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bernardino capitelli
(1589–1639, Siena)

Lot and His Daughters. Etching after Rutilio Manetti. 19.4 x 23.8 cm. Bartsch 1. Watermark: Pilgrim in circle.

This portrayal of Lot and His Daughters, which owes its highly charged atmosphere to its nocturnal illumination and subtly subliminal eroticism, is the unquestioned masterpiece of Bernardino Capitelli, who was trained by Alessandro Casolani and Rutilio Manetti. His extensive printed work comprises historically interesting depictions of festivities in his home town of Siena, reproductive prints after artworks of classical antiquity as well as etchings after his own inventions and paintings by other artists. Occupying an important place in his œuvre is a set of seventeen etchings after compositions by his tutor, Rutilio Manetti. Between 1627 and 1629 Capitelli was active in Rome, where he produced etchings after ancient sarcophagi and reliefs for Cavalier Cassiano del Pozzo.

Capitelli’s etching style is not very uniform and often of varying quality and technical finesse. While the draughtmanship in some of his early pieces is almost clumsy and crude, several of his reproductive prints after Manetti, most of which belong to his later work, reveal a more refined artistic temperament. There can be no doubt that these etchings brilliantly reflect Manetti’s unerring eye for dramatic effect and atmospheric lighting. In Rome his direct acquaintance with the art of Caravaggio and that of his successors, such as Gerard van Honthorst, will also have affected his style.

The present print owes its stark power to the vibrant chiaroscuro. Capitelli’s technique is simple and rudimentary, yet extraordinarily effective. The only source of light is the eerily flickering light of a candle that lends the scene a magic all of its own and reinforces the atmosphere of silent complicity and forbidden fruit. The interaction between the protagonists is expressed with great subtlety: the powerful, massive figure of the father, befuddled with wine, draws his young daughter towards him with a gesture of desire, while the other girl passes him another goblet containing the love potion. The contrast between the very densely hatched areas and the white, untreated paper tone enables the figures’ features to shine forth with vibrant warmth from the darkness.

A very fine, sparkling impression with small margins around the platemark. As always, with traces of foul biting in some places. In untreated, impeccable condition.