When exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1992 Perrin Stein authored the following entry on the present paintings: Little is known today of the life and art of Michele Rocca. From Nicola Pio's short biography of the artist (published in 1724), it is known that he was born in Parma in 1666 and came to Rome at the age of sixteen to study with Ciro Ferri, an assistant and follower of Pietro do Cortona. Rocca returned briefly to his native city to study the works of Correggio, but was back in Rome in the 1690s, when he is documented as having executed several large church altarpieces. Recent research has established Rocca’s presence in Rome through 1727. After that, nothing further is known of Rocca’s whereabouts until he is mentioned as having resided in Venice in 1751. Rather early in his career, Rocca seems to have abandoned large-scale church decoration in favor of small, brilliantly colored cabinet pictures, which he presumably made for private collectors. A sizable group of these unsigned religious and mythological scenes has been attributed to Rocca on the basis of style. However, their stylistic consistency makes the establishment of a chronology difficult. The present pair of canvases depict The Temptation of Adam and Eve and The Expulsion from Paradise (Genesis 3:6 and 3:24). Although the subjects of the Temptation and the Expulsion were not common in eighteenth-century art, they suited the format established by Rocca for his cabinet pictures, which tended to feature a few nude figures in a pastoral setting, typically in a vertical composition. In The Temptation, Eve is shown standing, seen from the back, as she hands the forbidden fruit to Adam, who is reclining on the hillside. Responsible for Eve's temptation, Satan is shown in the form of a human-headed serpent coiling around the Tree of Knowledge. In the pendant, a chastened and shamed Adam and Eve are banished from Eden by an angel bearing a sword of fire. In both canvases, the landscapes are freely painted in the light blues and greens typical of the Rococo period. Successful compositions were occasionally repeated by Rocca. In the present case, he made a close version of The Expulsion, with the addition of garlands of leaves to accommodate Adam and Eve’s newfound modesty (Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum). Rocca’s role in the development of the Rococo style has been the subject of art-historical debate. His luminous, clear colors and painterly handling, as well as the small-scale format and pleasant subject matter of his paintings, are consistent with the new style emerging in Rome and elsewhere in the early decades of the eighteenth century, and these qualities initially contributed to the view of Rocca as an early follower of the new manner. However, recent scholarship (see Sestieri 1973) has shown Rocca’s “Rococo” style to predate many of the painters previously thought to have influenced him, and instead presents Rocca as a precocious petit maître of the Rococo style who was formed by his native Parma as well as by the late Baroque work of Luca Giordano, Francesco Trevisani, and Carlo Maratta, whom he would have encountered in his Roman milieu. In addition to the variant Expulsion from Paradise in Hartford, another version of the Temptation of Adam and Eve by Rocca, formerly in the collection of Julius Held, recently appeared at auction. A painting thought to be a bozzetto for the Hartford painting was formerly in the Rossacher Collection, Salzburg.
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