Kitchen interior with a servant threatening a monkey (recto); Two oriental heads, two oriental soldiers with a cannon and a caricature (verso)

Domenico Guidobono

(Savona 1668 – Naples 1746)

  • Black chalk, pen and brown ink (probably sepia) and brown wash.
  • 312 × 416 mm (12.28 × 16.38 inches)
  • Watermark: three overlapped circles (Genoa; see Balmaceda 2004, pp. 304-311). Inscriptions: on the verso, probably in the artist’s hand, ‘VINDICA DOMINE’.

Edited by Luca Giunta Baroni

Born in Savona in 1668 from a family of maiolica painters, Domenico Guidobono soon moved to Turin, where he devoted himself, together with his elder brother Bartolomeo (b. 1654), to fresco decoration and painting in the circles of the Piedmontese court1. The age difference among the two artists casts a shadow on Domenico’s early production, as he has often been confused with his brother Bartolomeo.

Recent research and the reemergence of indisputable high-quality works, such as the Allegory in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or The drawing lesson that recently passed through the market, have restored the artist’s reputation, as well as his intriguing inclination for intimate scenes, animals, genre representation and still-life2.

The attribution to Domenico of this large composition representing a Kitchen interior and various studies of oriental figures on the verso is suggested by the close resemblance to a sheet recently entered in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, a Scene of Witchcraft connected to a painting in the Galleria Nazionale di Parma (fig. 1)3.

Domenico Guidobono, Scene of Witchcraft, c. 1695-1700. Pen and brown ink with gray-brown washes over black chalk, 132 × 214 mm. Washington, NGA | 2021.21.1
Fig. 1. Domenico Guidobono, Scene of Witchcraft, c. 1695-1700. Pen and brown ink with gray-brown washes over black chalk, 132 × 214 mm. Washington, NGA | 2021.21.1

Both are highly-finished drawings executed with pen, brown ink and wash. Despite the scarceness of Domenico’s secure drawings, a common pattern can be found in the skillful usage of pen and brown wash to create patches of shadows. On the recto of the drawing, the facial type of the servant is much closer to that of the Sorceress in the Washington drawing; the same happens in the trembling contours of the figures, that confers to the gesture and the shapes a touch of suggestive animation.

The recto of the drawing shows the interior of a vast kitchen, probably the one of a noble palace, as suggested by the rich carved console on the right. This subject was probably inspired by work of Flemish artists like Frans Snyders (1579-1657) and Abraham T niers (1629-1670), who contributed to the wide diffusion of the singeries, or ‘monkey scenes’4.

As attested by famous masterpieces such as Gentile da Fabriano’s 1423 Adoration of the Magi and Peter Breughel’ s 1562 Two Monkeys in the Berlin Gemäldegalerie), the representation of chained monkeys is a common symbol in Western art5. They usually represent lust, or folly, or gluttony, and the chain can both imply control (of sense over desire) or human’s inevitable tie with the senses.

Domenico Guidobono, Boy with Monkeys, c. 1730. Oil on canvas, 108 cm × 78.8 cm. Private collection.
Fig. 2. Domenico Guidobono, Boy with Monkeys, c. 1730. Oil on canvas, 108 cm × 78.8 cm. Private collection.

Two chained monkeys appear, in fact, in Domenico’s Boy with monkeys (fig. 2), commonly interpreted as an Allegory of lust and executed around 1720 for a refined, aristocratic patron. This suggests to place this Kitchen interior in the artist’s full maturity and to interpret it as an allegorical scene, probably an amused warning against the risks of gluttony and lust.

In his 1762 unpublished biography of the Guidobono brothers, Carlo Giuseppe Ratti describes Domenico’ s excellence in depicting animals, flowers and landscape, a minor activity he must have implemented after 1709, when his brother’s death was making it complicated for him to face vast fresco commissions6. This is also attested by the six bambocciate by his hand described in 1720 in the dowry of his daughter Maria Beatrice, some of which have been recently identified on the art marked and constitute the most direct pictorial counterpart of the Kitchen interior here discussed7.

Even more intriguing are the three sketches on the verso, all related to a topic which surfaces also on the recto: the investigation and representation of exotic figures. On the right of the scene, two soldiers in oriental garments gather around a mortar. Two round stone shell are recognisable close to the seated man on the left, while the standing figure on the right is menacingly pointing to the mouth of the cannon.

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Head in profile, c. 1645/50. Etching, 110 × 81 mm. Bartsch 40.
Fig. 3. Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Head in profile, c. 1645/50. Etching, 110 × 81 mm. Bartsch 40.

On the other side of the sheet, turned 90°, is a profile caricature of a man with prominent lips and two absorbed figures wearing turbans. The latter are closely reminiscent of the renowned Studies of oriental heads etched by the Genoese Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1664, fig. 3). According to Ratti, Bartolomeo Guidobono had made painted copies after Castiglione’s animal scenes, an influence which may have passed also to Domenico8.

The inscription on the left of the sheet, ‘vindica domine’, is a partial quote from the Book of the Apocalypse (6:10, 19:2): ‘ Vindica Domine sanguinem nostrum, qui pro te effusus’, and refers to God’s revenge of his martyrs; its connection to the subject of this drawing is unclear, despite it may be an invitation to avenge the blood of Christian soldiers spilled during the Ottoman wars9.

1 The standard reference on the artist is Newcome Schleier 2002, implemented by id., 2011, pp. 203-216; id., 2012, pp. 10- 16; id., 2016, but see also Casellato 2004, ad vocem and Orlando 2020, pp. 390-405.

2 New York, The Metropolitan Museum of art, inv. 1970.261; Sotheby’s – New York, 26 January 2017, Master Paintings & Sculpture Day Sale, lot 180, as Domenico Guidobono (publ. by Newcome Schleier 2002, p. 22, no. P.58, reproduced pl. XLIV).

3 Fiorentino 2020, pp. 34-37, p. 12, with prev. bibl.

4 Domenico’s acquaintance with decorations and cartouches was due to his long activity as a fresco painter. The right part of the drawing here discussed (recto) can be compared, e.g., with his drawing representing the Abundance (private collection; repr. and disc. in Newcome Schleier 200, p. 151-152, no. D.13, with prev. bibl.). Domenico described another kitchen interior with a servant in his lunette depicting Joseph’s Dream (Quarto, Chiesa di San Gerolamo, first chapel on the left, repr. and disc. in Newcome Schleier 2002, p. 65, no. C.21), and in a Dancing couple in private collection (repr. in Torino 2012, p. 16, fig. 5).

5 Sullivan 1981, pp. 114-126; Impelluso 2004, pp. 198-201.

6Ed al far d’animali tratta avendo dal nascer suo l’inclinazione, lodevolmente vi s’impiegò [...] Doppo esser stato lo spazio di ventun’anno in Torino, venne a Genova ove ne abitò ben trenta e dove fe’ cose in genere di figure, con poco buon garbo condotte. Nel far gli animali, però, come dicemmo ed anconelli paesi, si fe’ sempre onore’ (Newcome Schleier 2002, 183-191).

7 See Newcome Schleier 2011, p. 15 and the Couple of peasants in an interior reproduced by Newcome Schleier 2011, p. 214, no. G1.

8E lo stesso signore [Marcello Durazzo] nel suo palazzo d’Albizzuola conserva di esso artefice due copie di quadri con animali del Grechetto, che son preziose, quanto i medesimi originali’ (Soprani, Ratti 1768-1769, II, p. 142, commented in Newcome Schleier 2002, p. 125, no. P62).

9 Between 1716 and 1718 the Ottoman and the Habsburg Empire were engaged in the so-called Austro-Turkish War. The general of the Austrian troops was Prince Eugenio di Savoia, close relative to the Guidobonos patron Vittorio Amedeo II di Savoia.

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