Painter active in the first half of the 17th century (Leonaert Bramer?), Nativity with adoration of the Shepherds
Oil on amethyst cm 9,5 x 6
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This small painting on amethyst depicts an intense Nativity, illuminated by the artificial light of a lighted lantern held in the hands by one of the two shepherds who witness the miraculous birth of the Infant Jesus. The refined luministic effects of the candle flame create lights and shadows intensifying the vision and focusing it on the figure of the Child from whom, in turn, the divine light radiates. The overall perspective effect, which features the protagonists on two floors to suggest the entrance of the shepherds in the cave of the Nativity, is strengthened by the unusual and precious support of purple quartz chosen to paint the scene, thanks to which it is increased and the glow diffused by the light and the Child spreads.
The use of valuable supports on which to create painted scenes spread between the 16th and 17th centuries and was particularly pleasing to the educated patrons who loved to keep these small wonders in study in close proximity, holding them in their hands to appreciate the changeability and particularity of the stones. The painters often chose the lapis lazuli, the alabaster, the touchstone or the village stone that suggested to them with its natural veins imaginary landscapes in which to place the protagonists of the scenes, religious or mythological, that were set there. Among the most experienced artist to best use this type of materials we can include Filippo di Liagno, known as Filippo Neapolitan (for whose works on the village stone, see the catalog of Bizzarrie di pietre dipinte dalle collezioni dei Medici, curated by M. Chiarini, Cinisello Balsamo, MI, 2001) or the Venetian Alessandro Turchi or Pasquale Ottino, specialists in slate painting. Much rarer among the artists is the choice of using the amethyst, of which only a few specimens are preserved, such as that of the 17thcentury Roman area with the Madonna, the Child and San Giovannino belonging to the Farnese family and now in Naples, Museo di Capodimonte (Museo e Gallerie nazionali di Capodimonte: la collezione Farnese, Milano 1996, vol. III, n. 6.95). A small but valuable collection was also to be that of Vittoria Barile, Duchess of Sicignano, who in Naples at the beginning of the 19th century kept in his palace near the monastery of Santa Chiara a small treasure of painted octagonal amethysts (see Getty Provenance Index Database Archival Inventory I-899, sub voce Barile).
Although it is difficult to offer certain names for the performers of these artifacts, in our case we can advance the hypothesis that he is a painter active in the first half of the 17th century, mindful of carraccesco naturalism and the wise luministic games of the Flemish and Dutch artists active in Rome. Among these we must consider especially Leonaert Bramer, a native painter from Delft, who made the artificial light a constant especially during the Roman stay. In particular affinities are found with the Adoration of the Magi of the National Gallery of Washington performed between 1628 and 1630. The figures, in particular that of the Child, with the flickering contours and the drapery trends, marked by luminous brushstrokes could suggest executive similarities, as well as the soft anatomy of the characters. The choice of the amethyst which support however denotes a high level artist.