Alessandro Magnasco and Antonio Peruzzini - inv. 249 250
Together with this pair of paintings, the Museum possesses a further two large-size works (inv. 251 and inv. 252) attributed to Magnasco: all four depict landscapes animated by small figures. The two paintings considered here have the same provenance and were probably ordered by a rich patron to decorate the rooms of his house. In the past, the canvases were attributed to Magnasco, but now, after restoration, only the figures are held to be by him, while the landscapes are considered to be by Antonio Francesco Peruzzini.
Already in the latter part of the 16th century, artists had begun to specialise and to work, in successive phases, on the same painting. Alongside the painter of figures, at the peak of the professional hierarchy, were also the landscapist, the perspective painter, the painter of ruins (specialised in ruined classical buildings), and the painter of small figures, skilful at populating the landscapes. As a general rule, the landscape painter was superior to the painter of small figures, but, in Magnasco's case, the opposite was true. The Genoese painter's originality soon aroused the curiosity of art lovers and his decidedly unusual figurines were immediately much appreciated by collectors.
Magnasco's small figures fall into at least three different types. There are figures for sacred scenes: religious people at prayer, tempted by demons, in procession. Or characters from mythological scenes, such as fauns, putti, scantily clad women. Finally, there are figures appropriate to pastoral scenes, such as travellers, peasants and shepherds. Evidently, these figurines made landscape paintings more animated and enjoyable in the eyes of Magnasco's sophisticated patrons, who took pleasure in observing these minute characters.