Pier Leone Ghezzi
Susannah and the Elders
Private Collection, England, and by descent.
I. Kennedy, “A ‘Susanna and the Elders’, attributed to Pier Leone Ghezzi”, in Studi Romani, Jan. – Dec. 2012, pp. 252-54.
We are grateful to Ian Kennedy, who first attributed this painting to Pier Leone Ghezzi in his article published in the January-December 2012 edition of Studi Romani, for his assistance with this catalogue entry. Previously, this unpublished and undocumented painting had been attributed to Giuseppe Ghezzi, Pier Leone’s father (Anna Lo Bianco, based on photographs, written communication, 2004).
Kennedy observes: ‘The attribution to Giuseppe is understandable and the rugged and bearded features of the Elders and Susanna bear a family resemblance to the saints and Virgin in Giuseppe’s Pentecost in Fermo. The Susanna, however, has an astringency and an uncompromising painterly aggressiveness which seems more characteristic of Giuseppe’s son Pier Leone. This has become more apparent now that the painting has been cleaned. The most telling (quasi-Morellian) detail in favor of an attribution to Pier Leone is the bony right hand of the elder on the left, which is morphologically close to the right hand of St. Joachim in Pier Leone’s altarpiece of Sts. Joachim, Anne and Joseph (documented to 1731) in the Marchigian church in Rome, San Salvatore in Lauro. Both hands show a similar technique with the finger joints and sinews picked out in dry impasto. Another hand like these can be found in a St. Jerome in the Lemme collection, which has been dated to somewhat earlier, 1710-20’ (op. cit., pp. 252-53).
He goes on to compare ‘the incisive theatrical intensity of the upturned face of Susanna’ to the features of Beato Antonio della Torre in Pier Leone’s altarpiece for Sant’Agostino in l’Aquila (after 1725). Other indicators include the ‘gouged out concavity of the drapery over the shoulder of the right hand elder’, a quality that can also be seen in several of Pier Leone’s portraits; and the ‘flickering fingers’ of Susanna, which we see in the hand of Pope Clement XI, raised in benediction, in the Museo di Roma.
Kennedy notes that, while much of Pier Leone’s work appears ‘spiky’ and ‘restless’, the elegance and fluidity of this composition is very much in the French taste. After circa 1725, Pier Leone became closely associated with the French community in Rome, and it may be that this painting travelled to France at a relatively early date. Kennedy concludes: ‘Based on the comparisons with the 1731 painting of Three Saints in S. Salvatore, and the Beato Antonio della Torre in l’Aquila, a date of the late 1720s or early 1730s seems stylistically the most plausible. Overall the Susanna represents a dynamic and high quality example of the many rapprochements between the French and Italian Grand Manner in the age of the Barochetto’ (op. cit., p. 254).
The story of Susannah and the Elders is taken from the Old Testament Apocrypha (Susannah 15-24). As the beautiful and virtuous Susannah bathes in her garden, she is startled by two lustful elders, who threaten to accuse her of adultery if she does not submit to them. Susannah refuses and is falsely accused, but her innocence is proven by the young Daniel and she is saved.
The attribution to Pier Leone Ghezzi is also supported by Dr. Edgar Peters Bowron (private communication, 30 May 2015).