Cornells Schut in Italy

Cornells Schut in Italy


3. C. Schut, Massacre of the Innocents. Canvas, 310 x 217 cm. Caen, Ste Trinité

We know very little about the way in which southern Netherlandish artists lived in Italy in the seventeenth century. Broadly speaking they can be divided into two groups: those who enjoyed the patronage of a princely maecenas, for whose court they worked on a steady basis (Rubens being the most famous example), and those who were connected with prosperous merchants of Netherlandish descent who had settled in the larger Italian centers, for whom they worked on an occasional basis, as Anthony van Dyck did for the painter and art dealer De Wael in Genoa. Combinations of these two modes of existence are also found.[9] There is no indication that Schut was in the permanent service of an aristocratic patron during his Roman years. Indeed, much of his artistic production in Italy seems to have been aimed at the free market. And yet the paintings that have survived can all be associated with three important patrons, which is an indication of the fame Schut achieved in Italy.

The best documented are the frescoes Vulcan’s Forge (fig. 14) and Bacchus and Ariadne with which Schut and the Dutch painter Tilman Kraft decorated the Casino Pescatore in Frascati in 1627. These works have been published and discussed by D. Bodart and N. de la Blanchardière,[10] and all that can be added here is that they attest to Schut’s good relations with wealthy Netherlandish merchants. Pieter de Visscher (or Visschers), also known as Pietro Pescatore (1574-1646), was a merchant of Netherlandish origin. He was descended from Justus de Visscher of Oudenaarde, who settled in the Eternal City in 1549 and established the Banca Pescatore. Pietro Pescatore was extremely rich, and was a prominent member of the Netherlandish colony in Rome, serving for instance on the board of the Ospizio San Giuliano dei Fiamminghi. Regarding his support of southern Netherlandish artists in Rome, Passeri writes: “That Flemish gentleman called Pietro Pescatore always took pains to help his fellow countrymen.”[11] Pescatore is now primarily known as the patron of François Duquesnoy (1597-1643). The banker was instrumental in establishing him and his support was crucial in enabling Duquesnoy – who arrived in Rome in 1618, probably immediately before Schut – to become the most prominent sculptor of the Baroque, alongside Bernini. Bellori and Passeri tell us how Pescatore helped Duquesnoy to get started by ordering works from him before he had established his reputation with his large official commissions from churches.[12] The banker’s social status is demonstrated by the country estate he built and had decorated at Frascati, the abovementioned Casino Pescatore.

Of course I cannot “prove” that Schut would not have made a name for himself in Rome without Pescatore’s help, yet it is very plausible that the two were already on good terms before the end of Schut’s Roman sojourn, when he was commissioned to paint the frescoes for the Casino Pescatore, because it would help to explain why Schut’s work attracted the attention of Poussin. During that period Poussin was living with Duquesnoy, who, as we saw, was a favorite of Pescatore’s.[13]

Yet those works by Schut from which I think Poussin borrowed motifs, were not commissioned by Pescatore; they were two paintings ordered (or at least bought) by a far more famous Roman art collector: Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani. These two large religious compositions, obviously pendants, now hang in the Eglise de la Ste Trinité in Caen – an Adoration of the Magi (fig. 2),[14 ] and a Massacre of the Innocents (fig. 3),[15] both of which originated from the celebrated collection of the Roman marchese.[16] That these monumental scenes belonged to Giustiniani, who was the most influential Roman collector of the period, clearly demonstrates the esteem Schut enjoyed in Rome. Giustiniani’s outspoken preference for Netherlandish Caravaggesque works is well known. Honthorst and Van Baburen were among the northerners in Rome whom he favored.[17 ] This preference should of course be linked to Giustiniani’s intense interest in the oeuvre of Caravaggio himself. He was the artist’s principal patron during the latter’s later Roman years, after ca. 1599, when he executed his most tenebroso works.

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