(b. 1573, Morazzone, d. 1626, Piedmont
Martyrdom of Sts Seconda and Rufina1620-25
Oil on canvas, 194 x 193 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
Considered a rare oddity by contemporaries, this painting by "three hands" (Morazzone, Giovan Battista Crespi and Giulio Cesare Procaccini) recalls the competitions that were common in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in which painters vied to outdo one another in rendering the same subject. Here, however, the three artists collaborated on a single picture. Similar outlooks and experiences created a common bond, a sort of "family resemblance" among the three, so that stylistically the painting has unity, despite variations and differences.
The compositional structure of the work, probably conceived by Morazzone, pivots the central figure of the executioner. On the left there is Cerano's flashingly lighted horse and rider, the horse sumptuously dappled in black and white, vaguely recalling Van Dyck. Cerano's typical spiraling forms are seen in the cupid with the dog and the decapitated saint. In his broken line and repeating contours, as well as in the "marbled" effect not only of the drapery but also of the flesh, he shows unmistakably greater maturity and feeling than is to be found in Morazzone's warm theatricality or in Procaccini's softly pleasing effects.
In the centre, Morazzone's executioner, with his tensely elongated trunk and arms, recalls similar figures by the artist in the seventh chapel at the Sacro Monte, Varese. Also attributable to Morazzone is the angel bearing the palm of martyrdom, disposed along a diagonal paralleling the executioner's arm, and the luminous freely rendered heads in the background. Procaccini was responsible for the figure of the saint, languidly waiting for the blow to fall, and the attendant angel who comforts her and points to heaven.