BARTOLOMEO MANFREDI (Ostiano 1582 - 1622 Rome)

The chronology of Bartolomeo Manfredi’s oeuvre - considered perhaps the first and most relevant pupil of Caravaggio - is not clear for the lack of surviving signed, dated, or at least well-documented paintings. Even if recent archival research has made a decisive contribution to the understanding of his artistic narrative, the disappearance of many executed and well-documented works still makes it difficult to paint a clear picture of his life and works. Nevertheless, according to its iconographic and stylistic features it is probable that this Denial of Saint Peter is indeed one of the oldest works ascribed to a very early stage of Manfredi’s career. Lampronti’s painting, therefore, assumes a significant intrinsic value for its truly unique and superb appearance but also an extrinsic quality for it serves as an important historical and artistic document.

In this respect, the present painting is probably one of the first examples of the so-called manfrediana methodus, invented precisely by Manfredi, and coined retrospectively by the famous German historical painter Joachim von Sandrart. It is not possible to condense this methodus into a schematic definition, but one should in any case consider that Manfredi did not discover or arrive at this new method of painting alone. It is plausible that he was preceded by Jusepe de Ribera, should one accept the reattribution advanced by Gianni Papi of an anonymous group of works gathered under the name of the so- called Master of the Judgement of Solomon to Ribera. Within this corpus of works there are undeniable indications of the methodus as in the case of The Denial of St Peter in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte antica in Palazzo Corsini in Rome , configured with the device of half-length figures composed into a rectangular composition - a core element of the methodus manfrediana that was particularly receptive among French followers of Caravaggio.

Manfredi, following Caravaggio but then immediately distinguishing himself by developing significant stylistic and content innovations, invented the idea of merging into a singular composition different episodes that are not necessarily related to each other. These episodes normally represented tavern and gaming scenes, depicting aristocrats in the same settings as peasants. Caravaggio indeed established some innovative iconographies including, the fortune-teller, the merry group and the card players all seated around the table. From these prototypes Manfredi established new compositions, combining together these type of subjects in a deep, shadowy space struck by flashes of colour. The Denial of St. Peter is a fine demonstration of this method of representation: on the left, the scene recalls certain details of Carvaggio’s Arrest of Jesus intended for the Mattei , and on the right, a game playing scene is taking place[1].  One player suddenly stands up, pointing towards the dice, accusing the other game player of cheating while a third onlooker observes the unfolding scene without intervening. Between sacred and profane, the underlining theme of the disparate episodes communicates both betrayal and deception. 

Among the several works that apply the manfrediana methodus, Lampronti’s painting is perhaps the only one that cites prototypes by Caravaggio in such a precise way; borrowed in this case as singular details rather than as a whole. In this respect, the detail of the soldier who holds Christ in the Arrest belonging to the Mattei, and one of the screaming figures in the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew for Contarelli family are the shared elements. On the basis of the evidence presented, one can conclude that the painter of the Denial of Saint Peter had a direct contact with Caravaggio’s prototypes, especially those completed between the years 1600 and 1603.  On the other hand, those same models have been reinterpreted by the artist through the lens of Cristoforo Roncalli’s mannerism, thereby assigning Lampronti’s painting to an early elaboration of Manfredi’s methodus.[2] The present painting can therefore be dated to around 1605, and presumably made for the Mattei family on the basis of the carved eagle decorating the frame.


Claudio Strinati

[1] F. Cappelletti-L. Testa, Il trattenimento di virtuosi. Le collezioni secentesche di quadri nei palazzi Mattei di Roma, Rome 1994, pp. 101-104

[2] The relation ship between Manfredi and the roncalliano environment is mentioned in: G. Baglione, Le Vite de’ pittori, scultori, architetti e intagliatori, Roma 1642, in the life of Bartolomeo Manfredi : “da giovinetto col Cavalier Pomaranciose ne stette. Ma poi fatto grande si diede a imitare la maniera di Michelangelo da Caravaggio”, a relevant information notanalysed yet by modern scholars.


The Denial of Saint Peter

Oil on canvas, 142.9 x 208.9 cm

Private collection, England.


Lights and Shadows: Caravaggism in Europe, exh. cat. ed. by V. Rossi and M. di Martino, exhibition Lampronti Gallery, London, 29 June - 31 July 2015, cat. no. 5, pp.20-21.