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Nicholas Poussin, Rembrandt, Annibale Carracci

Two artists have been plausibly suggested as the creators of the original image from which Melville’s mezzotint was made. Lynn Horth in her headnote to the 1869 note to Dexter suggests that the original artwork was “probably the painting by Nicolas Poussin of Christ healing the blind man of Jericho, painted in 1651, at the Louvre” (NN CO 409). That painting by Poussin is arguably the best-known artwork depicting the subject, and Melville did spend one glorious afternoon at the Louvre in November 1849 (NN J 31). There he “victoriously ran that painted gauntlet of the gods,” as he recalled three years later in the last chapter of Pierre (NN P 350). Melville’s sustained interest in engravings after paintings by Poussin is attested by the eight prints that survive from his collection today (CAT 136-143). Anthony Blunt lists five engravings after Christ heading the Blind Men in his catalog raisonné of Poussin’s work, but none of them are identified as mezzotints (Blunt, cat. no. 74, p. 52; see fig. 2 below).

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Figure 2. Guillaume Chasteau after Nicholas Poussin. Christ healing two blind men outside Jericho, etching and engraving, before 1683. Wellcome Collection.

Jay Leyda in The Melville Log offers Rembrandt as the artist who created the image from which Melville’s mezzotint was made. He does so, in his efficient way, by making this insertion in his text of Melville’s note to Dexter: “That mezzotint, The Healing of the Blind [by Rembrandt].” Leyda does not indicate whether he considers the original artwork, the mezzotint, or both, to be by Rembrandt, and he provides no information in the often meticulous documentation of his sources (Log, 2:701, 854). Rembrandt did create a very atmospheric image of the healing of a blind man in his oil painting Tobias Healing his Blind Father (c. 1636) now at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (Gerson). In 1755, Antoine de Marceny de Ghuy, a French printmaker, published an engraving after Rembrandt’s painting known as Tobit Returns Sight to His Father in the copy currently at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (fig. 3). But this print is documented there as an etching, not a mezzotint.

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Figure 3. Antoine de Marcenay de Ghuy after Rembrandt. Tobias Returning Sight to His Father, etching, 1755. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The one engraving we have found that does correspond to both the subject and technique of the print Dexter framed for Melville in 1869 is the mezzotint by Richard Earlom after Annibale Carracci’s depiction of the healing of a blind man that was published by John Boydell in London in 1785. The copy of the print we reproduce at the head of this entry is in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The lettering beneath the image clearly identifies Richard Earlom as the engraver, Annibale Carracci, and John Boydell as the publisher. The title of the print, Our Saviour Healing of the Blind, clearly describes the action depicted as Christ’s outstretched finger touches the other man’s eye. The source of the image is given as the “Original Picture in the Collection of Robert Adams,” but we have so far not been able to trace the location of the original painting. J. E. Wessely in his comprehensive catalog of Earlom’s engravings published in Germany in 1886 identifies the print as Our Saviour Healing the Blind  from Carracci’s “Original Picture in the Collection of Robert Adams” and gives its measurements as 440 x 545 millimeters, approximately 17 ¼ x 21 ½ inches (no. 72 in vol. 2). The collector Robert Adam, not Adams, was an English architect and interior designer who had studied with Piranesi in Rome (see also Otter and Wallace, 99-109).

Our catalog of Melville’s print collection on this site includes three of the mezzotints that Richard Earlom made from drawings by Claude Lorrain in the collection of Duke of Devonshire for the three-volume edition of Claude’s Liber Veritatis published in London between 1774 and 1819. Earlom engraved Melville’s copy of Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba for the first volume in 1774 (CAT 125), his copy of The Sea-Port for the second volume in 1775 (CAT 126), and his copy of Landscape—Christ Tempted for the third volume in 1802 (CAT 135). Earlom’s 1785 mezzotint after Annibale Carracci’s Christ Healing the Blind came during the the  height of the craze among English collectors for acquiring artworks by Claude Lorrain and other Italianate Old Masters from collections in France that had suffered politically or economically from the French Revolution, soon to be augmented by the depredations to be inflicted on Italian collectors and institutions by Napoleon’s invading armies.

The most striking influx of pictorial wealth from France to England came from the collection of the Duke of Orleans, whose unrivalled assemblage of Old Master Italianate paintings became available to those British collectors willing and able to purchase them. The Italian and French paintings from this collection were available for sale in London between 1798 and 1802, when Samuel Rogers and other English collectors acquired many of their most valuable paintings. Far in advance of those sales, Jacques Couché had begun to publish engravings after paintings from the Orleans Collection in his three-volume edition of the Galerie du Palais royal, whose dates (1786-1808) roughly coincided with those of Earlom’s three-volume edition of Claude’s Liber Veritatis.

In France during those decades, the paintings of Annibale Carracci were as highly esteemed in France as those of Claude Lorrain were in England. This is easily seen in the Galerie du Palais royal, where the 25 Italianate engravings from the Orleans Collection after Annibale Carracci easily outnumber the 11 after Raphael, the 15 after Guido, the 8 after Veronese, and the 8 after Domenichino, with Annibale’s only numerical challenge coming from the 21 engravings after Titian (Couché, vols. 1 and 2). From these engravings alone, one can see why Annibale Carracci was then considered to be an essential link between sixteenth-century Italian Renaissance artists such as Francia, Piombo, Raphael, Titian, and Veronese and seventeenth-century Baroque classicists such Domenichino, Guido, Claude Lorrain, and Nicholas Poussin. The twenty-five engravings after Annibale show his exceptional versatility, ranging from biblical, mythical, and religious scenes to portraits, landscapes, and genre scenes. The Galerie du Palais royal also included several engravings after Annibale’s brother Agostino and his cousin Ludovico, but theirs were not nearly as numerous or as varied as his.

We have already seen Melville’s interest in the three Carracci as a bridge from the painters of the Italian Renaissance to those of their Bolognese Baroque successors in the long sequence of check marks he placed alongside the four successive paragraphs devoted to that transition in his copy of Valery’s Travels in Italy, the book he acquired in Florence before the one day he spent in Bologna in March 1857 (see fig. 1 in the introduction that precedes this entry). In the one paragraph devoted primarily to paintings by the Carracci in the Bologna Gallery, Melville placed one check mark next to Valery’s introduction of the Carracci as “a tribe of painters, of which Ludovico is the worthy chief.” He then placed check marks next to each of the three paintings to which Valery gives individual attention: Ludovico’s Transfiguration, Agostino’s Communion of St. Jerome, and Annibale’s St. Catherine and St. Clair.

Valery celebrates the continuities he sees between paintings by each of the Carracci and those of Titian, Veronese, and other Venetians because “there is no such thing as an exhausted subject in the arts any more than in letters.” His most detailed example of those continuities is the passage Melville checked at the end of Valery’s discussion of Annibale Carracci’s Saint Catherine and Saint Claire (see fig. 4). Valery considers this to be Annibale’s “best painting,” in part because it is “a perfect imitation of the great masters; the Virgin recalls Paolo Veronese; the infant Jesus and the little St. John, Correggio; St. John Evangelist, Titian; and the graceful Catherine Parmagiano” (Valery 239-40, Cowen 11: 342-44).

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Figure 4. Annibale Carracci. Virgin and Child in Glory with Saints Louis, Alexius, John the Baptist, Catherine, Francis and Clare (Madonna of San Ludovico), oil on canvas, 1592, Bologna Pinacoteca.

The above is a very accomplished work for a young painter in his early thirties (Annibale was born in Bologna in 1560). It is easy to see how Valery might have considered this large canvas, nearly nine feet tall, to be the “best picture” by Annibale among those at the Bologna Pinacoteca in the mid-nineteenth century. Annibale had painted this Virgin and Child in Glory for the high altar of the Franciscan church of Saint Ludovico and Alexius in Bologna in the early 1590s. Saints Louis and Alexius, the namesakes of the church, are in in the foreground, with Saints Clare, Catherine, and Francis behind them, and with Saint John the Baptist pointing up to the Madonna holding the infant Jesus.

The current description of the painting by the Bologna Pinacoteca emphasizes Annibale’s painterly virtuosity and his successful deployment of Raphael’s sixteenth-century method of “dividing the painting into two distinctly separate planes” in which “the group of Saints below” and “the apparition of the Virgin” above are united by “the gesture of St. John the Baptist.” In this case, Annibale “enriches the traditional layout by bathing the figures of Saints in the silvery light of a landscape influenced by the painting of the great Venetian masters, from Titian to Veronese, all of whom he studied extensively during his stay in Venice” (“Virgin and Child in Glory”).

Much of Annibale’s greatest work, however, was done after he received a major commission to decorate Camerino and the Galleria of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome in 1595. At this point, not only his daily life but his pictorial style gravitated to Rome, where he infused his own evolving Bolognese Baroque style with the classical Renaissance humanism epitomized by Raphael and Michaelangelo. It was this blend of Bolognese Baroque and Roman Renaissance pictorialism that made Annibale such a model for Domenichino and Guido when they each followed him from Bologna to Rome very early in the new century.