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Belluno 1689 – 1767 Venice

The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine

The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine

Pen and brown ink, brown wash over black chalk

14 ¼ x 9 ¾ inches (top corners rounded off)

362 x 248 mm

Executed circa 1742

This is a finished composition drawing for Gaspare Diziani’s now lost altarpiece of the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine, painted for the church of San Basso, Venice, which was deconsecrated by Napoleon in 1807 and suppressed in 1810. For the same church, Diziani had also painted a Saint John of Nepomuk and a Saint John of Nepomuk with the Virgin in Glory

Two further preparatory drawings for the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine are known: a pen and ink sketch in the Museo Correr, Venice,² focusing on the figure groups, and a more elaborate drawing, also in pen and ink, in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main (fig. 1).³ Although many of the elements of the composition are present in the Städel sketch, our sheet expresses a more advanced stage in the painting’s conception and is typical of Diziani’s elegant draughtsmanship. The flowing outlines are combined with the extensive application of brown ink wash in various shades to define the figures’ volume and illumination effects. The group of music-making angels and the architectural setting, defined by the steps in the mid-foreground and the imposing column to the right, are both reminiscent of illustrious Venetian precedents, particularly Veronese’s Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine now in the Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice, and the directly-inspired Virgin and Child Enthroned executed by Diziani’s master Sebastiano Ricci for San Giorgio Maggiore, Vicenza.

Although Diziani’s altarpiece is lost, its appearance may be deduced from what is thought to be its modello, now in a private collection (fig. X).⁴ This small-scale preparatory oil study corresponds in most details to our drawing, with some exceptions. For instance, changes occur in the poses of the pair of winged putti in the foreground, whose attention is diverted to a piece of the broken wheel symbolizing the Saint’s martyrdom. Both the wheel and a classical frieze fragment evoke another famous precedent, Guido Reni’s Martyrdom of Saint Catherine (Museo Diocesano, Albenga). A variation is also present in the figure of Joseph, whose body is turned towards the viewer and brought closer to the central group, in the modello.

One of the most prolific draughtsmen in eighteenth-century Venice, Gaspare Diziani was a successful painter of altarpieces, large decorative schemes, and devotional paintings, as well as a designer of stage sets. After his initial training in his native Belluno, he joined the workshop of Sebastiano Ricci in Venice. Diziani’s skills and speed of execution were soon noticed in Italy and abroad.⁵ From 1717 he worked on several commissions in Munich and Dresden. In 1720 he returned to Venice where he remained for the rest of his successful career. The largest collection of Diziani’s drawings is preserved at the Museo Correr, Venice, probably formerly owned by Zaccaria Sagredo (1653–1729). The Venetian patrician was an early admirer of Diziani and, in particular, of his drawings.⁶

  1. A. P. Zugni Tauro, Gaspare Diziani, Venice, 1971, p. 107.

  2. Inv. 5634, pen and black ink, 258 x 183 mm; T. Pignatti, Disegni Antichi del Museo Correr di Venezia, Venice, 1981, vol. 2, p. 36, cat. no. 251 and fig. 251.

  3. Inv. 13249; pen and brown ink over black chalk, 397 x 280 mm.

  4. Oil on canvas, 48 x 40.5 cm, inscribed in pencil on the frame in a nineteenth-century hand, Modello eseguito di Gas. Diziani pel quadro grande che fece per la chiesa di S. Basso nel 1742; R. Mangili, Dipingere sacro sotto l'ultima Venezia: Settecento di laguna e di terraferma occidentale, Milan, 2006, p. 104, illustrated.

  5. V. Da Canal, Vita di Gregorio Lazzarini, Venice, 1732, pp. 34-35.

  6. Da Canal, op. cit., p. 35: Erano così distinti i di lui disegni, che innamoratone il N. H. Zaccaria Sagredo ne seppe e volle unire un grande volume.

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