ALESSANDRO TURCHI, called L'ORBETTO (Verona 1578 - Rome 1649)

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

Oil on canvas, 108 x 147 cm


Cardinal Giulio Mazzarino Collection, Paris;
Marques of Aulan Collection, France;
Guillaume-Jean Constantin Collection , Paris;
George Granville Leveson-Gower Collection, United Kingdom.


M. Pulini, Il naturalismo temperato temperato di Alessandro Turchi, in Studi di Storia dell’arte, 7, 1996, pp. 165-199, p. 170, fig. n. 34;
Davide Dossi, Alessandro Turchi nella Francia del Seicento: opere, mercato, commissioni, in ArtItalies, 19, 2013, pp. 10-21.

Alessandro Turchi trained in Verona in the workshop of Felice Brusasorci, the late Mannerist artist. Starting from the early 17th century, he gradually began to paint independently until his master's death in 1605. During this period he painted some religious paintings for churches, and probably some works on pietra di paragone (black touchstone), a genre highly desired by contemporary collectors. After 1605, he sojourned sporadically in the cities of Venice and Mantua, then lively artistic centres. In Verona he painted several works for the noble family of Scaligeri, in particular for the Counts of Giusti. In December 1609 he entered the Accademia Filarmonica of Verona, replacing his predecessor Brusasorci as the Academy’s official painter.

In 1616, Turchi settled in Rome. Soon after, he participated in the fresco decoration for Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s Sala Reggia at the Quirinal Palace (the Gathering of Manna), and also painted an altarpiece of Christ, Magdalene, and Angels at his request. In competition with Andrea Sacchi and Pietro da Cortona, he painted some pictures in the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. In 1619, he sent an altarpiece of the forty martyrs intended for the Chapel of the Innocents in the church of Santo Stefano, Verona, to hang besides paintings by Pasquale Ottino and Marcantonio Bassetti. He was often commissioned to paint cabinet pictures, representing historical subjects, which he frequently painted on black touchstone. Among his pupils, Giovanni Ceschini and Giovanni Battista Rossi (il Gobbino), both practiced in Verona. Ceschini’s copies of his master’s works were often mistaken for originals.

The painter never forgot his hometown, and continued to realise sacred paintings of mythological subjects for churches and chapels in the city, and for some famous collections in Verona, such as the Gherardini, Cusoni and Muselli. His most important patron was the Marquis Gaspare Gherardini, who worked as an artistic intermediary for Queen Christina of Sweden. The painter was very successful towards the end of his life: in 1637 he was nominated Principe of the Academy of Saint Luke, and in 1638 elected member of the Academy of the Virtuous of the Pantheon.

His works found favour among seventeenth century European collectors, especially in Bavaria and in France: the elector and Duke of Bavaria Maximilian I, the Cardinals Richelieu and Mazzarino possessed his works.

The artist remained particularly well-loved in Paris, despite indifference towards Italian painting and the emergence of a new taste for collecting Flemish masters. Venetian painting of the 16th century was largely ignored, although there are important exceptions; on the contrary, the Bolognese painters remained in demand, especially Guido Reni and Francesco Albani, but also Alessandro Turchi, thanks to his pleasant and small-scale works.

Davide Dossi has recently identified one hundred and fifty mentions of works by Orbetto in the Paris auction catalogues of 1700-1799, including not only works on canvas, but also paintings on touchstone (called “pierre de touche” or“marbre noir”), copies and paintings in the taste of Turchi. However, only twenty mentions pre-date 1750. Apart from a few paintings that had belonged to Cardinal Mazarino and poured on the market at the beginning of the 18th century as a result of the alienation of his collection during the Revolution, almost all the works by Orbetto which appear in catalogues and inventories of the 18th century were imported from abroad.

Thanks to his exceptional network of international advisors, Cardinal Mazzarino had an outstanding collection of significant works. There were four paintings by Alessandro Turchi, and among these, the Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery here exhibited. In the inventory dated 1661, there is a mention of the painting: “un autre faict par Allexandre Veroneze sur toille representant l’Adultere avecq un soldat et Notre Seigneur demy figure au naturel, hault de trois piedz neuf poulces et large de cinq piedz trois poulces, garny de sa bordure de bois doré”.

The painting’s half-figure format resembles that used in Renaissance Venetian painting (Palma Vecchio and Lorenzo Lotto), in which there is a limited number of characters arranged within a narrow space; there is also an influence of Caravaggism by Bartolomeo Manfredi, filtered through a classicist component.

The dark background, where nothing refers to the Temple of Jerusalem, enhances the almost mischievous beauty of the Samaritan woman, the only one who turns the face towards the viewer. The painting depicts the moment when Christ listened carefully to the Scribes and Pharisees, and raises his right hand to calm them down and to protect the Adulteress, using the famous phrase: "he who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her", responding to the trap concocted by the Pharisees with a moral provocation of strong impact. The woman cries of shame and repentance, and is caught while being abused by a soldier garbed in steel armour, who has tied her right hand with a rope. In a gesture of decency and shame the woman wraps herself in a mustard-coloured coat. She has flushed cheeks as she looks down in shame while Christ speaks. The latter is depicted in profile and with open arms. His body leans forward and almost breaks the dark depth and space of the painting, as if to symbolically wrap the woman in embrace. The face, clear, evokes the solemnity of sacred icons; his gaze is turned to the guard, and not to the woman.

The shape of the composition and the gestures recall Orbetto’s Christ and the Samaritan woman currently in a private collection in Verona and dated to 1625, where Christ is depicted in profile, leaning towards a woman wrapped in an ochre-coloured coat.