Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist

WAG 1995.75


This drawing shows the Holy Family: the Virgin Mary in the centre holds up the Infant Christ, with Joseph at right shoulder. Mary looks down at the Infant John the Baptist in the lower right corner. The tender mood of this composition is typical of many of Cantarini's drawings of similar devotional themes, although the man himself was argumentative and volatile, according to the Bolgnese art commentator Malvasia. Cantarini was the son of a merchant. He became one of the most gifted engravers of his time and was one of the most eminent pupils of Guido Reni and Federico Barocci. He entered Reni's Bologna studio in 1635 but tired of using his etching skill to spread the fame of Reni's works. Reni's influence remains in this drawing however. In 1639, Cantarini left Bologna for Pesaro, where he had been born. He then moved to Rome before returning to Bologna on Reni's death in 1642. This drawing probably dates from that period of his absence from Bologna. He created two etchings and a paitning of the same theme imeddiately before and just after his arrival in Rome in 1640, although none have exactly the same composition. He would often draw several prepatory studies before etching the definitive one. Malvasia write 'There has been no more graceful and delightful a draughstamn since the days of Parmigianino.' There are three other drawings by him in the Weld-Blundell collection, all collected by William Roscoe. According to the catalogue of an exhibition in Edinburgh in 1972, the drawing's old mount was inscribed in ink 'Elisabetta Sirani' and in the handwriting of Gustave Friedrich Waagen (1794 - 1868) 'probably not of her, more of the Venetian school'. The attribution to Cantarini came from John Gere (1921 - 1995) of the British Museum.