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November 09, 2022

Acquisition: “The Finding of Moses“ by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, called Baciccio

Giovanni Battista Gaulli, "The Finding of Moses"

Giovanni Battista Gaulli
The Finding of Moses, c. 1685/1690
pen and black ink with brush and gray wash, heightened with white, over traces of black chalk on brown laid paper
sheet: 20.6 x 31 cm (8 1/8 x 12 3/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
William B. O'Neal Fund

Giovanni Battista Gaulli (1639–1709), called Baciccio, was the leading painter in late 17th-century Rome. He combined the brilliant color, fluid movement, and decorative extravagance of his Genoese training with the plasticity and mystical fervor of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), with whom he collaborated for almost 20 years. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Baciccio’s drawing The Finding of Moses (c. 1685/1690), the first work by the artist in any medium to enter the collection. Not only does this work demonstrate Baciccio’s relationship to sculpture and help to explain the transition from high baroque to the rococo, but it also advances the National Gallery’s representation of Genoese draftsmanship.          

The Finding of Moses recalls the popularity of this subject in Genoese art of the period, specifically of Paolo Veronese’s (1528–1588) many versions of the theme. The depiction of space ranges from a dense portrayal of the foreground to a light sketch of the background, while the movement of the figures is simultaneously sculptural and effortlessly mobile. A rich layering of techniques implies that the palette Baciccio used to create the work is unusually large and saturated for a drawing of the period. Despite the scale and economy of the work, the rhyming gestures and facial expressions of the figures portray sincere surprise, concern, and tenderness. This drawing reveals a creative process that is systematic, but completely personal, and demonstrates the Genoese preference for highly finished and marketable graphic works.

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