Florence 1585 – 1644
oil on canvas, 148×120 cm
Initialled and dated GB F 1631
The rediscovery of this pair of paintings by one of the greatest Florentine artists of the Seventeenth century, Giovanni Bilivert, is an important one. The son of a Flemish goldsmith active at the Medici court, Bilivert, after a documented apprenticeship with the Sienese Casolani, passed to the school of Ludovico Cigoli, an artist who was to wield a determinant influence on his style: an underlying Venetianism declined on the characters of a “luxurious and redundant costumism” (Contini) which was to become, along with a predilection for everything theatrical and scenic, a peculiarity of Florentine art of those years. His first works as an independent artist date from 1610; he received very important commissions for prestigious venues, from the Medici court to the most important families of the capital of the Grand Duchy.
The two canvases we present feature, with the typical characters of the master, two saints who often appear together, Dorothea and Agnes, and who suffered the same tragic end at a young age during the years of the Roman persecutions around the 4th century. The former is shown in prayer in the instants before she is sacrificed, at the moment of the miraculous apparition of a child with roses, while Agnes, a twelve-year old who had decided to offer the Lord her virginity, is portrayed alongside a lamb, iconographic symbol which reminds of her cruel martyrdom. The painting featuring Saint Dorothea, which like the other is initialled and dated 1631, is the only known version of this elegant composition, which has many points in common with the Saint Catherine presented some years ago by Mina Gregori (in Storia delle arti in Toscana, il Seicento, Florence, 2001 fig. 9, p. 19). Interesting traces of reconsiderations may be noticed in the figure of the angel bringing flowers; they witness that the artist has made considerable changes while painting. Another two known version of the Saint Agnes which we are presenting exist; one has changed hands in the antiquarian market and the other is part of the Luzzetti collection (Disegni Italiani del Sei-Settecento, exhibition catalogue, Fiesole, 1991, p. 64). The latter is initialled and carries a date some years previous (1629) to our pendant. The Agnes presented here differs from both due to the angel which is dissolving on the left; it has probably been inserted to balance the composition with respect to the image of the other saint.