Onofrio Palumbo << Back

Onofrio Palumbo (or Palomba)
(Naples, 1606 – after 1654)

Saint Augustine. [ONE OF A PAIR]

Oil on canvas, 59 × 48⅞ in. (150 ×124 cm) each.

Monogrammed (Saint Augustine)
Signed and dated 1635 at lower left (Saint Ambrose)

France, private collection

N. Spinosa, in Artemisia Gentileschi e il suo tempo, exh. cat., Rome, Palazzo Braschi, 30 November 2016 – 7 May 2017, Milan, pp. 276-277, no. 93a-93b.

Exhibited (only the Saint Augustine):
Artemisia Gentileschi e il suo tempo, Rome, Palazzo Braschi, 30 November 2016 – 7 May 2017, no. 93a.

This unpublished pair of canvases was once in the Collège de Juilly, northeast of Paris, founded by the Oratorian Fathers in 1638, and they are – as far as we know, given the date 1635 that accompanies the artist’s signature on the Saint Ambrose – among the earliest examples of Onofrio Palomba’s oeuvre. As can be inferred from documents, he was born in Naples in 1606 and was still active there in 1654. Apart from his creation of various paintings for Neapolitan churches, alternating in inspiration between Massimo Stanzione and Artemisia Gentileschi, he appears to have had a lengthy collaboration with the latter, and completed some of her compositions. Following the initial hypotheses by Ferdinando Bologna, much recent scholarship has based its reconstruction of the painter’s activity on the notion that Palomba was the author of two canvases with the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Shepherds, placed in the nineteenth century on either side of the chancel in the Santa Maria della Salute, Naples. In reality, their evident stylistic differences prove that these paintings are by two different hands. Having been ascribed to Massimo Stanzione, Paolo Finoglio and Francesco Guarino, they were then variously attributed to Antiveduto Gramatica (the Adoration of the Shepherds, in the opinion of Roberto Longhi, for its emphatic naturalist bent) and Paolo Finoglio (the Annunciation, in the opinions of Raffaello Causa and Alfred Moir, for its embellished luminosity).

The rediscovery of these two canvases of 1635 – both betraying Palomba’s far from marginal attention to the still vigorous naturalism of Ribera in the years around 1630 – prompts a new discussion of the problematic authorship of the two paintings in the church of the Salute, and at least a partial scholarly revision of our artist, who has been judged positively in recent times. The presence in the two pictures before us of naturalistically-grounded passages would appear to confirm that Palomba was responsible only for the Adoration of the Shepherds from the Salute, and further weakens the hypothesis that he could have painted the Annunciation – a work with elements decidedly closer, if anything, to those found in Finoglio.

Moreover, the pictorial handling of the monumental figure of Saint Ambrose, robed in a sumptuous cope, is so different from that of the Archangel Gabriel’s dress in the Salute Annunciation, a work of preciously-refined golden lights and skilled application of colour, that it seems to prove that the latter was not painted by Palomba; indeed it also suggests a different period from that of the Adoration of the Shepherds, which has always been considered, notwithstanding the absence of secure documentation, a pendant of the Annunciation. In any event, Palomba may be regarded as someone who was attentive to reconciling the stylistic modes of the various Neapolitan naturalist painters of the early seventeenth century with those of Massimo Stanzione and Artemisia Gentileschi, of whom he was for many years a modest collaborator and imitator.

Nicola Spinosa