C. Cignani - Venere con amorini, approximately 1885
(Bologna, 1628 - Forlì, 1719)
Venere con amorini / Venus with Cherubs, approximately 1885
oil on canvas, 130 x 185 cm
Forlì, Art Collection of the Fondazione Cassa dei Risparmi di Forlì
In Storia pittorica della Italia Luigi Lanzi had indicated in Carlo Cignani the creator of a profound renewal of painting in Bologna, able to relaunch it to fame at a European level (L. Lanzi, Storia pittorica della Italia, IV, Milan 1824-25 ed. cons., pp.190-192). A great international success which involved, alongside a repertoire of religious paintings and more challenging and ambitious allegorical paintings, a conspicuous production of “chamber paintings” with delicate and sensual female figures: Danae, Flora and Venus, among which some lost versions, but mentioned by antique sources, in the Viennese collection of the Counts Schönborn-Buchheimschen, in the Davia residence in Bologna, in Palazzo Ugolini in Pesaro.
In a first critical hypothesis the work under review and has been referred to the period between 1662 and 1665, coinciding with the Roman stay of the artist, who came to the Capitol with the entourage of the Farnese Cardinal. Beatrice Buscaroli has recently proposed a dating close to 1685, placing both this painting, and a second version of the same - only slightly smaller, currently conserved in a private collection - at the time of the Self-portrait of the artist for Cosimo III of Tuscany, destined for the Gallery of the Uffizi. In 1686 a “Venus with cherubs that were only slightly less than real” by Carlo Cignani was indicated as being at his Royal Highness of Tuscany in the manuscript Muto Accademico Concorde di Ravenna e Acceso di Bologna (publ. in Pittori bolognese del Seicento nelle Gallerie di Firenze, exhibition catalogue curated by E. Borea, Florence, Gallery of the Uffizi, February-April 1975, Florence 1975, p. 215). A work by the artist with the same subject was mentioned in an inventory of 1698 of Palazzo Pitti and, subsequently, in that of the 1713 collection of the Grand Prince Ferdinand. The painting was reproduced in incision in approximately 1730 by Giovanni Antonio Lorenzini and the print was inserted in the volume dedicated to the collections of the Grand-Dukes (G. Viroli, in La tradizione rinnovata 2006, pp. 278-279.).
As Buscaroli suggests, the painting for Cosimo III, dispersed in unknown circumstances, may be plausibly recognised in Venus with Cherubs in a private collection that, for its extraordinary pictorial quality, can be considered among the masterpieces of the artist. Even the work under consideration, however, is certainly from his own hand, given the softness of the chiaroscuro passages, carefully studied from life in the drawing conserved in the Muzeum Narodowe of Warsaw, for the mysterious landscape with houses and woods that rise up in the distance and, finally, for the studied scenography with Venus who pushes the curtain away from herself, revealing her superb beauty.