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Benedict on a cloud in a blue sky, and Dolci is said to have made studies of it from a picture that was already in possession of another brotherhood. Composition was [43] never his strong point. He painted another standard for the Benedictines, to their great delight, and in the following year a St. Dominic on wood, and the famous Angel of the Lily. Carlo Dolci was now a married man, for in , apparently on the advice of his friends, he married the Signora Teresa di Giovanni. The suggestion that Carlo Dolci married to order is supported to some extent by the incidents of the marriage day.

Baldinucci tells us that the painter's friends and family, together with the friends and family of his wife, were all gathered together, but Carlo did not keep his appointment, and messengers were despatched all over the city to find him. He was not at home, he was not with the Benedicts, he was not in the churches he favoured most, and dinner-time had come round when some happy searcher [44] found the painter in a church that the others had overlooked. Having scolded him for forgetting his appointment, the bride forgave her absent-minded partner, and the marriage took place. It was a very happy one.

Some time after this alliance, and when he had passed his fortieth year, Carlo Dolci turned his attention to fresco, and painted a figure of God the Father, the Holy Ghost, and four archangels. We learn that one of his pupils painted in the other angels, and this little fact is worth noting, because it shows that Carlo Dolci had reached the period of his life in which the demands for his work could not be satisfied without assistance, and he had been forced to follow the example of great predecessors.

We know that Titian and Tintoretto and other masters of the Renaissance period in Italy never scrupled to avail themselves of the [45] services of clever pupils, and many a picture that left the studio with the master's name upon it did not receive more than the slightest touch of the master's brush. This scandal, for so we must describe it, has been common to nearly every period in the development of art, and was perhaps justified to some small extent in days when artists were not rewarded on a generous scale.

While their commissions came from patrons who would not brook delay, and were quite well able to make their anger effective, it was unwise to be too scrupulous about the means to an end. For the preparation of a canvas and the painting in of draperies for portraits the use of pupils may escape adverse criticism, but when the pressure of commission became very serious, too many great artists have succumbed to the temptation of leaving the bulk of the work [46] to be painted by a pupil, trusting to a few skilled touches to give the completed canvas the stamp of their own individuality.

We have no means of saying how far Carlo Dolci indulged in a custom that was common to his time. We are quite sure that had he thought it an immoral one he would have abandoned it without hesitation. After turning his attention to fresco work the painter sent a St. Agatha to Venice, together with a portrait of St. John the Evangelist, and a picture entitled Sincerity, a woman garlanded with lilies.

For another picture sent to Venice, representing Christ crowned with flowers and sitting at the entrance of a garden, Dolci received scudi, a rather considerable sum when it is compared with those that were generally paid for his pictures. This picture was so successful that he painted another version [47] of it in for a daughter of the Archduke Ferdinand and Anna de Medici. For this he received no less than scudi, and the Marquis Runecini paid the same price for a picture of St. John, in which the saint sees in a vision a lady trampling a dragon under foot. Among other works belonging to this period are a St.

Girolamo, a St. Luke, and a St. Benedict, all commissioned by his doctor, Signor Lorenzo. For one of the Corsini family Dolci painted St. Anthony with a skull in his hand, and for Signor Corbinelli the full-length life-size canvas of the figure of St. For the Scalzi Brotherhood he painted the picture of the Eternal Father that was placed over the high altar, and a picture of Herodiade with the head of St. John the Baptist. A David with the head of Goliath was painted for the Marquis Runecini, and a copy was [48] made for the English ambassador in Florence.

Carlo Dolci (1616-1686)

This picture created a sensation when it was sent to England, and brought the painter many commissions for the portraits of Englishmen. The head of the Corsini house had given Dolci certain commissions, and they were so well executed that requests followed for another St. John, and a picture of King Casimir of Poland. The St. Cecilia playing the organ, which was sent to Poland, was painted shortly afterwards.

This picture, painted for a Roman patron, is at present to be in the Corsini Palace, Rome. It has, however, not been so well preserved as some of the best work from the same hand. About this time Sustermans, a painter some of whose work may be seen and admired in Florence to-day, was commissioned to paint a portrait of Claudia, daughter of the Grand-duke Ferdinand and Anna de Medici, on the occasion of her marriage with the Emperor Leopold.

But Sustermans on account of his great age could not accept the commission, and it was then offered to [50] Carlo Dolci, who, although he had lived so long, and had achieved so large a measure of renown, had never travelled beyond the walls of Florence. He arrived in Holy Week, when, according to his rule of life, he would not paint secular subjects, but as soon as Easter had come to an end he began the portrait commissioned, and was then asked by the Duke to paint a second one of the same subject in a different pose.

He was asked to repaint or touch up several devotional pictures by great masters who had passed away, and he does not seem to have hesitated. It was sufficient for him that the pictures were of [52] a kind that met his approval; he asked nothing more, but set to work on the canvases of other men without a qualm.

Philip of Neri and gave it to him. It was characteristic of the man that on his return to his native city and before he took the picture he had painted to the Palace of the Medici, he went to the church in Florence at which he was accustomed to pray, and returned thanks for the happy termination of his travels. Then he was instructed by the Medici family to finish the [53] portrait, so that it might stand for Santa Galla Placidia, the Empress whose famous tomb may be seen in Ravenna to this day, and, indeed, is one of the show-places of that quaint old city.

Dolci then painted a very charming picture reproduced in these pages, the sleeping St. John with St. Zacharias and St. Elizabeth, and following the painting of this picture is associated the great misfortune of a life that had hitherto been pleasant and peaceful. The religious feelings that had been with him since the days when he was a little boy busily instructing his schoolfellows to turn from profane to sacred thoughts now degenerated into melancholy, and Dolci suffered from the true melancholia which baffles physicians to-day, and was then, of course, quite beyond the reach of palliative or cure.

Carlo Dolci (Getty Museum)

He could not speak without deep sighs; he was convinced that he had [54] lost all his ability as a painter, and that the world had no more use for him. His wife, who gave up much of her time and attention to him, suffered in health from the premature birth of a child, and then Baldinucci, who wrote the little biography of the artist that was printed in Florence in the early 'eighties, and is the foundation of our knowledge of the artist's life, took the painter away from Florence to the country to the house of one Domenico Valdinotti.

This man, an artist, had one or two pictures in his studio commissioned for wealthy patrons. He took up a palette with colours mixed, and gave it to Dolci, commanding him in sternest tones to finish a veil on one of the pictures of the Virgin. The painter obeyed, and succeeded so well in his task that all the doubt and fear that had clouded his life for the greater part of a year vanished in an hour, and he returned [55] to Florence with a perfectly healthy mind to finish the Santa Galla Placidia, and one or two altar-pieces, including one for the Church of San Francesco.

Dolci then received a commission from the Empress Claude to paint a canvas for the Imperial Palace, but as she died in the following April this work was not completed.

But he painted a fine martyrdom of St. Lorenzo and a striking picture of St. Francis of Assisi for the Duke. Then came more commissions from Venice, and the painter worked at half-a-dozen well-known pictures for that city. These pictures showed, perhaps, even more finish than those that had gone before, because concentration seems to have been the keynote of the painter's life, and while other men in all ages have used art as a means to an end, and have been unable to avoid the social [56] temptations that have beset them in the day of their success, Carlo Dolci, like Tintoretto before him, had no care for anything save his work.

So long as health was good he desired nothing better than to devote the whole day to labour, and his closest and most complete attention to what he had in hand. Of course, one only compares Dolci with Tintoretto in point of industry; all the developments that the great Venetian had made, all the truths he had discovered, were either unknown to Dolci or ignored by him. He was painting for a public that knew very little about art, and regarded exquisite finish as the surest sign of artistic accomplishment.

Consequently the painter did not seek to develop along lines of independent thought; he had no pressing need to do so while everything he could reasonably require in the way of patronage and commission was at his command. He admired Carlo Dolci's work very much, but used to rally him about the time he spent on it.

When I think of the , scudi I have earned since I took up the brush, I begin to fear that you will die hungry. This is one of the collection of portraits of artists painted, each by his own hand. As may be seen from the canvas, Dolci executed it in when he was approaching his sixtieth year. The canvas hangs in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

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It was perhaps a little unwise to talk in this fashion to a man who had been suffering from some form of brain disease, but it is certain that the words, though they were only spoken in jest, made a very deep impression upon the painter. Dolci had just finished an Adoration of the Magi, and had sent it to the Palace of the Duchess Vittoria. Receiving a summons from the Palace, he [58] went there and heard the Duchess express herself to him in terms of high praise. Then she sent his Adoration back to its wall and ordered one of Giordano's pictures to be brought to her. Can you believe that it was really painted in such a short time?

This unlucky remark brought back all the painter's forebodings. His friend and biographer tells us that the Duchess did not mean to hurt his feelings, she had admired his work for the qualities it possessed, and in praising Giordano's she had commented upon what had struck her most about it—that is, the rapidity with which it had been executed. From that hour the painter went about silent and miserable, he was seldom heard to speak, and then to add [60] to his troubles, his wife, to whom he had been devoted so passionately, died.

His melancholy returned, and his Confessor, remembering how successfully he had been treated in the country beyond Florence, ordered him to turn to a picture of St. Ludovic and paint the vestments of one of the figures on the canvas. Dolci did as he was told, but this time the effort was in vain. Doubtless his brain had been weakened by the first attack of melancholia, and fears for the future, coupled with the shock of a beloved wife's death, were altogether too much for the enfeebled constitution of a man of seventy.

He took to his bed, and died on the 17th of January , leaving a family of seven daughters and one son. Dolci was buried in the family vault in the Church of the Santissima Nunziata, where he had worshipped so long, and where one of his [62] friends had found him on his marriage day when he should have been with his bride. He did not leave much money behind him, but quite a large number of pictures that doubtless served his family in lieu of legacies at a time when the painter's work would be in greater demand than ever, because the limit of his output had been reached.

Looking at the art history of Florence we see that Dolci came very late into the [63] world.

Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

From the close of the fourteenth century, when Fra Angelico was born, down to the late years of the sixteenth century, when the last of the great masters seemed to pass away, Florence had enjoyed the services of a long series of distinguished artists. Lippo Lippi, Botticelli, Ghirlandajo, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Lorenzo di Credi, Andrea del Sarto, Bronzino, Cigoli, all these and many others whose names can hardly be recalled without delight flourished in Florence, and while they lived there the city's reputation filled all the rest of Italy with envy.

But neither a man nor his influence is everlasting; the great ones passed and left no successors; when Carlo Dolci appeared upon the scene the last trace of their influence had disappeared.

Mater Dolorosa

Consequently he brought his gifts to a city from which inspiration [64] had departed. The great achievements of the art world were no more than echoes. Florence had excelled herself in all directions. Painting had served her greatest men as no more than one form of expression. The greatest of them had sought to give their message to the world through the medium of more arts than one, and consequently, he who was a simpler painter was of comparatively small account. When Carlo Dolci was born, the time of great men having passed, no great forces were at work in his native city.

He did not have the advantage of travel, he was never called upon to struggle hard and anxiously for the necessities of life. In some ways he was regarded as an infant prodigy and treated as such, and it would be hard to say that the premature development of gifts however great has ever served their possessor [65] in the long run.

No man's work can be judged properly save in relation to his circumstances and his time, and, in order that we may avoid the danger of underrating Carlo Dolci's achievement and dismissing for obvious faults what we should praise for merit, we are forced to consider the case carefully lest we treat a deserving man with injustice. Bearing time, place, and limitations in mind, it is possible then to consider the painter without the prejudice that the most glaring defects of his art are calculated to arouse.

We have seen in the course of our necessarily short survey that Carlo Dolci lived to the established age of man, and started his work before he was in his teens, that no long journeys or extended sojourns in foreign countries withdrew him from the area of his normal activities; we have seen [66] that he never left Florence save on one occasion. And, as he was working throughout his life, his output would have been uncomfortably large but for the fact that he never allowed a canvas to leave his studio until every stroke that his brain could suggest, and his hand execute, had been added to it.

His conscientiousness alone availed to check his output, and so intent was he upon expressing himself as well as he could within the obvious limitations of his gift that he never attempted to grapple with the problems that beset bigger men. In composition, for example, Carlo Dolci was distinctly deficient; there is no more serious charge against him as an artist than that he could not compose a large figure picture.

If he had to devote himself to one, under the terms of some commission from a wealthy patron, he would not hesitate [67] to go to other masters in search of a composition that would suit his purpose. It may be put to his credit that he did these things openly, he does not seem to have claimed for himself the work that he borrowed from his contemporaries. In fact, it is quite probable that he knew his gifts did not lie in the direction of composition; he regarded it as something that did not matter very much, and was quite content with the praises that his single figure subjects received.

One cannot help thinking that he would have been very successful as a painter of miniatures. Dolci impresses us to-day with the feeling that he was a man who struggled valiantly and conscientiously with a very considerable gift, which he had neither the time nor the will to develop along the lines that lead from mediocrity to remarkable [68] achievement. Then again we must remember that the fates were not auspicious, he was not taken in the early days to the studio of a first-class master, he did not have the inspiration of great work.

By the time the seventeenth century had travelled over a third of its appointed course Florentine art, as we have seen, was hardly in a very flourishing condition. The days of great experiments and earnest striving had passed, and, although Venice is comparatively close to Florence, and was full even in Carlo Dolci's days of some of the world's most inspiring work, although the Venetians were delighted by Carlo Dolci's rich vivid colouring, and commissioned many pictures from his brush, there is no evidence to show that he ever visited the great city of the Adriatic, or that he found the time or the inclination to learn any of the lessons she has to teach.

This is one of the last efforts of Dolci. It hangs in the Pitti Palace, Florence. He seems to afford an example of what talent will do when it lacks adequate direction, and we see too the danger into which the art of the painter falls when his inclinations are too literary.


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For it was no part of Carlo Dolci's aim in life to express harmonies in colour and line, although such expression may be taken to be the beginning and end of all that is greatest in painting. Dolci was always keen on telling a story, always intent upon preaching a sermon in paint, always forgetful that the provinces of art and literature have a very wide boundary line.

It is rather interesting to compare the lives of Carlo Dolci and Fra Angelico of Fiesole, because each was a man who sought to express moral principles, sentiments, and belief on canvas, and, while the [72] one succeeded beyond all possibility of doubt, the other has met with only a modified success. Beato Angelico was influenced by the Dominicans as Dolci was by the Benedictines; each gave his life work to the service of the Church and the pursuit of virtues that the Church teaches man to practise. One laboured in the cloister and the other outside it, but oddly enough, he who came first and decorated the walls of St.

Mark's Convent knew the more about life and more about art, more about perspective and more about composition, than his successor, who followed so many years later. The truth is, perhaps, that when Fra Angelico came to the convent of the Dominicans the Renaissance was just blossoming in Italy. It was a season of great inspiration. Man and Learning were being discovered, and although some aspects of the discovery [73] were hidden from the good brother of St. Dominic, all the attendant enthusiasms came to him. Moreover, Angelico travelled and mingled freely with scholars and great artists, so that we can divide his life work into three stages, of which the second is better than the first, and the last is best of all.

On the other hand, when Dolci came on the scene the Renaissance had blossomed and budded and filled the face of the earth with fruit, but the fruit was already overripe. The great stimulus had passed; degeneration had set in, not only in the world of art. The mere fact that Carlo Dolci's gifts found an immediate acceptance shows that the times were not distinguished, and we do not find in Baldinucci's life of his friend one solitary suggestion that any of the great rulers who employed his brush ever turned to him with the request that he [74] should enter into competition with those who had gone before, that he should take a course of study and learning to strengthen the weak points of his work, sacrificing a little of its sweetness to gain some small measure of strength.

At the same time we must not underrate Carlo Dolci's work because we have outgrown it, since, as was suggested on an early page of this little essay, his charm in certain aspects is perennial, and although its powers to hold us must pass when we have turned to higher things, those who are following us will find pleasure and inspiration in the painter's art when they visit for the first time the galleries of Italy.

They will travel by easy degrees from pictures that please to those that call in the first place for study, and then for admiration and the recognition of masterpieces. There are Italian musicians known to all of us who have such a gift of sweetness that we cannot endure their melodies for long.

A song now and again, or some sparkling little work for piano or violin, gives us a passing thrill of pleasure, and then we turn with complete content to the clearer atmosphere and more serene moods of the great masters whose works endure for all time. So it is with Carlo Dolci; we go to him now and again, if only for a little while, conscious that sweetness as well as strength has its place in the world of art as in the world of music and letters. And we know, too, that criticism can say nothing worse about Carlo Dolci's gifts than that he was never able to turn them to the best account, that the rough diamond of his [76] talent was never in the hands of a competent lapidary.

His life is not one we are called upon to overlook, for his achievement, though it has little variety, is marked by certain definite qualities that call for recognition, even though these qualities are often moral rather than artistic. Dolci was eminently a sentimentalist; he had no redeeming vices; a little of the devilry of a Benvenuto Cellini would have been invaluable to him and to his art.

Carlo Dolci's painting of Saint Agatha returns to Osterley Park and House

Bardinucci, the first to write a detailed biography of Dolci, from an early age Dolci was deeply faithful and was a lifelong member of the Order of St. In addition to his large-scale religious works, around he began to paint relatively small-scale works depicting various half-length portraits of saints. This work is an extremely fine example of this type. The model for this image of the Madonna with folded hands can be found in the Madonna images of Titian, and the source for Titian's images may be found in the images of the Madonna that were extremely popular in Spain during the 16thth centuries.

Dolci's paintings of the Madonna in this style became quite popular; there is one known extant copy of this work and other images of the Madonna with slightly different compositions are known.