Douffet’s Roman Teacher

Caravaggio Blog

It is when I refocus on Rome’s ‘superbe Galerie de’ Medicis’ Gérard Douffet visited according to Abry, that I bump into the name of the artist who most probably served as the young painter’s guide, and mentor in the first year(s) of his residence in Rome. His name is Antiveduto Grammatica (also Gramatica). He was a particularly gifted painter of heads, a talent he had developed by copying ….., yes, indeed, the celebrated series of illustrious men in Rome’s Medici Villa. Can we indeed take this reference as a clincher? You may remember how Louis Abry described that young Douffet admired the ancient monuments and the beauties preserved in the “superbe Galerie de Medicis”, where he was so fortunate as to make the acquaintance of ‘le Peintre du Cardinal de ce nom’.

Helen Langdon in her Caravaggio. A Life points out that there was no one better than Grammatica at shaping and colouring heads, and there was no Prince or other Illustrious Personage who came to Rome, who did not call by to have Grammatica portray his head. It made him wealthy, and highly respected. He was a man of wide culture, who delighted in poetry. This fascination is another clue that links Douffet and Grammatica together: according to Abry the greatest advantage the young painter from Liège received from his first contact in Rome was the special taste for the ‘Belles Lettres’ and for the study of Poetry and History. I am further intrigued by Abry’s insight that Douffet’s artistic mentor in Rome accompanied him to places where the most renowned artists came together to engage in the perfection of their art. We might find out more on the subject by scrutinizing Grammatica’s biography.

Antiveduto Grammatica

Antiveduto Grammatica’s birth has only relatively recently been established (F. Petrucci, ‘l’Atto di nascita di Antiveduto Gramatica’, Paragone, 2004). He was born in Rome in 1569, not in Siena in 1571 as generally stated in his biographies. It was the painter and biographer Giovanni Baglione (we are already very familiar with him), who in his Le vite de pittori, scultori et architetti (1642) sheds light on Grammatica’s curious Christian name, ‘Antiveduto’. His father wanted his wife to have their child before they left for Rome, from their native Siena. His mother, however, insisted on undertaking the journey, giving birth in an inn on the way. Her husband said ‘I have foreseen’ (‘ho antiveduto’) this mess. So when he was born and brought to Rome, he was baptized in the St. Peter’s and given the name Antiveduto. What is interesting for us is to find what Grammatica’s style of painting was characterized by when he was Douffet’s teacher. In the 1610s Grammatica’s painting became intensely naturalistic, with dynamic contrasts of light and dark, reflecting both the strong influence of Caravaggio, and of his friend Orazio Borgianni.

Antiveduto Grammatica was a highly cultivated artist, who started a workshop of his own on or near Rome’s Via delle Scrofa, in the early 1590s. We may well assume that it was under his guidance that young Douffet dedicated his time to making copies of the best originals, making portraits, in which art he later excelled. It was Grammatica’s special bond with the Villa Medici‘s Gallery that serves as a clear indication for me that he became Douffet’s artistic mentor when he arrived in Rome in 1614. The teacher and his Flemish pupil must have paid regular visits to the works showing illustrious men of antiquity that Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici acquired at the Villa Medici in the early 1580s, regarded by contemporaries as the greatest collection of art in Rome. Grammatica and Douffet had devoted time together studying poetry and history. Had they kept abreast of the popular Apollo and Hyacinth tennis topic within literary circles, initiated in c. 1614 by Italy’s most prominent poet, Giambattista Marino (see Ep. 9, and my 2013 Studi secenteschi essay, The Apollo and Hyacinth Tennis Theme in Baroque Poetry, accessible through, we may wonder.

Grammatica and Caravaggio

Grammatica’s studio turns out to be one of the first where Caravaggio was trained as a figure painter, the pinnacle of painting for any Italian artist. The cultivated environment of Grammatica’s studio, where poetry and painting were close allies, must have provided Caravaggio with intellectual stimulus. Intriguing to find a close association between Douffet’s probable mentor in Rome, Grammatica, and the principal character of our inquiry, Caravaggio. It is very likely that Gérard Douffet underwent the same artistic training at Grammatica’s workshop as Caravaggio about two decades before. It was probably within this artistic setting where Douffet became inspired by Caravaggio’s style, to which Grammatica must have contributed significantly. We still need to establish if Antiveduto Grammatica can be viewed as Louis Abry’s ‘le Peintre du Cardinal de Medicis’. In her Caravaggio biography Helen Langdon provides a first glimpse for us of the special relationship that existed between Del Monte and Grammatica. One of the early pictures the Medici cardinal commissioned from the artist is a painting representing musical subjects that he is supposed to have exhibited in his musical camerino in the Palazzo Madama. According to the cardinal’s 1627 inventory he possessed as many as ten paintings by Grammatica, twelve according to another source. I am confident to have convincingly established the identities of both Gérard Douffet’s Roman Guide, Antiveduto Grammatica, and the ‘Cardinal de’ Medici, Francesco Maria del Monte. What we have not yet settled is whether Douffet had any dealings with the cardinal. This may take some time to ascertain.

From my perusal of Grammatica’s biographies emerges another matter of consequence as to the lead we are following. The artist became a fully integrated member of the Roman artistic milieu, getting closely involved in the running of the San Luca Academy, in particular in the years 1617-1624. Prick up your ears, this might get interesting.

It is remarkable how during my inquiry I keep being drawn into the San Luca Academy proceedings of c. 1617-1620. Now we can add Grammatica’s name to the list, the teacher of the painter who is our prime candidate to have painted the Death of Hyacinth. The thread I am pursuing of the pro and contra Caravaggio factions within the San Luca Academy is bearing fruit. The circumstances were eloquently addressed in the Caravaggio, Mecenati e Pittori exhibition and testified by the portraits Ottavio Leoni made for the Academy of the characters that were close throughout Caravaggio’s turbulent life: friends, clients and patrons, but also rivals and detractors. Maria Cristina Terzaghi sees a clear analogy between the 186 portraits Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici had made of illustrious men for his new Roman residence, Villa Medici (executed between 1578-1588), and the San Luca academy portraits that Cardinal del Monte had asked Ottavio Leoni to produce for the San Luca Academy. Cardinal del Monte himself also possessed a series of portraits of illustrious men, testifying to his passion for the subject.

Antiveduto Grammatica, by Ottavio Leoni, Accademia di San Luca.

Giovanni Baglione, drawing by Ottavio Leoni, Accademia di San Luca.

Isabella Salvagni in her Caravaggio e l’Europa essay (pp. 119-120) points out that from 1617 onwards Antiveduto Grammatica’s status became so elevated that he got closely involved in the drafts of the new San Luca Academy’s statutes. His main associate in the affair was Paolo Guidotti, their principal opponent being Giovanni Baglione, ‘Primo Consigliore’ in 1619 and 1620 when, after heated deliberations, Guidotti and Grammatica were put forward as the Academy’s ‘Principe e Vice Principe’. By all accounts Grammatica gained great familiarity with the two protectors of the Academy, first Cardinal Federico Borromeo, and then Francesco Maria Del Monte, to whom he became closely attached. So much that he was elected to the highest office of the San Luca Academy as “Principe” in 1624. Another related matter that needs our attention: Abry disclosed that Douffet’s guide in Rome accompanied him to a place where ‘the most renowned artists came together to engage in the perfection of their art’. It must have been to the San Luca Academy that Grammatica introduced Douffet, perhaps as early as from about 1614. The San Luca Academy was the ultimate Roman institute where the perfection of art was supposed to be achieved.