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The Locksmith

Italian (Neapolitan)1630s/40s?

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery

This kind of characterful ‘low-life’ figure, painted in dark earth colours, was popular in Naples. In the 19th century, its harsh lighting led to its being attributed to Caravaggio, but it is more likely to be by a follower of Ribera, a Spaniard who worked in Naples and was a master of such figures.

This is a rare instance of a locksmith being portrayed alone in such a large painting. According to a 17th century source, locksmiths were seen as shady characters because not only did they make locks and keys, but were also said to provide thieves with all the help they needed in picking locks and in forging keys.

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Details

  • Title: The Locksmith
  • Date: 1630s/40s?
  • Physical Dimensions: w995 x h1323 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Notes: Catalogue No. Br-8Last Modified 9 August 1999Lot Sale Date 1801/02/07Sale Begin Date 1801/02/05Sale End Date 1801/02/07Lugt Number 6190Auct.House Auth Christie'sSale Location LondonLot Number 0077Verbatim Artist Mic. Angelo CarravaggioArtist Authority CARAVAGGIO, MICHELANGELO MERISI DANationality ItalianTitle A Portrait of the famous Bolognese Locksmith, of singular character, painted with the Insignia of his Trade, in a grand and masterly MannerHandwritten Note 4 h. 3.Handwritten Note 1810 now Sir F. BourgeoisHand.Note Source MMNYHand.Note Source ???Dimensions [4 h x 3 w]Verbatim Seller Earl of BesboroughSeller Authority Bessborough, Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl ofTransaction SoldPrice £36.15Verbatim Buyer Myers JunrBuyer Authority Myers, JuniorPost Sales 1803/03/05 LOCH (A0004)Present Location London, England, UK. Dulwich Picture Gallery. (233) as follower of Ribera Catalogue No. Br-164Last Modified 6 August 1999Lot Sale Date 1803/03/05Sale Begin Date 1803/03/04Sale End Date 1803/03/05Lugt Number 6568Auct.House Auth Christie'sSale Location LondonLot Number [A]0004Verbatim Artist CaravaggioArtist Authority CARAVAGGIO, MICHELANGELO MERISI DANationality ItalianTitle The Locksmith of Bologna, from the Collection of the Earl of BesboroughHandwritten Note 5 h 3Hand.Note Source FLNYDimensions [5 h x 3 w]Verbatim Seller Richard WalkerSeller Authority Walker, RichardTransaction SoldPrice £16.16Verbatim Buyer BirchBuyer Authority Birch, CharlesPrevious Owner Earl of BesboroughPrev.Own.Source CataloguePrev.Owner Auth. Bessborough, Earl ofPrevious Sales 1801/02/07 LOCH (0077)Present Location London, England, UK. Dulwich Picture Gallery (233) as Ribera follower
  • Work Nationality: Italian
  • Support: Canvas
  • Provenance: London, Christie's, Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough, sale, 7 Feb. 1801, lot 77 (as by Caravaggio, ' A Portrait of the famous Bolognese Locksmith, of singular character, painted with the Insignia of his Trade, in a grand and masterly Manner'). Bt Myers jnr for £36.15; London, Christie's, Richard Walker sale, 15 Mar. 1803, lot 4 (as by Caravaggio, 'The Locksmith of Bologna, from the Collection of the Earl of Besborough'). Bt Charles Birch, for £16.16; London, Sir Francis Bourgeois by 1810 (according to a note in sale catalogue, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art); Bourgeois Bequest, 1811.
  • Further Information: "This is a rare - if not unique - instance of a locksmith being portrayed alone in a relatively large painting. In the nineteenth century the picture was described as the 'famous Bolognese Locksmith' and later as the 'Locksmith of Antwerp'; it is doubtful, however, that it represents a specific individual. It more likely relates to the representation of a locksmith in the series of prints of Le Arti di Bologna - a group of engravings depicting various trades, after designs by Annibale Carracci. It is unclear if we are in front of a straightforward genre painting, or if a further meaning was envisaged. It has been suggested that the picture could be related to a contemporary Neapolitan proverb: 'Chiave incinto, Martino dinto' ('You can lock up your wife / daughter and keep the key on your belt, but her lover will get in'). The attribution remains uncertain. The painting was bought by Bourgeois and Desenfans as a Caravaggio, and later attributed to Pietro della Vecchia, Ribera and then to Luca Giordano. It seems, however, that the Locksmith was painted by a Neapolitan follower of Ribera: the picture is similar in format and size to Ribera's Five Senses - in particular Smell - which were painted before 1620, and the painterly rendering of the hands in particular is close to the Spanish master."
  • Artist: Italian (Neapolitan)
  • Acquisition Method: Bourgeois, Sir Peter Francis (Bequest, 1811)

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