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Title The Infant Christ Asleep, Adored by Two Angels
Collection Victoria and Albert Museum
Artist Cornacchini, Agostino (Italian painter, 1686–1754)
Date 1727 (dated)
Signed yes

This wax painting of the sleeping Christ Child (identified by his halo of golden rays) adored by two angels, is the only known painting by Cornacchini, an artist who worked primarily as a draughtsman and sculptor in stucco (studies for which are in the V&A collection) and marble. Cornacchini was clearly proud of his revival of the technique of classical encaustic painting (painting in warm coloured wax) and claimed to have invented a new technique in his inscription on the back of this work, by using wax 'in piano' or working 'on the flat' in contrast to wax reliefs. The difficulties of the technique account in part for the lack of the three-dimensional appearance and high level of finish of his drawings and explains the rarity of this type of work in Cornacchini's oeuvre. This appears to be an early example of a the revival of an ancient technique which became increasingly popular in the later eighteenth century.

Agostino Cornacchini (1686-1754) was an Italian sculptor, draughtsman and painter. He entered the Florentine workshop of Giovanni Battista Foggini, principal sculptor to Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1697. In 1709 he produced drawings of Italy's most famous monuments for the English antiquarian John Talman, and in the following year a marble statue of Clement XI (Urbino Cathedral). He arrived in Rome in 1712 to live in the household of his uncle, Cardinal Carlo Agostino Fabbroni, who also provided him with a studio and an income.

Current Accession Number 5456-1859
Inscription back 'Agostino Cornacchini fece nel 1727 questa nuova invenzione di lavorare in piano con cera colorita'
Subject figure; religion (Christ; angels)
Measurements 27 x 14cm (estimate)
Material encaustic paint on stone (slate)
Acquisition Details Given by Molini 1859.
Provenance Giuseppe Molini, Florence;
Publications Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 73-74, cat. no. 71; P. Cannon Brookes: ‘The Paintings and Drawings of Agostino Cornacchini', Kunst des Barock in der Toskana: Studien zur Kunst unter den letzen Medici, ed. H. Keutner (Munich, 1976), pp. 118–24, esp. pp. 1123-24, illus. 8, 9.

On the back is a set of samples of wax colours used. The main use of wax in painting has been in the technique of encaustic painting, in which dry pigments are mixed with molten wax on a heated metal palette, then applied to a support; a heat source is then passed close to the surface to ‘burn in' the colours by fusing them to the support. Encaustic painting was widely used in the ancient world and described by Pliny the elder, Vitruvius and Plutarch; attempts were made to revive the technique in Europe in the eighteenth century. There is, however, considerable debate concerning the media and processes originally used and whether a number of painting methods involving wax can be described as encaustic: wax can be dissolved in turpentine and is made water-soluble by the addition of alkali and thus can be combined with a wide variety of paints.

The gift of theis work may have been made as a bequest by Giuseppe Molini (1772-1856), the Florentine knight, bookseller, printer, publisher, bibliographer and librarian. Clients of Molini's Bookshop in Florence describe Molini as having “an open strongly-marked countenance”, a “rare intelligence”, and an willingness to share his bibliographical knowledge with any inquirer. The bookshop was located on the Via degli Archibusieri, near the Ponte Vecchio. Molini's Bookshop is known to have stocked a good selection of material in both English and Italian. His prosperous shop focused not only on the active tourist trade but also sold books to dignitaries and royal courts all over Europe. In addition to his retail establishment, Molini was the proprietor of All'insegna de Dante (Dante's Head Press) and Presso G. Molini, located at no. 823 Piazza di St. Maria in Campo. His publishing corpus includes numerous books ranging in scope from a history of Italy to a biography of the Italian artist Benvenuto Cellini. Molini closed his bookshop when he was appointed director of the Biblioteca Palatina which maintained the important book and manuscript collections of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Molini held this position until his death in 1856.

Rights Owner © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Author Jennifer Sliwka



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