Master of the Blue Jeans
(Active in Northern Italy in the late 17th century)A Beggar Boy with a Piece of Pie
The painting comes from an Italian private collection and represents a young boy in front of a column, dressed in a torn jacket and holding a piece of pie in his left hand. He has put his right hand into his jacket, covering his left shoulder, and with a half-open mouth he addresses the viewer with a gaze at once insistent and serious. While the flesh tones are rendered precisely, with a particularly smooth picture surface, the child’s clothing and its accessories are handled with swift brushstrokes. The clean, meticulously painted face, matches his thin, delicate fingers. These two details could contradict his popular social origins.
In his photographic library, Roberto Longhi classified the image of the Beggar Boy with a Piece of Pie as Michael Sweerts (Brussels, 1618 – Goa, 1664 ), no doubt because the long, serious face and melancholic expression reminded him of the Boy with a Hat by this artist in the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, a painting of about 1655-1656 . Apart from these points of resemblance, the boy painted by the Master of the Blue Jeans appears less lyrical. In Sweerts, the refinement of execution in the facial features was prompted by idealisation, something not intended by our artist. Here what dominates is a realistic vision, and it enhances the expressive power of the painting. Moreover, our anonymous master uses a more marked contrast of light and shade than Sweerts.
The serious expression of the face recalls a painting by Evaristo Baschenis, Young Boy with a Basket of bread and pastries, that holds a special place in his oeuvre. Both succeed – through an insistent facial expression and a simplified composition – in lending a poetic tone to their work. Baschenis’ background is dark and unified, while the Master of the Blue Jeans depicts part of a column. Both artists share a Caravaggesque manner of composition, in which a single light source comes from the upper left. The Master of the Blue Jeans’ memories of Caravaggio are even more precise, with contrasts of light and shade on the boy’s face described in a much more decisive way than Baschenis; and the background column offers a distant echo of the niche and framing behind the Virgin in Caravaggio’s Madonna of the Pilgrims (Rome, Sant’Agostino, Cavalletti Chapel). Hypothetically, we can place this painting at the beginning of our artist’s career, which concluded, we imagine, with The Barber’s Shop a work defined in certain parts by a swift, even abbreviated, painterly handling. Indeed, such a pictorial concept occurs more frequently in Italy – one can think of Antonio Cifrondi here – and this could indicate that our little boy was painted before The Barber’s Shop , in a period of the artist’s development less marked by Italian influences.
Italy, private collection
- G. Gruber, in F. Porzio, ed., Da Caravaggio a Ceruti. La scena di genere e l’immagine dei pitocchi nella pittura italiana (exh. cat., Brescia, Museo di Santa Giulia, 1998-1999), Milan, 1998, p. 425, no. 90;
- G. Gruber, in F. Frangi and A. Morandotti, Dipinti Lombardi del Seicento. Collezione Koelliker, Turin, 2004, pp. 156, 158, (160 illus.);
- G. Gruber, in F. Frangi and A. Morandotti, eds., Maestri del ’600 e del ’700 lombardo nella collezione Koelliker (exh. cat., Milan, Palazzo Reale, 2006), Milan, 2006, pp. 128-130;
- G. Gruber, “Il Maestro della tela jeans: un nuovo pittore della realtà nell’Europa del tardo Seicento”, Nuovi Studi, 11, 2006 (2007), pp. 160-161, 165, fig. 242;