Classic Week: Giacomo Ceruti at the Old Masters Paintings auction


Originating from a European private collection, “Soldiers Playing Cards” is an important work by the painter Giacomo Ceruti (1698–1767) which has been much acclaimed and discussed by connoisseurs of the Lombard master. It is to be offered for sale at auction on 22 October 2019 in the Old Master Paintings sale

T he theme of the Oltremarini or Schiavoni soldiers, border guards from across the empire, German and Hungarian, Slavic and Polish, Dalmatian and Croatian, chimes with the spirit of the Habsburg monarchy. These border guards are immediately recognisable by their distinctive uniforms as well as bytheir itinerant and free-spirited nature. Their hats, made from felt, bear- or calfskin, and their woolen hoods and cloaks are painted with extraordinary precision by the artist from Bergamo. They are realistically depicted as strong and resilient men who possess both skill with weapons and strength of character.

Giacomo Ceruti (1698–1767), Soldiers playing cards, oil on canvas, 196 x 143 cm, estimate €300,000 – 500,000

The natural approach of the Pittori della Realitá (Painters of Reality), as Roberto Longhi calls
them, has its roots in Lombardy. The tradition of Caravaggio, who portrayed farmers, gypsies and cardsharps in his paintings, found fertile ground in this area. Themes of daily life alongside strong characterisation were central motifs.

A unique feature of the painting currently on offer is the fusion of the military theme with the playful element of the game. An educated painter like Ceruti probably knew Hans Sebald Beham’s “Landsknechte Playing Cards on a Drum” (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford); the chess and card games of Sofonisba Anguissola’s “The Chess Game” (Poznań); Caravaggio’s “The Cardsharps” (Kimbell Art Museum) and Nicolas Régnier’s “Card Players with Fortune Teller” in Budapest. Within the vast repertoire of genre scene paintings, the theme of card games enjoyed great popularity, in part because of the moral implications offered by the subject.

Although Ceruti’s collective portrait belongs to this genre, it is characterised by a rougher and more bucolic interpretation of the theme, which in this case is not motivated by deception. The scene takes place outside, in broad daylight, near to the encampment. The soldiers find themselves in a spontaneous moment of rest and recreation.

Giacomo Ceruti’s oeuvre was highly esteemed in the north, especially in Austria, due to his important commissioning relationship with Marshal Matthias von der Schulenburg (1661–1747), a collector and great admirer of the painter.


Auction date: Old Master Paintings auction, 22nd October 2019, 5 p.m.

Location: Palais Dorotheum, Dorotheergasse 17, 1010 Vienna

Exhibition: 12th October 2019 – 22nd October 2019

Information: Maria Cristina Paoluzzi is a specialist for Old Master Paintings at Dorotheum

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