(Rome, 1569 – 1626)
Holy Family (Nativity).
Oil on canvas, 38 3/16 x 513⁄4 in (97 x 131.5 cm).
Private collection, England.
. G. Papi, Antiveduto Gramatica, Soncino (Cremona), 1995.
. Caravaggio e caravaggeschi a Firenze, exhibition catalogue (Florence, 2010), ed. G. Papi, Florence-Livorno, 2010.
Antiveduto Gramatica painted the subject of the Holy Family several times during his career, in the 1610s and 1620s. We may thus consider three works: the painting housed in the storerooms of Palazzo Pitti, Florence, recently restored and displayed at the Caravaggio e caravaggeschi a Firenze exhibition (2010, with an entry by the present writer), the small Holy Family with Joseph as Carpenter in a private collection (published in my monograph of 1995, p. 170, fig. 131), and the one in the Christian Museum, Esztergom (p. 179, fig. 44 of the same volume). A similar subject was treated by the artist in the Holy Family with Saint Anne in the Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe (p. 63, pl. XXI), and his compositions centred around the Christ Child include the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne in the National Museum, Warsaw (p. 185, fig. 53) and the painting of the same subject, though with a different iconography, in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow.
As I have said, these subjects, usually depicted on a standard size canvas (tela di imperatore, roughly 100 x 130 cm) and in horizontal format, are found throughout the painter’s oeuvre and in each of his stylistic phases. According to my reconstruction of his career, the picture in Florence shows us Gramatica deeply involved in the atmosphere of naturalism within Caravaggio’s circle, and close to his great friend Orazio Borgianni: thus a dating around the middle of the 1610s ought to be the most appropriate. A slightly later date should be assigned to the canvas in Karlsruhe, and an even later one to the Glasgow picture, in which an interest in Raphael and Domenichino – which increasingly leaves its mark on the painter’s naturalism during the 1620s – gradually asserts itself.
This beautiful new painting of the Holy Family contains iconographical variations on the subjects discussed so far. In fact – unlike all the other images – the scene takes place in the manger where Jesus was born (its structure is clearly visible on the left and in the background), and one can also see the ass and, beyond it, the ox, in the middle ground behind the Virgin Mary. More than a Holy Family, the subject is a Nativity. The Child is thus distinct from all the others, since he is represented as a still hairless newborn, lovingly held in the arms of Joseph – who once again, as in Esztergom, is depicted by Gramatica as an old man of the people with a careworn, wrinkled face – and adored by his Mother, with whom he shares an intense, tender exchange of gazes.
As regards Gramatica’s authorship, I do not believe there can be any hesitation, given the obvious signs of style, in adding it to the catalogue of this painter of Sienese origins. The rustic atmosphere, already mitigated by the classicizing purity of the Virgin’s face, and by the clear light that bathes the scene (far from the violent shadows that define the canvas in Palazzo Pitti), indicate a proximity to the grand altarpiece of the Adoration of the Shepherds in San Giacomo in Augusta, Rome (fig. 1); the blue and red of the Madonna’s drapery and the glimpse of her profile are very similar. I would thus propose that this painting belongs to a late date, very likely in the mid-1620s.