Artist: ANTONIO BALESTRA (Verona 1666 – 1740)
Title: Sketch for the altarpiece in the church of San Gregorio al Celio
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 113 x 55,5 cm
This painting is subject to notification by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and ABAP Superintendency of Turin, with a declaration of cultural interest to protect the historical and artistic heritage.
A high-caliber Venetian figure, Angelo Maria Querini (1680-1755), who was elevated to the rank of cardinal in 1727, had sought out Balestra for the Roman altarpiece. This painting, belonging to the Giamblanco Gallery that is presented here, is linked to that prestigious commission. In fact, there are few differences with the final version: the compositional setting and the position of the main characters appear to be completely overlapping, except that Gregory the Great’s right hand will be lowered, ready to write on the heavy book that an angel laboriously holds up for him. In this small canvas, a companion of Gregory the Great occupies the lower left corner, as if to guard over the three Crowns that the Father of the Church seems to have abandoned on earth; all intent is on grasping the concept of the dove of the Holy Spirit. The Child Jesus frees himself from his mother’s grasp, in a spontaneous and somewhat disjointed pose, which will be further enhanced in the Roman altarpiece. The greatest variation is found at the top right, where an adolescent angel holds a drape, as an improvised canopy for the celestial apparition. This detail will be replaced by two smaller and playful winged infants in the larger edition.
A number of features allows this canvas too, to be attributed to the hand of Antonio Balestra: the drawing precision; the careful coating of matter, yet full-bodied; the sensitive direction of light, as revealed by the inlays of light and shadow that define the Child’s body; the face of Saint Andrew, modelled in color notches; the surplice of St. Gregory, whose candour is virtuosically rendered with “soiled” colours; the beautiful creativeness of the angel at the top, who offers us his soft back in full light.