Mercury Leading Geography
29.6 cm x 26.1 cm (11 5/8 in. x 10 1/4 in.)
Giovanni Battista Gaulli (Baciccio)
(Genoa, Italy, 1639 - 1709, Rome, Italy)
Medium and Support:
Pen and iron gall ink with brush and brown and gray washes over black chalk on cream antique laid paper, laid down
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection, 2017
Rooted in the Genoese school, shaped by a long collaboration with Gianlorenzo Bernini, and inspired specially by Correggio, Baciccio’s style is the most complete expression of the High Baroque in painting. Overwhelming in their illusionism and ecstatic in their spirituality, his frescoes, above all in the Gesù (1672–1683), represent the culmination of Roman ceiling painting. Similarly, his altarpieces, mythological works, and portraits are incomparable in their robust sensuousness and vibrant color.
This is a study for an engraved frontispiece in the most important atlas of the period in Rome. Although less known for such projects, Baciccio was a successful designer of book illustration. Surprising on this scale, the undulating rhythm and the intertwined form evoke his monumental decoration. At the same time, the composition is conditioned by the diagonal scheme of the conventional late Baroque. The space is more measured in construction, like that of classical landscape. The attitudes and behavior too seem more systematically conceived and carefully staged. This tempering of Baciccio’s characteristic exuberance would have facilitated the design’s translation into engraving. But it is also symptomatic of his late concessions to academic style.
Baciccio’s work is represented in the museum by a portrait painting, two oil sketches, and three other drawings.