(This is the shortened English version of an original French blog entry : Qui est saint silvaistre ? Qui ressemble à Morosini ?; if you notice any funny English or have any suggestion, please leave a comment.)
The drawing Catalog 10 clearly shows how it is difficult to understand the drawings and the texts of Georges Focus.
In a room with almost bare walls, Focus, recognizable for its halo, dressed in a nightgown, tries to open a large chest. He looks directly at the viewer of the drawing. On the opposite side of the room, close to a fireplace, a woman is sitting on the floor and looks at various kitchen utensils. In the lower left corner of the drawing, also seated on the floor, the river god drinks from the neck of a bottle. The wolf lays at his side, extending his paw on an overturned amphora from which a liquid flows out. At the back of the room, two chairs are leaning against each other and a painting, the topic of this blog entry, is hanging on the wall.
In the lower right corner is a banderole with 16 lines of text. This text refers to several elements of the drawing and deals with both love desire and the thirst for alcohol, while mixing religious themes. Blindness is the topic of the last part of the text.
Here is a transcription in modern French:
(…) Et c’est de celui-là que du depuis Rome que de sur tous j’aime, parce que l’on n’en a point mal aux yeux comme dans ce tableau paraît l’aveugle guéri par saint silvaistre et acheté par Naisone avocat de Lyon ressemblant à Morosini, proveditor de ce jus pour le niFocus, Catalogue 10
Here is a tentative English translation:
(…) And this is the wine that I prefer since Rome, because it does not cause pain to the eyes, like in this painting you can see the blind man cured by saint silvaistre, bought by Naisone a lawyer in Lyon, who looks like Morosini, proveditor, … (I do not understand the last phrase)Focus, Catalogue 10 (English translation by ADH)
Several elements of the text remain unclear to me; I cannot identify Naisone and do not understand the phrase “de se jus pour le ni” (is it from Latin (ius, law) or French (jus, juice that would mean wine in the context)?).
In a footnote to their excellent edition of the drawing, Marianne Cojannot-Le Blanc and Christian Michel have proposed that “Silvestre, the master of Focus, is probably to be understood here rather than Saint Sylvester”. According to them, the painting would be a representation by Focus of a work by Israel Silvestre illustrating “perhaps one of the healings of a blind person by Jesus Christ, or Ananias curing Saul’s blindness after his conversion”1.
According to me, the standing figure on Focus’ drawing is too old to be Jesus Christ; Ananias and Saul provide for an interesting hypothesis and has many comtemporary parallel examples2.
However, as the painting is different in its style and its theme from Silvestre paintings, I am inclined to take Focus’ text literally: the painting represents the baptism of the emperor Constantine by Saint Silvester, the bishop of Rome3.
Paintings on this theme were pretty common in Rome at the time of Focus’ stay; the most famous one is in Raphael Rooms in the Vatican.
“The blind man cured by saint silvaistre”, according to me, is to be understood as Constantine before his baptism.
who looks like Morosini
As explained by the editors of the Catalog, Morosini is very probably Francesco Morosini, Doge of Venice from 1688 to 1694, the period which corresponds to the time of creation of Focus’s drawings4. Many portraits of Morosini exist, for example this one:
Let me quote again the extract of Focus’ text analyzed here: ” like in this painting you can see the blind man cured by saint silvaistre, bought by Naisone a lawyer in Lyon, who looks like Morosini …”. As Naisone is not identified for the moment, it is obviously impossible to assess his resemblance to Morosini, but we can wonder about the meaning of this comparison, its necessity, because Morosini does not seem to have had a particularly remarkable appearance. Admittedly, he was a celebrity of his time after the siege of Candie5 and a few successes in the war against the Ottoman Empire6, but it is not clear why Focus would have used this person for a physical comparison.
The following document may help to understand Focus’ text:
As usual in Venice, the doge in office at the time of the striking of the coin is represented kneeling in front of Saint Mark, who gives him a spear surmounted by a cross7. Several coins struck under Morosini include a somewhat amusing detail in the form of the elongated finger of the saint approaching the face of the doge8. I propose the hypothesis that the coins of Venice with this pointing finger and the kneeling position of Morosini served as an inspiration for Focus’s commentary and that Constantine baptized by Saint Sylvester does look like Morosini in Focus’ drawing.
Who is bought by Naisone, a lawyer in Lyon ?
If Focus’ sentence is logically organized, the phrase “bought by Naisone, a lawyer in Lyon” should also qualify the emperor Constantine. For the moment, I admit that I cannot explain it. I wonder if Lyon or lion is meant, as the lion of Saint-Marc appears on the reverse side of the coin reproduced above.
The identification of the subject of the painting represented by Focus in the drawing Catalog 10 seems assured to me: it is Saint Sylvester and Constantine, a theme that Focus encountered during his formative years in Rome. If the comparison I made between this painting and Morosini’s coin is correct, this brings us to another period in his life, when he was living in Paris. As in other drawings, Focus would mix here memories of different moments in his life and, playfully, different kinds of images. The third information given on this painting, a purchase by the lawyer Naisone of Lyon or lion, remains unclear.
- “Focus demande à boire” in E. Brugerolles (éd.), Georges Focus. la folie d’un peintre de Louis XIV (Paris, 2018), p. 144 et n. 6.
- See original French entry for many illustrations on Ananias and Sylvester.
- On the history of this baptism, see L. Guichard, Les deux baptêmes de Constantin et l’admission de l’empereur au catéchuménat : enquête historiographique sur les pas d’Henri Valois et de Lenain de Tillemont, in D. Lagorgette et L. Ripart (ed.), Les bons comptes font les bons amis. Mélanges offerts à Christian Guilleré, Chambéry, 2017, p. 131-188; P. Cibois, Faux et usage de faux chez les carolingiens. L’enquête de Lorenzo Valla, La question du latin (Carnet Hypothèses) (March 25 2012).
- Several of his drawings mention a date between 1692 and 1694 .
- See, for example, a map of Crete from 1669 with a representation of Morosini slaying Turkish prisoners, or the engraving by Gasper Bouttats, from 1688, kept in Versailles .
- Nowadays he is known for the destruction of the Parthenon in Athens.
- In Italian, vessillo
- See examples here, here and especially here.