Saint Agnes by Domenichino (19th century steel engraving)


St. Agnes, by Domenichino. 19th Century engraving after the original in the Royal Collection

It is a sunny May, 1st here in the north of the Netherlands. So time for a bit of art history. Some time ago I wrote a post about two big and heavy books filled with 19th century engravings of original works of art in the British Royal Collection. The books, published by P. & D. Colnaghi Co. between 1854 and 1860, and written and researched by Samuel Carter Hall (1800 – 1889), are a collection of steel engravings, created by a team of engravers who worked about 6 years on the project. The engravings were published as separate prints, and as a collection in two heavy volumes. The books in my possession are, alas, in poor condition. The engravings are very crisp, and clean, but the bindings are damaged. The books are simply too big, heavy, and unwieldy and the spines have suffered from transport, storage in suboptimal conditions, wear and tear. When I open them now to make photographs, I put them in a cradle of cushions and a wicker IKEA chair that has just the right shape and size to carefully and safely open them. I have photographed most of the images, but have only just started to make photographs of the descriptions.

This is the first one, St. Agnes, a charming painting by Domenichino. After photographing the text I created a PDF in Adobe Acrobat Professional, and performed an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) run. I then cleaned up the OCR result, which contained many mistakes and scanning errors. The text below is cleaned up, and therefore very close to the original. I have kept the original spelling, e.g. ‘Raffaele’, and I have restored the smart, or curly quotes, as in the original.

The engraver is a Mr. S. Smith.

I will work my way through the volumes, probably in a very low pace.

Here follows the complete text from the volume:



DOMENICO ZAMPIERI, or, as he is usually called, Domenichino, born at Bologna in 1581, was one of the most illustrious painters of the Bolognese school, and among the most distinguished scholars who went forth from the studio of the Caracci: his talents and success throughout his career were so remarkable as to excite the constant jealousy and ill-will of many of his contemporaries. Soon after he had entered the Academy of the Caracci, he bore away the principal prize from all his competitors, among whom were Guido and Albano; with the latter Domenichino formed an intimate friendship, and, on leaving the school, they visited together Parma, Modena, and Reggio, to study the works of Parmegiano and Correggio. Albano then went to Rome, whither he was shortly followed by his friend. The Cardinal Agucchi was the first who so far appreciated the genius of Domenichino as to extend to him his patronage: he employed him to decorate his palace, and gave him a commission to paint three pictures for the Church of S. Onofria. Annibal Caracci was at this time in Rome, occupied with his great work in the Farnese Gallery, and he engaged Domenichino to execute a portion of it from his cartoons : in the loggia of the garden he painted from his own designs “The Death of Adonis.” On the recommendation of Caracci, whose failing health incapacitated him from undertaking any new commissions, Domenichino was employed, in conjunction with Guido, by the Cardinal Borghese, in the Church of S. Gregorio.

The next great Roman ecclesiastic who sought to avail himself of his talents was the Cardinal Aldobrandini, whose villa at Frascati he decorated with frescoes, ten in number, from the life of Apollo. Soon after his completion of these works he commenced his grand picture of “The Last Communion of St. Jerome,” for the principal altar of the Church of S. Girolamo della Carita, at Rome : this work has universally been regarded as the chef-d’oeuvre of the master, and second only to Raffaelle’s “Transfiguration” among the pictures of the world. When the French armies, during the wars of the revolution, rifled Italy of her Art-treasures, this was one of the first works on which they laid violent hands; and, until the peace of 1815, it ornamented the gallery of the Louvre: it was then restored, with the other pictures and statues that had been carried off, and is now in the gallery of the Vatican, in the same apartment with the “Transfiguration,” and four other pictures by Raffaelle – a splendid exhibition in themselves.

The fame Domenichino acquired by this picture only redoubled the malevolence of his rivals, who at length succeeded in driving him out of Rome: he returned to Bologna, where he passed several years in the quiet exercise of his talents; but Pope Gregory XV., unwilling to lose his valuable services, prevailed upon him once more to visit Rome, and appointed him principal painter and architect to the pontifical palace. He died in 1641 , after a life laboriously passed in the earnest and successful pursuit of an art which he loved and practised in all sincerity.

His “St. Agnes,” one of the “heir-looms” of the British crown, was formerly an altar- piece, but from what church it was taken, and when it was brought to England, there seems to be no positive information: the picture, prior to its removal to its present location, was at Kensington Palace. The youthful saint – who according to tradition , suffered martyrdom at the age of thirteen, in the year 303 – is standing in an attitude of deep devotion; an angel is flying towards het with a crown and palm-branch, while another is seated at her feet caressing a lamb, the symbol of St. Agnes, who is the peculiar patroness of innocence and purity of mind. The head – its long hair confined by a rich tiara – is of exceeding beauty; the figure is designed with great elegance, and the entire composition is elevated in character, is painted with great warmth and transparency of colour, and is regarded as one of the artist’s best pictures.

It is in the collection at Windsor Castle: the canvas measures 7 ft. by 5 ft.” [Description by S. C. Hall]”


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