Guido Cagnacci’s David purchased by the Getty

Guido Cagnacci (1601-1663)
David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1645/1650
Oil on canvas, 108 x 85.5 cm
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
Photo : J. Paul Getty Museum

22/4/09 – Acquisition – Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum – Various publications first contributed to a more complete catalogue of Guido Cagnacci fifty years ago [1], but art lovers have appreciated him for much longer. The Forli exhibition last year reminded those who may have forgotten him of his major standing in Baroque painting. The show’s title placed his style between the art of Caravaggio and Guido Reni [2], something common to many artists and a bit simplistic. True, he owes the first an exalted Naturalism with its luminous “clair-obscur” and an infallible purist technique to the second but his contacts with Ludovico Carracci, Guercino and other painters must not be overlooked. His particular and almost provocative status lies not so much in the subjects (almost all painted by Reni, for example) as in their original treatment. Cagnacci’s ability to create excessively refined, ambiguous and eroticized images recalls more such artists as Francisco del Cairo, Nicolas Régnier and Francesco Furini. The characterization of his martyrs, which some might qualify as sadomasochistic, his interpretation of mystical ecstasy as sensual pleasure, seem to certain critics similar to the objectives of contemporary art. To this one should add the charm of an extravagant life, bohemian and stormy, which can perhaps be perceived as running over into his painting.

Very few of his works can be found on the art market, particularly since not all of them reflect this troubling “morbidessa”. Among the rare examples which are available, the Getty had requested the loan of the very beautiful David with the Head of Goliath (ill.) for its current exhibition, Captured Emotions, devoted to 17th century Bolognese painting and which it has in fact now purchased. It belonged to the collector Girolamo Etro, a fashion designer. We have too often criticized here [3] the lack of risk and originality in some of the choices made by this California museum but now take the opportunity to welcome this discerning acquisition. Let us also point out that in Los Angeles, the Norton Simon Foundation, holds a masterpiece by Cagnacci, Mary Magdalene Reprimanded [4], and that another David with the Head of Goliath, with an identical composition but where the biblical hero is shown nude wearing a red head-dress, instead of the blue colours of the Getty canvas, is at the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina.

Version française

Michel de Piles, jeudi 23 avril 2009


[1] We will only point out the monograph by Pier Giorgio Pasini, Guido Cagnacci, Rimini, 1986.

[2] Daniele Benati, Antonio Paolucci, Guido Cagnacci, protagonista del Seicento tra Caravaggio e Reni, Forli, Musei San Dominico from 20 January to 22 June 2008. Internet website :

[3] See news items of 29/12/08, 22/10/08, in French 17/03/04.

[4] A painting also sought by the Louvre, twenty-five years ago, as Arnaud Bréjon de Lavergnée recalled on this site (in French) recently.

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