Saint Lawrence
SN 130, oil on wood panel, c1608

Francesco Curradi
Italian, 1570-1661

From "The Pages"

Francesco Curradi was born in Florence in 1570, and died there in 1661 at the age of 91. He has been generally overlooked by historians, partly due to the lack of 17th c. biographical information on his long career. A student of the Florentine late-Mannerist painter Giovanni Battista Naldini (1537-1591), Curradi was a prolific artist. He usually painted religious subjects, only occasionally including a secular work. Most of his pictures remain in Italy; about half-a-dozen are in N. America.

This is a full-length Baroque portrait of the patron saint of Florence, St Lawrence. Born in Spain, he was appointed archdeacon by Pope Sixtus II. When the pontiff was seized by the Romans and condemned to death, he commanded Lawrence to distribute the church’s property to the poor. Furious at being bilked of the fortune, the Roman prefect tortured Lawrence by binding him to a gridiron and burning him alive. During his grilling, Lawrence is purported to have said “Turn me over and cook the other side.” He died on August 10, 258 AD.

Full length, barefoot St Lawrence appears as a beardless youth holding a book in his right hand, with the gridiron (emblem of his martyrdom) in his left. He is dressed in a deacon’s dalmatic, made of sumptuous fabric. Calm and serene, the whole image is one of intense religious devotion. St Lawrence’s face appears melancholy, nostalgic. The profound piety of the picture accords with the strong religious convictions of the artist.

Stylistically it fits somewhere between late Mannerist and early Baroque painting. Initially trained as a Mannerist, Curradi soon began to imbue his work with the new spirit of the Counter Reformation. Sacred images were to be more lifelike, to appear capable of achieving direct communication of spiritual convictions. His Mannerist origins still affect anatomy, though…the head seems way too small for the body. Altho’, to be fair, often such stiff, heavy robes often seemed to be wearing the man rather than vice versa!

This painting spent several years in storage before its debut under new and definitive attribution. John Ringling purchased it in 1927 from the Holford Collection as a work by Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri,1581-1641), one of the great Bolognese artists. That attribution was discarded, as well as one to Gregorio Pagani (1558-1605).

There is another painting, virtually identical, in the chapel of S Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi in Florence, which is actually signed by Curradi and dated 1608. Only minor details differ, and finally in 1987 ours was returned to the oeuvre of Curradi by Mina Gregori.