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Pier Francesco Mola

(Coldrerio, Canton Ticino,1612 - Roma,1666)

Young Satyr drinking through a reed

Oil on canvas, 26 ³/₄" x 20 ⁷/₈"

+41 91 6828980


With their study of an artist’s oeuvre, chronology, documented or lost works, collection inventories and sale catalogues, monographs often lead to felicitous rediscoveries, and our painting illustrates just that. Having recently published a richly wide-ranging book on Pier Francesco Mola (2012), and thanks to attentively-transcribed references, Francesco Petrucci has succeeded in finding a link in the chain of provenance for the Young Satyr Drinking through a Reed by Pier Francesco Mola, which resurfaced not long ago in a private collection in Lugano. 

In an unusual presentation, our little satyr is shown in profile, sucking divine nectar (and not blowing, as the early inventory reference has it) from a low-set, open barrel, against an evening landscape. The sun has already set, its last glow suggested by the highlights on tree-branches and the satyr’s little goat-legs. The penumbra of the start of nightfall is propitious to excess, and therefore provides the ideal moment for a consecration to Bacchus. The scene thus takes place against a landscape background, a setting especially favoured by Mola, who was also very fond of mythological tales. The economy of means and darkish tones are perfectly suited to the moment shown here, which is like a snapshot, as if we were about to surprise the little satyr, totally absorbed in his pastime. 

Everything would suggest – given the description cited under Provenance, above – that our composition belonged to Gaspar de Haro y Guzmán, 7th Marquess del Carpio, Spanish Ambassador to Rome between 1677 and 1682, the year in which he was appointed Viceroy of Naples, where he lived until his death in 1687. Both the subject and the dimensions correspond exactly – the Roman palma being 25 cm – as does the carefully-described gilt frame, which is likely to be the original one. The frame – remarkably carved, with a grotesque animal-like mask in each corner, entirely appropriate to the subject – would not have looked out of place in one of the most important Roman collections of the seventeenth century. In the inventory of 1682, the collection of the Marchese del Carpio, as he was known in Italy, contained no less than nineteen paintings by Mola, all purchased in Rome between his arrival in 1677 and his departure for Naples in 1683. After his death, and to cover his debts, the collection was sold on separate occasions in Rome, Florence, Paris and finally Madrid on 7 November 1689. Whatever the case, Francesco Petrucci has informed us that the painting is cited with the same description in the posthumous inventory of Don Gaspar de Haro, drawn up in Naples in Naples in 1687, and then it reappears in 1692, among the paintings owned by Pier Antonio Guadagni of Livorno, in a group of works selected to settle a payment to the Florentine bankers Del Rosso.(2) The work is described more summarily here, but with the same inventory number: “313. Un faunetto palmi 2 ½ e 2 di Francesco Mola 50”. Petrucci has thus been able to prove that this little picture by Mola remained in Italy, although we lose trace of it after 1692, and still do not know of its whereabouts between its execution and the moment after 1677 when it entered the collection of the Marchese del Carpio, at which point Mola had been dead for some years. 

Don Gaspar de Haro y Guzmán played a key role in the Eternal City, not only as collector but as patron and supporter of contemporary artists, especially Carlo Maratta (1625-1713); we should also mention his creation of an informal academy (a sort of Platonic school that attracted a number of Roman intellectuals), his close relationship with Padre Sebastiano Resta, and his admiration for Bernini (1598-1680) and Luca Giordano (1634-1705), each of these activities representing an exceptional involvement with Italian art and culture. At his death, his collection numbered thousands of works, of which paintings only comprised one part, the others being worthy of the most extraordinary Wunderkammer – sculptures, drawings, medals, clocks, and so on, reflecting truly encyclopaedic aims. (3) 

Our painting should be considered as part of a Neo-Venetian movement that evolved in Rome between 1625 and 1635-1640, stimulated by the presence of the Bacchanals by Titian (1488/1489-1576), originally in the collection of Alfonso I d’Este but which were brought to Rome in 1598, when Ferrara became subject to the Papal States, as part of the collection of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini (they are now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid). While it is tempting to connect this little companion of Bacchus to the similarly-themed paintings of the 1630s, Petrucci prefers a slightly later dating, between 1645 and 1647, or after the artist’s time in Venice in 1644. On his return south, he developed a Neo-Venetian tenebrismo that lasted into the early 1650s, as we can see in the Landscape with Saint Bruno in Ecstasy (Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland), the Prodigal Son (Rotterdam, Museum Boymans Van Beuningen;, and Mercury and Argus (Oberlin College, Allen Memorial Art Museum). Suffice it to remember that our little scene is a nocturne at heart. 

Caterina Volpi, who recently presented the painting at a symposium on the Mola family (Mendrisio, 6-7 June 2013), and specifically within the context of the interaction between Pier Francesco Mola and Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) in Rome between 1650 et 1655, suggests that the tenebroso character of this little satyr places it just when the two artists were at their closest, sharing the same patrons, and especially someone such as Niccolò Simonelli, who could have been the true source of this taste. (4) The beginning of the 1650s also saw the emergence in Rome of Mattia Preti (1613-1699), who adopted this sombre manner as well, frequenting both Rosa and Mola. 
Many works by this artist from the Ticino – the son of an architect and painter, Giovan Battista Mola (1586-1665) – remain undiscovered, and indeed only two of the nineteen pictures cited in the Marchese del Carpio’s collection (ours included) have been found. Mola was principally trained in Bologna, where he sojourned in 1633. He studied in the workshop of Albani (1578-1660) for two years before moving to Venice, in the wake of Guercino (1591-1666). In 1648 he settled in Rome for good, where he was very successful, also painting frescoes for the great Roman families, notably in the Palazzo Costaguti. Between 1653 and 1656 he worked under Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) on the decoration of the church of San Marco, a project commissioned by Nicolò Sagredo, Venetian Ambassador to Rome. In the period around 1658-1659 he became the official painter of Prince Camillo Pamphilj.

Véronique Damian


1. Don Gaspar de Haro y Guzmán was Marqués del Carpio, Marqués de Eliche, Duque de Montoro, Conde-Duque de Olivaro, and Conde de Morente. The inventory is in Madrid, Archivio Casa de Alba, Palacio de Liria, Caja 302-304. See Marcus B. Burke and Peter Cherry, Collections of Paintings in Madrid 1601-1755, Spanish Inventories 1, Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 1997, p. 745, no. [276] 313; Leticia de Frutos Sastre, “Apéndice documental”, in El templo de la fama. Alegoría del Marqués del Carpio, Madrid, 2009, pp. 182, 501, 612. 

2. As Leticia de Frutos Sastre (note 1) deduced, this Pier Antonio Guadagni was no doubt the Florentine patrician who married Ottavia Benigna Piccolomini d’Aragona, and a member of the family of the Marchesi di San Leolino. 

3. See (in particular for the sculptures) Beatrice Cacciotti, “La collezione del VII Marchese del Carpio tra Roma e Madrid”, Bollettino d’Arte, 86-87, July-October 1994, pp. 133-196. 

4. See Franco Paliaga and Caterina Volpi, Salvator Rosa e Giovanni Battista Ricciardi attraverso documenti inediti, Rome 2012.

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Most probably Rome, collection of Don Gaspar de Haro y Guzmán, 7th Marquess del Carpio (Madrid, 1629-Naples, 1687), in whose Roman inventory of 1682 the following record appears at folio 48 [279]: “313 Un quadro che rappresenta un satiretto ragazzo, che soffia con un cannello in una fontana di mano di francesco mola di palmi 3. e 2. in circa con sua cornice, intagliata, trasforata, e tutta indorata stimato in 30”, displayed in the piano nobile apartment in his Palazzo di Spagna, Piazza di Spagna, Rome; (1) this picture reappears in the 1687 posthumous inventory of Don Gaspar de Haro in Naples, and is then mentioned in 1692, again connected with the inheritance of the Marquess del Carpio, among the paintings “… in mano de signori Guadagni di Livorno” owned by Pier Anton Guadagni of Livorno, as part of a group of pictures destined to pay off the Florentine bankers Del Rosso: “313-Un faunetto palmi 2 ½ e 2 di Francesco Mola 50”. All trace is then lost until the reappearance of the present painting in a private collection in Lugano. 


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- Francesco Petrucci, Pier Francesco Mola (1612-1666). Materia e colore nella pittura del 600, Rome, 2012, p. 509, no. F85; 

- Francesco Petrucci, “Un ‘satiretto’ del Mola dalla collezione del Marchese del Carpio e qualche novità su Giovan Battista Pace”, in Quaderni del Barocco, II, Ariccia, 2013, pp. 1-16;
- Caterina Volpi, Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) Pittore famoso, Rome, 2014, p. 254, fig. 198;
- Véronique Damian-Chiara Naldi, Arte e Vino, A. Scarpa-N. Spinosa (ed.), exh. cat., Verona, Skira, 2015, n. 68, pp. 143, 288.

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Arte e Vino, Annalisa Scarpa and Nicola Spinosa, Palazzo della Gran Guardia, Verona, 11 April - 13 September, 2015, n. 68

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