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Contact Exhibitor
Artist NameAntiveduto Gramatica (1571 - 1626 Rome)
TitleSaint Dorothea
Date of Artwork17th Century
MediumOil on canvas
Size40 1/2 x 30 in. • 102.9 x 76.2 cm
Framed Dimensions51 1/4 x 39 3/4 in. • 130.2 x 101 cm


Doria Collection, Italy;
Private Collection, France

Further Information

Although Antiveduto Gramatica is often thought of as a follower of Caravaggio, and an especially distinctive one, the relationship of the two artists was actually more complex. They were almost exact contemporaries, both born in 1571, and it is believed that Caravaggio first worked in Gramatica's studio when he arrived in Rome around 1592. Gramatica was then already a resident of Rome, having been born during his parents' journey there from Siena-an event foreseen ("antiveduto") by his father who commemorated the event by bestowing the future painter with his whimsical name. Gramatica's early work has not survived, so we have no indication of what influence he might have had on Caravaggio's style. However, it is clear that in the years following, Gramatica absorbed much of Caravaggio's dramatic tenebrism, which informs his lucid compositions and the elegant figures that populate them. Gramatica also benefitted from the same patronage circles of Caravaggio, receiving commissions from both Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte and Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani. While his career involved work outside of Rome, particularly in Naples and Turin, Gramatica remained an important figure in the artistic society of Rome, holding posts in the Accademia di San Luca and the Congregazione dei Virtuosi al Pantheon, the Papal Academy of Arts and Letters.

This present painting is a hitherto-unknown work by Gramatica, having long remained in the collection of a branch of the Doria family. It depicts the early Christian virgin martyr Dorothea (Dorothy), who had fled from Rome to the city of Caesarea in Cappadocia (today's Kayseri in eastern Turkey) to avoid persecution. Yet there, according to The Golden Legend, she was horrifically tortured for her beliefs and her refusal to marry the pagan governor. She miraculously survived these depredations unscathed, while relating a vision of herself holding a basket of apples and roses from the heavenly garden of Christ. Dorothea was ultimately condemned to death by beheading. On her way to her martyrdom, she was accosted by a scribe named Theophilus who mockingly asked her to send him a heavenly basket of apples and roses. After her death, an angel appeared to Theophilus, presenting him with such a basket, causing his immediate acceptance of Christianity.

In this painting Dorothea is depicted three-quarter length, filling the pictorial frame but set within a dark space that functions much as a gold ground would have in an earlier era, both isolating and highlighting the subject. She is bathed in bright light that illuminates her flowing locks, alabaster skin, and her gold brocaded garment. One of the most beautifully observed passages of the painting is the wicker basket, which is held close to the left edge of the composition and appears as if projecting into the viewer's space. Here Antiveduto showcases not only his skill as a painter of graceful figures, but also his ability as a still-life painter in rendering the apples and roses with which the saint is associated. Gramatica masterfully combines a figural pose reminiscent of Guido Reni with the play of light and shadow characteristic of Caravaggio. The direct presentation of the figure, divorced from any specific context, is intensified by the dramatic shadows that fall across her and are cast on the wall behind her. The saint's idealized beauty and heavenward gaze suggest that we are witnessing her in a moment of ecstasy that exists out of time.

Saint Dorothea is infrequently treated in the Baroque era, although there are memorable depictions of her by Francisco Zurbarán (Fig. 1). That Gramatica treated the subject here and in another composition known from two versions (Fig. 2) likely relates to local veneration of the saint in Rome, where her relics had been enshrined since 1500 on the main altar of the Church of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere. In both of Gramatica's paintings the principal figure-seen in our painting in a more active state and in the other a more contemplative one-emerges from the darkness to proffer the saint's iconic basket, a still-life motif beloved of the artist that appears as well in depictions of the Madonna and Child.

The painting is presented in a superb gilt wood frame, likely to be the original. We are grateful to Dr. Giani Papi for confirming Antiveduto Gramatica's authorship of this painting (written communication, 25 February 2022).