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Stefano Della Bella
A Mother and Child, Two Children, and a Dog

$12,500

About

Provenance: Elsie de Woolfe, Lady Mendl, Paris; by whom given in 1950 to: Arlene Dahl, New York (until 2021) Inventive, whimsical, and fantastic; delightful, imaginative, and macabre; romantic, critical, and witty—these often-conflicting adjectives can all be used to describe the work of the great seventeenth-century draughtsman and printmaker Stefano Della Bella. But what perhaps most characterizes the entire range of his prolific activity was his quality as a keen observer—whether as a witness to the extravagances of the courts, the battles of soldiers, or the poverty of the countryside. The present drawing depicts a mother with her child on the ground outside an unidentifiable building, with what seem to be classical columns at the left. The two embrace each other, even seem to kiss, the child kneeling on his mother’s lap, his arms around her shoulders, while she holds him tight against her. Nearby two boys stand. One seems to be eating some food or chewing on a bone, while the other is petting a dog. This is a scene of quiet tenderness and affection—but one drawn with the most exuberant frenetic pen work. There seems little doubt that the artist was recording what he had seen, an episode (or two) from everyday life. A drawing by Stefano della Bella in the British Museum depicts a similar subject (Fig. 1)—again a mother with her child in her lap outside a classically columned building with another child nearby, also eating, chewing, or perhaps teething. The types in both drawings are the same: the young beautiful mother in a flowing dress and the pudgy children with bushy hair. Both our drawing and that in the British Museum relate thematically to subjects Della Bella treated throughout his career. A seated mother and child trade the news with a barefoot woman carrying two babies in an etching from the series Diverse figure e paesi of 1649 (Fig. 2). An analogous motif also appears in the print of A Child Teaching a Dog to Sit (Fig. 3). The present drawing is very close in treatment to a print by the artist depicting a mother and child embracing, and while not exactly preliminary for the print, it almost certainly served as the basis for the design (Figs. 4-5). The more robust figures in this print, dated to the early 1660s, are especially close to our drawing, which would seem contemporaneous in date. Our drawing was formerly owned by the celebrated interior designer, actress, and taste-maker Elsie de Woolfe (1859–1950) and was gifted to a close friend of hers, the legendary Hollywood actress Arlene Dahl. Then attributed to Ludovico Carracci, the drawing was recently associated with Stefano della Bella by Benjamin Perronet, to whom we are grateful.

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