Recently published by Nicola Spinosa as a work by Francesco Fracanzano, this painting documents the artist’s initial activity in Naples, where he arrived from Puglia as a boy, accompanied by his brother Cesare, in about 1620. At that point, art in the great Southern capital had fully absorbed the naturalist manner established by Caravaggio (1571-1610), and the scene was now dominated by the Spanish painter Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652). This approach had numerous followers, including the Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds (second quarter of the 17th century), Battistello Caracciolo (1578-1635), Aniello Falcone (1607-1656), Francesco Guarino (1611-1651), and the young Bernardo Cavallino (1616-c.1656).
In his first works, Fracanzano shows a marked dependence on the work of his teacher Ribera, above all on his representations of half-length figures, turned in three-quarter profile and placed before a sombre background. Typically, these would consist of characters drawn from ancient sources, mainly philosophers and saints.
In the painting before us, the protagonist is the Apostle Andrew, brother of Saint Peter, and like him a fisherman, as can be understood from the fish he holds in his right hand. This creature forms the start of an ascending compositional diagonal, following the Saint’s arm and culminating in his upturned gaze. He is clothed in a dark robe, and the powerful chiaroscuro contrasts convey a sense of drama: the image is severe, but at the same time intensely human, and moving in its expressiveness.
Spinosa hypothesised that this Saint Andrew could be a replica of a composition by Ribera – although such a work remains untraced – which he dates to about 1630. Our canvas is distinct from the version in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Narbonne (Nicola Spinosa, Ribera. L’Opera completa, Naples, 2003, p. 348, B10) because of its vigorous naturalism, concrete description of anatomical detail and expressive features, and use of rich, loaded brushwork in the drapery and flesh passages. Its resemblance to the Saints Anthony Abbot and Paul the Hermit (Naples, Sant’Onofrio dei Vecchi), signed and dated by Fracanzano in 1634, is a convincing reason to include it within the youthful oeuvre of the artist, even if the Saint Andrew could be earlier in execution.
Little is known about Francesco’s life, apart from his marriage to Giovanna, the sister of Salvator Rosa (1615-1673), in 1632. His artistic identity has often been confused with that of the Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, especially with respect to his early works (roughly between 1630 and 1632), in which his paintings are characterised by the presence of half-length figures set against a neutral, dark background.
Monte Carlo, Piero Corsini.
- Nicola Spinosa, Pittura del Seicento a Napoli da Caravaggio a Massimo Stanzione, Naples, 2010, p. 279, no. 206.