· Guy et Christiane de Aldecoa Collection, Paris.
· 1989, Charenton-le-Pont, Pavillon Antoine de Navarre, Hôtel de Ville, Le XVIIe siècle en Europe, Peintres du baroque et l’influence de l’Italie, cat. by Giuseppe Cantelli, cat. 15, ill. pp. 36-37 (as Assumption of the Virgin).
Although Simone Pignoni’s picture of the Immaculate Conception, made for the Church of San Niccolò of Florence, is lost, Rodolfo Maffeis identified our work as the modello for this painting, on account of the commission in 1675 which details the figures and composition. Destined for the main altar of San Niccolò, the œuvre was to depict the Virgin in glory with the church’s patron Bishop Saint and other saints. Its subject encompassed the precepts of the Catholic Counter-Reformation defending the Virgin’s sanctity with Pope Alexander VII’s reaffirmation in 1661 of Mary’s immaculate birth.
In accord with the iconography which developed at this time in association with this theme, the Virgin is depicted in the center enveloped in a nimbus and crushing the crescent Moon, a symbol of corruption. The link between her birth without sin and her role as the future Mother of God is emphasized by her position: lowered head, hands crossed on her bosom as an symbolic equivalent to the Fiat of the Incarnation, she shows her consent to the Divine will.
Saint Nicholas’ broad deictic movement, accentuated by his cope’s undulations, draws the eye towards the Virgin, while in the opposite corner, a kneeling Saint Catherine bows to her in a pose which can be found in another of Simone Pignoni’s pictures (Saint Catherine of Alexandria, private collection). Saint Stephen, holding one of the stones from his lapidation, and Saint Paul with his epistles in hand, symbolize Church fundamentals: the martyrs and theologians.
God the Father, inspired by Palma the Younger (for example, in The Meeting of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, Church of San Geremia, Venice), accompanied by the Holy Spirit, leans down to designate the Virgin. Around him, is a vibrant celestial concert with groups of angels in the clouds who play a lute and bass viol, singers leaning forward, and cupids the color of clouds compose the transition between the upper and lower registers of the picture.
From his travels in Northern Italy and contact with the Bolognese and Lombard Schools, the artist continued the use of a range of bright colors reinforced by undulating light across the draperies. Simone Pignoni took great care in the rendering of precious fabrics, the delicate transparency of Mary’s veil, the heavy Episcopal cope with its silky reflections, Saint Catherine’s damask garment which is similar to Saint Dorothy’s (Simone Pignoni, private collection).
Besides the coloring and materials, the artist reuses sitters present in his other canvases in order to find the most adequate composition. Thus, Saint Catherine is reminiscent of Saint Lucy in the Castelfranco di Sopra pala which is contemporary with the work for San Niccolò. Similarly, another of Pignoni’s Virgins, the Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Barnaby (Sacristy of the Church of San Niccolò, Florence) dated 1670 can be recognized in the figure of the Virgin in our painting. The pyramidal schema of the composition with Mary and the saints is a form which can already be found in the Madonna. This organization, reinforced by the lighting and enlivened by the figures’ eloquent gestures, invites viewers to devotion.
A student of Francesco Furini, Pignoni followed the master’s style, even while seeking to renew his compositions. His career blossomed after Furini’s death in 1646. The very brilliant and luminous execution of our 1675 modello is representative of the painter’s maturity.
The work’s large dimensions, nonetheless, lead us to consider it as an autonomous work no longer characterized by a sketch’s format and technique. In fact, in terms of quality, Pignoni here comes close to his best paintings: from the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (Lwell, Lulworth Castle, Sir Joseph Weld Collection) to the Bathsheba at her Bath (Prato, Galleria di Palazzo degli Alberti), including the pair of canvases with Rachel and Jacob, Ruth and Boaz (Florence, private collection), which, by their mid size format and physiognomical features, are particularly close to our painting. The stylistic elements of these pictures echo those in the Pignoni’s more famous work, the pala for the Guicciardini altar in Santa Felicita depicting The Alms of Saint Louis of France which was revealed to the public on April 30th, 1682.
Thus our canvas, a rare depiction of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception by Pignoni, is beautiful evidence of this Florentine artist’s pictorial mastery.
Bibliography of the Work
Francesca Baldassari, Simone Pignoni (Firenze 1611-1698), Turin, Artema, 2008, cat 110, pp. 164-165.
Christiane de Aldecoa, "Parcours d’un tableau de Simone Pignoni (Florence 1611-1698)." Precision: "La Vierge de l’Immaculée Conception avec les saints Nicolas de Bari, Catherine, Paul, Etienne et les anges musiciens," Les Cahiers d’Histoire de l’Art, no 7, 2009, pp. 127-128.
Rodolfo Maffeis, "Rittrato di Simone Pignoni," Proporzioni, Annali della fondazione Roberto Longhi, V, 2004, pp. 87-124, ill. fig. 121.