Point of View # 22
A Resurrection on the River Arno. Ciro Ferri’s Miracle of Saint Zenobius
The Kunsthistorisches Museum is showing The Miracle of Saint Zenobius, a little-known masterpiece by the versatile artist Ciro Ferri (Rome, 1633-1689). Ferri was the most important pupil and collaborator of Pietro da Cortona, one of the inventors of the Roman High Baroque. This versatile painter, sculptor and producer of architectural drawings worked mainly in Rome, Florence and Bergamo, where he greatly influenced young artists.
Recent research has revealed that Ferri’s monumental picture boasts a highly prestigious provenance: it was painted for Principe Leopoldo de’Medici, the family’s most important patron and collector in the seventeenth century, and presented in the Palazzo Pitti in 1665. Family connections between the Medici and the Habsburgs (i.e. dynastic marriages) brought the painting to Vienna in the seventeenth century.
The composition depicts St Zenobius, the first bishop of Florence who was already venerated as the city’s patron saint in the Middle Ages. Ferri shows him stopping during a procession to listen to the pleas of a woman to bring back to life the youth lying before her on the ground. A careful iconographic analysis carried out in connection with this exhibition revealed that Ferri was intimately familiar with, and skilfully interpreted, the legend that forms the basis for his composition. Working for an erudite and cultured patron, he knew that subtle references to other paintings would be both understood and welcome, and his solution to the problem of rendering a figure hovering between life and death appreciated.
In addition to researching the work’s provenance and iconography, we carried out technological studies and analysed the master’s work methods. A comparison with an extant preparatory sketch and the evaluation of infrared photographs revealed both Ferri’s highly economical approach and his virtuoso handling.
In 2012, the Picture Gallery introduced “Points of View”, a series of small exhibitions focusing on an exceptional painting in the collection that is rarely shown for lack of hanging space, or where recent research suggests taking a now look.