BAGLIONE, Giovanni
(b. ca. 1566, Roma d. 1643, Roma)

Sacred and Profane Love

Oil on canvas, 240 x 143 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

Baglione painted this canvas, alongside of another version now in Berlin, for the Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani. The two works follow on the heels of and make reference to Caravaggio's Love Victorious, painted in 1601 for the Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani.

The canvas dates to just before the famous court trial that marked Baglione's definitive split with the circle of his contemporary, Caravaggio: it is thus a document of the phase of Baglione's career in which he most closely approximated Caravaggio's methods. Baglione was originally trained as a painter in the late mannerist style, and was active in major papal commissions at the end of the sixteenth century. He was the first painter to attach himself to the new naturalistic vision of Caravaggio, a style that had its official debut in that painter's work at San Luigi dei Francesi in the Jubilee Year of 1600. While there is no doubt that Baglione modelled the National Gallery picture on Caravaggio's Love Victorious, the artist took a completely new point of view. Uniting the figures to the dark background against which they stand out, he uses an intense and direct spotlighting that creates strong chiaroscuro contrasts. The legacy of late mannerism matrix is evident in both the compositions of the individual figures, above all the attenuated proportions of Sacred Love, and in the rich, complex attire, which departs from Caravaggesque prototypes.

Derived from the Psychomachia of Prudentius, the moralizing theme of combat between the vices and the virtues was interpreted by Virgil in "Omnia vincit Amor". Later codified by Petrarch, the theme enjoyed a new popularity in the early seventeenth century. The face of the figure of the devil at the left has been identified as a portrait of Caravaggio. This canvas includes a satirical condemnation of both Caravaggio's art and his moral scruples, making what is tantamount to a visual charge of sodomy. Divine Love interrupts a tryst between Cupid and the Devil, who turns toward the viewer in anguished surprise revealing Caravaggio's likeness.

The painting is signed and dated: "IO BAGLIONE/R:F:/1602"