Three weeks ago my fiance and myself went to Ilam Hall in Derbyshire and in the grounds is the Church of the Holy Cross and it is a beautiful and fascinating country church but inside was a painting that fascinated me – the name of the piece is called ‘ Mother of Constantine bearing the true cross’.
This painting was one that I recognised of the Baroque style and curiosity lead me to do a little research which is still ongoing.
The artist is named as a B Viviani and the dates on the painting are Birth 1599 and death 1674 and there are co-ordinates on it (which apparently decode as 48°51’08.17″N, 2°20’51.79″E) and which I have traced to near a church in Paris built in the 13th Century called Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre. The information is suggestive that the information on the frame relates to where this picture was originally placed or possibly painted for.
However, the square which the co-ordinates refer to is also very close to Notre Dame Cathedral which as a Catholic cathedral would tie in with The True Cross of St Helena being a Counter-Reformation icon as mentioned below as well as the Catholic origins of the smaller church. The Church of the Holy Cross is originally an Orthodox church, (there is an Orthodox saint buried there called St Bertram), and the Church in Paris was originally Roman Catholic until re-consecrated in 1899 to Eastern Catholic Melkite.
I did some checks under Renaissance artists for the name B Viviani and found no match at all but then I looked at the dates of birth and death and they do match one Octavio Viviani (known as Cozzado?). The style of the painting certainly does fit his architectural style along with his use of colour and shading too.
There is no information on this painting in the Church despite there being an art group there which was a surprise and this is leading me to think they are not aware of the possible provenance i.e. that there is a possibility that this could indeed be an early Baroque painting by the aforesaid Octavio Viviani or a copy of one possibly purchased when the owner at the time one Jessie Watts-Russell and his wife possibly visited Paris or possibly on the Grand Tour.
Jessie Watts-Russell was an MP and High Sherriff of Staffordshire and married to the daughter of David Pike Watts who was the former owner before his death. Previous to David Pike Watts the owners had been the Port Family who had owned the original house, which was built in Elizabethan times, until selling it to him in 1809 and then Jessie Watts-Russell employed a John Shaw to design a new house (the current one) which was finished in 1826 and stands in the same grounds of the Church.
At this point I decided to email my tutor to see if she could throw any more light on this painting. My tutor informed me that yes it is possible that B. Viviani could refer to the Italian Baroque artist Ottavio Viviani who was a pupil of Tommaso Sandrino and that the ‘B’ could possibly refer to his bottega or workshop. Ottavio was originally from Brescia and I also discovered through a little further research he later studied under one Agostino Tassi i.e. the same Agostino Tassi who raped Artemisia Gentileschi, the subject of my final essay.
My tutor also informed me that Ottavio’s style was known for his use of chiaroscuro and also skilled use of perspective when rendering classical ruins or architecture ‘capriccio’ – on looking at other works of Ottavio’s prior to emailing I had found reference to other works of his and felt that the styles were very similar to the painting in the Church and hence why my interest peaked. Much to my frustration at the time of writing this up I can not find the website source of images but my research will be ongoing. My tutor also reminded me that the iconography of the ‘Discovery of the True Cross of St Helena’ is one of the most representative of the Counter-Reformation and the redemptive power.
At the time of writing I have spoken to one of the church wardens 3 weeks ago and have not had a reply so am emailing again tomorrow and also emailing the Diocese with my findings to bring them in to the picture and see what else can be discovered and will up date this post as I get information.
I am obviously hoping that this is indeed an early Baroque painting by Octavio Viviani but even it proves just to be a 19th Century copy it will still be interesting to discover any further information about it.
UPDATE: JANUARY 2017 – this painting will the subject of further research over the coming months as my fiance and I intend to re-visit the church in the spring and see if there is any further information we can glean from the painting itself. I did not hear back from the Diocese in response to my emails unfortunately so can only assume that they have no further information but will chase this up again after our visit – something about this painting is fascinating me and I really would love to find out its true origins.
Pilkington, M and Fuseli, H [no date]. The Gentleman and Connosseur’s Dictionary of Painters [online]. Available from:https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=a0dVAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA598&lpg=PA598&dq=ottavio+viviani&source=bl&ots=d5XeWh61RM&sig=_5-1l73633v1UyxSXXh41AFXcW8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwij4cDjkJLOAhWJthoKHXP8Al44ChDoAQggMAE#v=onepage&q=ottavio%20viviani&f=false
Ross, D. [no date]. Ilam Park and Hall [online]. Available from: http://www.britainexpress.com/counties/staffordshire/countryside/ilam-park.htm