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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Giovanni Antonio Galli

Christ Displaying His Wounds, 17th-century, Giovanni Antonio Galli
Every so often in writing about art I refer to a generic group I call "art experts." That's quite unprofessional of me in that such a designation is very much a layman's term. Lumped into this group are museum curators, restorers, investigators, historians, all manner of critics, and for my purposes today, let me include those who attribute art to individual artists. Let's call them attributors. I'm not sure there is such a word, but let's run with it anyway. The attribution process can be complex, time-consuming and costly. Thus the work of attributors usually occurs only when a painting has the requisite artistic merit. Such professionals are not to be confused with another type of art experts--appraisers. The two frequently work hand in hand but they are not usually one and the same, though some may share certain areas of expertise. All these people are highly trained in their specialties and are paid quite well for their efforts, but believe me, they earn their money. The reason being that when there is fine art there is also fine money which does not much care for uncertainties. Carelessness or an error of judgment can cost an investor millions.
The Denial of St Peter, 1615-18, Giovanni Antonio Galli
The Guardian Angel
(Rieti, St. Rufo Church),
Early 17th-century,
Giovanni Antonio Galli
Let's take the 17th-century Italian painter, Giovanni Antonio Galli as a case in point. First of all there's the family name "Galli." The first question to arise is which Galli. When you lump in the intermarriage of the Bibiena family deriving from papa Giovanni Maria Galli, who was born in Bibbiena, (just outside) Florence, Italy, around 1625, with the even older name of our Giovanni Antonio Galli, (also called lo Spadarino), born in 1585, who may or may not have been related, you have your first layer of complexity. The Galli-Bibiena family has a roster of exceptional artists numbering a dozen or more stretching well into the 18th-century (who are all related). That's a second layer of complexity. When you add to that another Giovanni Galli, who is a retired Italian footballer (soccer) goalkeeper, now a politician; and still one more Giovanni Galli, born in 1954, who paints in an Art Brut style, there looms a third layer of complexity. So much for the family tree (more akin to a hedgerow, actually).
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, 1620, Giovanni Antonio Galli
Saint Sebastian, 17th-century,
Giovanni Antonio Galli
(What? Only one arrow?)
Giovanni Antonio Galli was a Baroque painter, also a Caravaggisti (followers of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio). Right there is a fourth level of complexity. So powerful was the influence of Caravaggio that he had followers numbering in the hundreds sprinkled about in virtually every art capital in Europe. He would probably have had even more except that the Black Plague of 1656-57 wiped out a good many them and marked the decline of his anti-Michelangelo (Buonarroti) style. Moreover, Giovanni Antonio Galli was among the best at painting in the manner of Caravaggio. Ironically, after Caravaggio's death in 1610, he was largely forgotten. Many of his painting came to be misattributed to his followers (including Galli). Some 20th-century art attributors have made whole careers out of correcting the attribution errors of their forbearers. That would easily constitute the fifth and most complex layer of difficulty Galli's work presents.

Roman Charity, 1620-52, attributed to Giovanni Antonio Galli
Three Boy Martyrs,
Giovanni Antonio Galli
One particular art historian, Roberto Longhi, was one who made a career straightening out the Galli family mess. You see, Giovanni Antonio Galli had a lesser-known brother, Giacomo Galli, who was a gilder, picture framer, and artist. In 1943 Longhi identified Giovanni Antonio Galli as the painter of a number of works previously attributed to his picture-framing brother. He based his reattribution on stylistic comparisons with The Miracle of Saint Valerie and Saint Martial, the Giovanni Antonio's only surviving documented work before the discovery of his frescoes in the Palazzo Madama. That, in effect, adds a sixth level of complexity to the Galli saga. Giovanni Antonio Galli died around 1651 (approximately sixty-six years of age). Had he lived longer, the work of today's "art experts" might well have taken on still more layers of complexity.

David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1650, Giovanni Antonio Galli

Heads of Cherubs, Giovanni Antonio Galli


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