Pietro Antonio Magatti - inv. 3208

Pietro Antonio Magatti (1691-1767)

Saint Carlo Borromeo
17th century, second half
82,2 x 69,5 cm
1955 donation Vincenzo Scotti
Inv. 3208

Trivulzio Room
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Pietro Antonio Magatti worked for most of his life in Varese, his native city, and in Lombardy. His work was strongly influenced by the great Lombard painters of the 17th century and this portrait clearly recalls the Fasting of Saint Carlo by Daniele Crespi (1598-1630), in the church of Santa Maria della Passione in Milan.
In Crespi’s work Saint Carlo is seated at a table in his cardinal’s robes reading a book as he consumes a frugal meal of bread and water. In front of him, a crucifix leans against another table. His fasting and wakes have made his skin ashen and ill-looking, though his face, in its composure and concentration, does not express much effort or suffering. Magatti was inspired by the position of Crespi’s Saint Carlo, who rests his head against a white kerchief: a detail invented by Crespi to describe physical tiredness contrasting with the saint’s indomitable will.
Magatti depicts the bishop in the same position but from a much closer point of view and with very theatrical effects of light. On the table, in place of the book, there is a skull, the classic memento mori. His clothes are ample and vaporous with elegant lace at the sleeves. His skin has taken on a greenish hue; his face is so sunken one can almost see his skull below the skin; his bony hand in the foreground is charged with tension. There is no trace of the composure of Daniele Crespi’s saint; in Magatti’s work the saint is overwhelmed with violent emotion as he contemplates the crucifix that is not in the picture.
In line with the sensitivity of the new century Magatti’s lighter and softer brushstrokes succeed in providing a more worldly version with more pathos of the image of Saint Carlo.