose their ‘grace’ due to a study which, as Baistrocchi himself noted immediately afterwards, Amidani had made of the paintings of Correggio and the Carraccis. Despite the different expressive intent, the small altarpiece in Vigatto offers immediate parallels with our St Sebastian, not just in the portrayal of the saint and the thugs but also in the way the trees and bushes are ‘sprinkled’ around the landscape.
Another youthful work that reveals the marked influence of Correggio is the altarpiece portraying the Mystical Marriage of St Catherine and St Charles Borromeo and St Francis (fig. 2) which is still in the Rossi Oratory in Parma9. Besides an identical ring of mountains, the work displays the same roughly applied brushstrokes as the painting under analysis here. Extremely similar landscapes are also be found in two paintings in the Hermitage in St Petersburg: the Slaughter of the Innocents and, in particular, the fascinating painting portraying Diana and Actaeon10 (fig. 3). Although Amidani occasionally opted for more conventional solutions in his later work, another direct comparison can be made with the artist’s beautiful painting of Cupid (fig. 4), signed and dated 1619 (auctioned at Christie’s in London on 8 December 1989, no. 123)11, where the legs of the god are based on a life study that displays certain similarities.
The parallels discussed above suggest that this painting dates to about 1610, in other words to Amidani’s most experimental phase during which he studied the work of Correggio and the Carraccis. The differences in size compared to the surviving altarpieces and the anti-rhetorical character of the portrayal of the saint (apart from the lateral view, unthinkable for an altarpiece, it is interesting to note the absence of a halo) would exclude all possibility that it formed part of the dismantled cycle of Fontevivo or that it came from another church in the Parma area. It is likely that it originated as a “cabinet painting” and was explicitly designed for a private collection. This would increase the likelihood that the work may be identified as a “A painting of St Sebastian of Lamidano, black frame” which in 1698 was in the collection of Bartolomeo Smitti-Manini in Parma12.
The extremely significant aspects discussed above also highlight the exceptional nature of the painting within the oeuvre of Luigi Amidani. Like other minor artists, he was sometimes capable of achieving highly surprising results which may even prove rather disconcerting for those unfamiliar with his unusual skills13. Although unquestionably the work of Amidani, the painting shows a level of quality that has few equals with the rest of his extensive output and can rightfully be considered to be his masterpiece.

Daniele Benati


1. D. Benati, Un San Sebastiano di Annibale Carracci da Modena a Dresda, in “Nuovi studi”, 1, 1996, pp. 104-114; Id., in Annibale Carracci, (eds.) D. Benati, E. Riccòmini, exhibition catalogue (Bologna – Roma), Milan, 2006, pp. 140-141, n. III.4.
2. L. Brogi, Ludovico Carracci, Bologna, 2001, I, pp. 119-122, no. 14.
3. D. Benati, in Disegni emiliani del Sei-Settecento. Quadri da stanza e da altare, (ed.) D. Benati, Milan, 1991, pp. 15-17.
4. F. Frisoni, Una ‘Sacra Famiglia’ e alcune considerazioni su Giulio Cesare Amidani, in ‘Paragone’, XXXVII, 1986, 431/433, pp. 79-84; M. Riccòmini, Per il pintor Giulio Cesare Amidano, in ‘Aurea Parma’, LXXII, 1988, pp. 133-141.
5. A. Crispo, Luigi Amidani (Parma 1591 – after 1629), Parma, 2000. In this study, the scholar, having found the baptism certificate with the date of 15 July 1591, underlines the precise name of the artist who is often referred to in the previous academic literature as “Giulio Cesare”.
6. Ibid, pp. 39-44, nos. 1, 2.
7. Ibid, pp. 52-53, no. 7.
8. R. Baistrocchi, Notizie dei pittori che lavorarono in Parma, fine sec. XVIII, Parma, Soprintendenza per i Beni Artistici, Storici e Etnoantropologici di Parma e Piacenza, ms. 129, entry Amidano.
9. Crispo, Luigi Amidani… op. cit., pp. 54-56, no. 10.
10. Ibid., pp. 71-75, n. 19; 105-17, no. 34.
11. Ibid, p. 95, n. 29. The painting is signed “Aloys. Amid. P. 1619”.
12. G. Campori, Raccolta di cataloghi ed inventarii inediti di quadri, statue, disegni, bronzi, dorerie, smalti, medaglie, avori, ecc. dal secolo XV al secolo XIX, Modena, 1870, p. 409; Crispo, Luigi Amidani… op.cit., p. 141, no. 66.
13. The identification of Amidani’s authorship has been confirmed independently by Alessandro Brogi and Alberto Crispo (personal communication). Crispo is currently preparing a new study about the artist which will also include this painting. The attribution has been supported by Erich Schleier (personal communication).

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Luigi Amidani

1591 Parma after 1629

ST. SEBASTIAN

Oil on canvas – 103.5 x 78.8 cm.

 

The saint, who is no more than an adolescent, is portrayed in full-length profile, with his arms raised above his head and his hands tied to the branch of a tree that towers over him. A single arrow has pierced his side, causing a small trickle of vermilion blood. As if trying to free himself, the curly-haired figure throws his head back and tenses the fingers of his right hand, bracing himself with his left leg. A lily-white cloth clings to his sides, highlighting the slender profile of his buttocks, and is tied with plentiful drapery hanging from the waist below the taut stomach. The frail musculature of the arms and the chest contrasts with the strong legs and the oversized feet typical of an undernourished boy from a poor background who was already used to hard work. However, a particularly striking aspect is the milky pallor of the skin, which is only reddened at the elbows and the prominent knees, as if he had never spent any time outdoors. This effect is highlighted by the way the figure stands out against the dark landscape – in the foreground there is a steeply sloping hill on which there stands the tree to which the saint is tied. To the right the hill begins to rise, covered in thick vegetation, while the view to the left opens out towards a group of ruins set in woodland and, further in the distance, towards the pale blue ring of mountains. The light falling from the left shines on the buildings and sharply defines the saint’s arched chest and legs, leaving his head, partly hidden by his arm, cast in shadow: only his nose is illuminated by a ray of light.
The painting has a surprising feel as though there were a direct relationship with reality as if the artist had studied the model posing in his studio, rather than planning a specific commission. The pleasantly fluid and rapid brushstrokes intensify the impression that this is a life study: the numerous ‘pentimenti’ in the arms and legs emphasise the effect of naturalness, imbuing the image of the saint with an extraordinary vivid quality that contrasts with the carefully studied landscape added at the end as the ‘setting’ for the figure.
The naturalism of the style reflects the influence of the Carraccis. In their early phase in Bologna, Annibale and Ludovico Carracci had painted similarly experimental works: for example, the work is reminiscent of Annibale’s beautiful St Sebastian which became part of the extensive collections in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden1; the painting also shows similarities with Ludovico’s youthful Flagellation in the Musée de la Chartreuse in Douai2, where the figure of Christ is portrayed in profile with an extremely similar effect. The painter of the St Sebastian discussed here seems to have been particularly influenced by the latter painting. Indeed, the loincloth worn by Christ in Ludovico’s work, for which there exists a magnificent autonomous study in lead pencil3, displays clear links with this painting.
As is revealed by the landscape, the work should not, however, be attributed to an artist from Bologna and belongs to a later phase than the examples cited above which date to the early 1580s. The painting can be identified as the work of Luigi Amidani, an artist from Parma whose stature as a painter of quality with unpredictable phases in his career has been demonstrated by modern research. After an initial phase spent by Amidani in his native Parma, which has already been studied by other scholars4, Alberto Crispo has investigated the artist’s activity in Milan (beginning in 1620) and subsequently in Spain, an experience that led to a radical change in his style5.
However, the painting examined here is an early work of Amidani’s. Born in Parma in 1591, he soon came under the influence of Bartolomeo Schedoni (1578-1616), an artist from Modena who had been summoned to work for Ranuccio Farnese in Parma in 1608. Amidani therefore became part of the lively artistic environment that changed local painting, based on a new interpretation of Correggio, inspired by the innovations introduced by the Carraccis in Bologna. As in the work of Schedoni, there are surprising aspects of Amidani’s stylistic choices which, where the chronology is unknown, would convincingly suggest a date in the 1580s. In this guise he began working on an important project, together with Schedoni, in the outer chapels of the Capuchin monastery of Fontevivo. Only part of the original work survives (of the nine paintings by Amidani, only the Holy Family and the Exaltation of the Cross are now kept in the Museum of Capodimonte in Naples)6.
The Crucifixion of St Peter (fig. 1) in the parish church in Vigatto (Parma)7 has been dated to 1612. In the late eighteenth century Romualdo Baistrocchi,a scholar from Parma, praised the painting for the “power of the rogues who hold up the cross”, taken from a life study, with the “limbs that do not lose their gracefulness despite their sturdiness”8: this observation could also be applied to this painting of St Sebastian where, in similar fashion, the ‘“sturdy’ forms of the legs do not lose their ‘grace’ due to a study which, as Baistrocchi himself noted immediately afterwards, Amidani had made of the paintings of Correggio and the Carraccis. Despite the different expressive intent, the small altarpiece in Vigatto offers immediate parallels with our St Sebastian, not just in the portrayal of the saint and the thugs but also in the way the trees and bushes are ‘sprinkled’ around the landscape.
Another youthful work that reveals the marked influence of Correggio is the altarpiece portraying the Mystical Marriage of St Catherine and St Charles Borromeo and St Francis (fig. 2) which is still in the Rossi Oratory in Parma9. Besides an identical ring of mountains, the work displays the same roughly applied brushstrokes as the painting under analysis here. Extremely similar landscapes are also be found in two paintings in the Hermitage in St Petersburg: the Slaughter of the Innocents and, in particular, the fascinating painting portraying Diana and Actaeon10 (fig. 3). Although Amidani occasionally opted for more conventional solutions in his later work, another direct comparison can be made with the artist’s beautiful painting of Cupid (fig. 4), signed and dated 1619 (auctioned at Christie’s in London on 8 December 1989, no. 123)11, where the legs of the god are based on a life study that displays certain similarities.
The parallels discussed above suggest that this painting dates to about 1610, in other words to Amidani’s most experimental phase during which he studied the work of Correggio and the Carraccis. The differences in size compared to the surviving altarpieces and the anti-rhetorical character of the portrayal of the saint (apart from the lateral view, unthinkable for an altarpiece, it is interesting to note the absence of a halo) would exclude all possibility that it formed part of the dismantled cycle of Fontevivo or that it came from another church in the Parma area. It is likely that it originated as a “cabinet painting” and was explicitly designed for a private collection. This would increase the likelihood that the work may be identified as a “A painting of St Sebastian of Lamidano, black frame” which in 1698 was in the collection of Bartolomeo Smitti-Manini in Parma12.
The extremely significant aspects discussed above also highlight the exceptional nature of the painting within the oeuvre of Luigi Amidani. Like other minor artists, he was sometimes capable of achieving highly surprising results which may even prove rather disconcerting for those unfamiliar with his unusual skills13. Although unquestionably the work of Amidani, the painting shows a level of quality that has few equals with the rest of his extensive output and can rightfully be considered to be his masterpiece.

Daniele Benati


1. D. Benati, Un San Sebastiano di Annibale Carracci da Modena a Dresda, in “Nuovi studi”, 1, 1996, pp. 104-114; Id., in Annibale Carracci, (eds.) D. Benati, E. Riccòmini, exhibition catalogue (Bologna – Roma), Milan, 2006, pp. 140-141, n. III.4.
2. L. Brogi, Ludovico Carracci, Bologna, 2001, I, pp. 119-122, no. 14.
3. D. Benati, in Disegni emiliani del Sei-Settecento. Quadri da stanza e da altare, (ed.) D. Benati, Milan, 1991, pp. 15-17.
4. F. Frisoni, Una ‘Sacra Famiglia’ e alcune considerazioni su Giulio Cesare Amidani, in ‘Paragone’, XXXVII, 1986, 431/433, pp. 79-84; M. Riccòmini, Per il pintor Giulio Cesare Amidano, in ‘Aurea Parma’, LXXII, 1988, pp. 133-141.
5. A. Crispo, Luigi Amidani (Parma 1591 – after 1629), Parma, 2000. In this study, the scholar, having found the baptism certificate with the date of 15 July 1591, underlines the precise name of the artist who is often referred to in the previous academic literature as “Giulio Cesare”.
6. Ibid, pp. 39-44, nos. 1, 2.
7. Ibid, pp. 52-53, no. 7.
8. R. Baistrocchi, Notizie dei pittori che lavorarono in Parma, fine sec. XVIII, Parma, Soprintendenza per i Beni Artistici, Storici e Etnoantropologici di Parma e Piacenza, ms. 129, entry Amidano.
9. Crispo, Luigi Amidani… op. cit., pp. 54-56, no. 10.
10. Ibid., pp. 71-75, n. 19; 105-17, no. 34.
11. Ibid, p. 95, n. 29. The painting is signed “Aloys. Amid. P. 1619”.
12. G. Campori, Raccolta di cataloghi ed inventarii inediti di quadri, statue, disegni, bronzi, dorerie, smalti, medaglie, avori, ecc. dal secolo XV al secolo XIX, Modena, 1870, p. 409; Crispo, Luigi Amidani… op.cit., p. 141, no. 66.
13. The identification of Amidani’s authorship has been confirmed independently by Alessandro Brogi and Alberto Crispo (personal communication). Crispo is currently preparing a new study about the artist which will also include this painting. The attribution has been supported by Erich Schleier (personal communication).

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

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