117.5 x 93.5 cm / 46.2 x 36.8 in Provenance:
Alessandro Morandotti, Rome;
Rome, Palazzo Massimo, Cinque pittori del Settecento: Ghislandi, Crespi, Magnasco, Bazzani, Ceruti, 1943, n. 84;
Milan, Palazzo Reale, I pittori della realtà in Lombardia, 1953, n. 118;
Turin, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Giacomo Ceruti e la ritrattistica del suo tempo nell’Italia settentrionale, 1967, n. 36.
G. Briganti, Cinque pittori del Settecento a Palazzo Massimo, in “Emporium”, XCVII, 1943, pp. 199, 200 ill.; A. Morandotti, Cinque pittori del Settecento: Ghislandi, Crespi, Magnasco, Bazzani, Ceruti, Roma 1943, cat. Esp., p. 112, n. 84 ill.; I pittori della realtà, Milano 1953, cat. Esp., p. 66, n. 118, tav. 118; A. Grisieri, Bilancio di una mostra: I pittori della realtà in Lombardia, in “Emporium”, CXVIII 1953, p. 68; M. Liebmann, I “Pittori della realtà” in Italia nei sec. XVII-XVIII, in “Scritti dedicati al 50mo anniversario del Museo di Belle Arti Puskin”, Mosca 1962, rist. in “Acta Historiae Artium, Academia Scientiarum Hungaricae” 1969, p. 277; G. Testori, Giacomo Ceruti, mostra di trentadue opere inedite, Milano 1966, cat. Esp., p. 30; L. Mallè, The Barons and Beggars of Giacomo Ceruti, in “Art News”, LXVI, march 1967, p. 27 ill.; L. Mallè, G. Testori, Giacomo Ceruti e la ritrattistica del suo tempo nell’Italia settentrionale, Torino 1967, cat. Esp., p. 51, n. 26, tav. 12, p. 165; U. Ruggeri, Ceruti a Torino, in “Critica d’Arte, XIV, aprile 1967, p. 6; C. Volpe, Arte Italiana (dalle origini al Settecento), in “Enciclopedia Feltrinelli Fischer – Arte I, a cura di W. Hofmann e C. Volpe, Milano 1968, fig. 65; Dizionario Enciclopedico Bolaffi dei pittori e incisori italiani dall’XI al XX secolo, Torino 1972, II, p. 265, fig. 243; G. Previtali, La periodizzazione della storia dell’arte italiana, in “Storia dell’arte italiana”, I, Torino 1979, fig. 101; V. Caprara, voce Ceruti, Giacomo Antonio, in “Dizionaro Biografico degli Italiani”, Roma 1980, p. 62; M. Gregori, Giacomo Ceruti, Bergamo 1982, p. 176 n. 47, pp431 – 432; F. Porzio (a cura di), Da Caravaggio a Ceruti. La scena di genere e l’immagine dei pitocchi nella pittura italiana, cat. Esp., Milano 1998, p. 68 fig. 6.
Since 1943, when Alessandro Morandotti first exhibited it in Rome anticipating the taste of decades to come, the present painting has been considered one of the crudest, yet most modern images ever produced by Giacomo Ceruti. After that 1943 exhibition, The moor beggar appeared at other two shows; the famous one at the Palazzo Reale in Milan curated by Roberto Longhi in 1953 entitled I Pittori della Realta’ and the 1967 monographic exhibition in Turin, the last occasion on which it appeared in public.
Every scholar who published the work since addressed it with admiration. The last of them –chronologically speaking- is Alessandro Morandotti, Jr (the grandson of the aforementioned Morandotti who first discovered the painting), who describes it at the same time with reverence and sympathy in a 1998 essay entitled Poveri, pitocchi, emigrant: fonti figurative e storia sociale [Beggars, tramps, migrants: images and social history].
The present canvas can be compared in style and quality to the eighteen works that in the 19th century constituted the so called Ciclo di Padernello, universally recognised as Ceruti’s masterpiece, and is thus to be dated around 1720.
Identifying the iconographical sources of such a bizarre picture, instead, has proved more complex. The 1953 exhibition catalogue suggests a possible relation between the present work and some works produced by Giovanni Benedetto Castilgione some seventy years earlier in Mantua, whilst Alessandro Morandotti found distant correlations with gipsy depictions in 17th century genre painting and stressed the popularity of such images in Venice. “It is likely that the moor beggar portrayed here has actually existed” Morandotti writes, “but Ceruti must have portrayed him as Pietro Longhi depicted the rhinoceros which arrived in Venice in 1751, i.e. as a curious and unusual view that raised interest among local aristocrats.”
In fact, depictions of people of African origins are rather frequent in western art and in 16th to 18th century Italian paintings, as a recent essay by Paul Kaplan has demonstrated (Italy, 1490 – 1700 in The Image of the Black in Western Art, III, Harvard 2010, pp. 92-189). Originally appearing in religious narrative works where they were portrayed as either executioners or wise kings, moors became more and more frequent in Venetian paintings from the 1500s onwards. Some of the most renowned examples are the two servants in Laura Dianti and Portrait of Fabrizio Salvaressa by Titian, and the servants in The Wedding at Cana and The House of Levi by Veronese. Later on, in the 17th and 18th century, moor pages became very common in the visual culture of all Europe. However, the present Moor beggar is different from the aforementioned examples for his monumental pose and for the moral dignity that seems to emanate from him, two characteristics that, as argued by Alessandro Morandotti, are a constant presence in Ceruti’s genre paintings.