Attributed to GIOVANNI BATTISTA BAIARDO
Baiardo ? — 1657 Genoa
Christ Changing the Heart of St. Catherine of Siena, after Vanni
black chalk underdrawing, pen & brown ink, brush and wash. 15 ½ x 10 ¼ inches. laid down, the backing sheet w watermark not in Briquet. There is an inscription, perhaps by the artist, on the verso of the drawing, but it is difficult to discern the word or name.
The attribution of this monumental drawing is due to Mary Newcome Schleier who proposed it when the drawing was in the collection of MJ Harris. Baiardo was mainly active in Genoa as a painter of religious and historical canvases. He painted the St. Helen Prays to the Cross for the Genoese church of Santa Croce e San Camillo de Lellis. His name is also written as Giovanni Battista Bajardo. Bajardo or Baiardo is the name of a small hilltop commune in Liguria and likely the birthplace of the artist.
This strong image with monumental figures hark back to those of Luca Cambiaso. It's counter-reformation simplicity underscores the emotional current and indeed theatricality of the subject. The influence of Giovanni Batista Paggi is evident, though Paggi was not resettled in Genoa until about 1599, having been forced to flee in 1579.
The subject, formerly thought to concern The Blessed Ludovica Albertoli, has now been correctly identified as Christ Changing the Heart of St. Catherine of Siena.1 We know this because the composition is derived from a print of that subject by Philippe Thomasin after Francesco Vanni. There are, however, significant differences in the drawing: Catherine falls backwards in our version rather than sideways, her head falling back as well and close to the central angel rather than forward onto the breast of the angel on the left. That left-sided angel's right leg is forward in the print, touching Catherine's limp, right leg; the angel holds Catherine close, supporting her weight. In our drawing, however, only the angels' arms appear to support Catherine while they, attenuated figures that they are, tower above the stricken figure. In the background, the arch of the building in the print is reversed to the right side of the drawing. Two columns are added, one each behind the heads of the angels, and a distant crowded citscape is drawn in the upper left corner. These features do not appear in the print.
The dating of the Thomasin print as well as Vanni's drawings (for a painting?) is most likely the mid 1580's. In addition to explaining this dating, Suzanne Boorsch points out that a painting of only the two central figures, ie. Christ and St. Catherine, hangs today in the oratory for which the commision was intended. However, there is some conjecture that this painting replaced an earlier version which was the basis for the Thomassin print.2 Nonetheless, the present artist would most likely have seen the print or any of the 4 copies of it. From that he devised his own powerful version.
Thanks to Chris Bishop for pointing this out.
John Marciari and Suzanne Boorsch, Francesco Vanni, Art in Late Renaissance Siena, Yale, 2013, pp.63-66, under cat. 7, illus.