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Pensionante del Saraceni

French (?), active c. 1610/1620

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Pensionante del Saraceni ("boarder of Saraceni") is the name given to the unidentified artist whose style derives from Carlo Saraceni (1579-1620) and other Caravaggesque artists active in Rome in the second decade of the seventeenth century. In an important study of painters in the circle of Caravaggio, published in 1943, Roberto Longhi gathered together a group of four stylistically similar paintings, attributing them to an independent personality whom he called the Pensionante del Saraceni. Because Saraceni was known to be a francophile, at least one French artist lived in his house, and these paintings had a "vague French intonation," Longhi suggested that this "boarder of Saraceni" was a French artist. Considering this geometric construction of figures and the atmospheric quality surrounding them, most scholars have agreed that the Pensionante was French. Subsequent attempts to identify him with Jean Le Clerc (1585-1633), Guy François (before 1580-1650), Georges de la Tour (1593-1652), as well as the Fleming Jacob van Oost the Elder (1603-1671) have failed.

Since Longhi's identification of the Pensionante, twelve works have been associated with the artist. These paintings mostly represent half-length, expressionless figures set in unadorned surroundings. Gestures alone imply movement, and a dusky light bathes and softens the forms. These characteristics tend to impart a mysterious and quiet atmosphere to his paintings, which has made them popular with the public. None of the paintings is dated, but one is listed in an inventory of 1621, which may be a terminus ante quem for the Pensionante's entire oeuvre. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

Artist Bibliography

Longhi, Roberto. "Ultimi studi sul Caravaggio e la sua cerchia." Proporzioni 1 (1943): 23-24.
Ottani Cavina, Anna. Carlo Saraceni. Milan, 1968: 49-50.
Ottani Cavina, Anna. "Per il Pensionante del Saraceni." In Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Federico Zeri. 2 vols. Milan, 1984: 608-614.
De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 198-199.

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