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St. Cecilia

CAT 111 .jpg

CAT 112. William Sharp after Domenichino. St. Cecilia.  Original engraving published by John Boydell, London, 1791; photographic reproduction by Woodbury Permanent Photographic Printing Company, after 1870. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum

This print of Saint Cecilia, like the one after Francia (CAT 106), includes no indication of its subject, artist, or engraver. Melville himself added all three pieces of information in the annotation he wrote at the lower left of the sheet: “St. Cecilia / Domenichino—William Sharp.”  This Saint Cecilia is decidedly the post-Raphael patron of music; the organ pipes to the left are augmented by the harp held by the angel to the right. This painting also draws upon legends of the third-century Roman saint whose Passio had inspired Francia and his colleagues to paint the Saint Cecilia Oratorio in Bologna. The roses encircling the head of this Cecelia are descendants of those that the angel bestowed on the heads of Cecilia and Valerian in the Bologna Oratorio.

Melville’s print of Domenichino’s Saint Cecilia is a photographic reproduction of a 1791 engraving by William Sharp, one of his principal plates. The painting Sharp engraved was still thought to be a Domenichino when acquired by London’s National Gallery in 1941 (NG 5284).  In 1970, however, Erich Schleier persuasively demonstrated that it was actually painted by Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669). This attribution was accepted by Richard Spear in his catalog of Domenichino’s works in 1982 (Spear, pp. 195, 322), but Melville himself would have had no reason to believe the painting was by anyone other than Domenichino. The substantial overview of Domenichino’s career in the copy of The Works of Eminent Masters that Melville acquired in 1871 listed three individual paintings of Saint Cecilia in addition to the five frescos in the Scenes from the Life of St. Cecilia that Domenichino had painted soon after arriving in Rome (“Domenic Zampieri,” 195, 200, 202).