A Francesco Maffei Bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum

Francesco Maffei (1605–1660)
Hagar and the Angel, c. 1657
Oil on Canvas - 106 x 137.2 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo : Metropolitan Museum

3/5/12 - Acquisition - New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Metropolitan Museum of Art received a bequest in the form of a painting by Francesco Maffei which we had overlooked in our news item of 24 April [1] and which joined the museum collections in 2012. Representing Hagar and the Angel (ill.), dating from around 1657, this is a late work produced when the artist left Vicenza for Padoua where he died in 1660. As suggested in the Met´s entry, itself quoting an article by Paola Rossi [2], the style of the work is in fact rather close to that of The Visitation, painted in 1657 for the master altar in the Proti oratory, Vicenza.
The painter illustrates a famous episode from Genesis (21 : 14-9) : being driven away at Sarah´s request after having given birth to Ihsmaël, Abraham´s Egyptian servant "left and wandered in the desert of Beer-Sheba. When there was no more water left in the goatskin, she set the baby down below a tree. [...]God´s angel called Hagar in the heavens and said to her : [...] Rise, take the child and hold him by the hand ; I will beget a great nation from him. And God opened her eyes and she saw a water well and she went and filled her goatskin with water and made the boy drink."
Ishmaël is barely visible in the shadows, at the foot of the tree, while Hagar, unexpectedly, is richly dressed in a red and gold cloak ; she is expressing both a supplication and a question, confirming the direction the angel is indicating towards the well which is to save her son´s life. This kneeling figure, with open arms, placed in front of a tree trunk split in two, might be inspired, according to Paola Rossi and Giuseppe Maria Pilo [3], from an engraving by Giulio Carpioni representing Christ in the Garden of Olives.
A variation, later than the one now at the Met, resides at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan. Moreover, a small painting by Maffei illustrating the same subject was auctioned at Christie´s London on 3 December 1997 where it sold for 5,175 pounds. The composition is reversed in a way since Hagar is seen face on, while the angel in profile, is descending from heaven and is placed at her level. Finally, a third work can be found in the photobase of the Fondation Zeri, located in Turin, no doubt belonging to a private collection.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, lundi 7 mai 2012


[1] Our thanks to Paul Jeromack for pointing out this omission.

[2] Paola Rossi, Francesco Maffei, Milan, 1991.

[3] Giuseppe Maria Pilo, Carpioni, Venice, 1961.

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