Inscribed '[...] mater ad mirabilis [?]' (* see note below)

Point of the brush and grey wash, pen and brown ink on laid paper

13.5 x 26.1 cm



Eugene Victor Thaw (1927-2018), New York;

Gift of Mr & Mrs E. Thaw, New York, to Mrs Drue Heinz (1915-2018), New York;

Her Sale, Christie's, London, 04.06.2019, Lot 247 [as Giuseppe Bazzani]


Literature [for the painting of the same subject]:

Mostra del Settecento bolognese (exhib. cat.), Palazzo Communale, Bologna 1935, p. 29

Renato Roli, Pittura Bolognese 1650-1800. Dal Cignani ai Gandolfi, Bologna (1977), p. 269

L'arte del Settecento in Emilia e in Romagna. La pittura. L'Accademia Clementina (ed. Andrea Emiliani), Bologna (1979), p. 30



The present work is believed to be a preparatory work for the painting now in the Quadreria di Palazzo Magnani, Bologna, formerly in the Collezione Zacchia Rondinini, Bologna. Although the finished painting and this study differ in a variety of ways - which is not in itself unusual - there are a number of key elements which connect the early study and the final oil: the unusual pyramid or obelisk in the far background of both works, which does not feature in any other paintings of this subject from the period; the complex spatial arrangement within both drawing and painting, which adds depth and draws the eye in gradually from left to right in the case of the drawing, and right to left in the painting's case; and finally the architectural elements in the middleground of both works which frame the scene. 


The discovery of this sheet adds considerable weight to the attribution of the Bologna painting, as Gionima's drawings are comparatively scarce and it is not often that one can connect a study in pen & ink with the finished oil. Our drawing is also highly comparable to another study of a similar format, composition, and dimensions by Gionima, depicting The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, sold at Christie's, New York, 26.01.2012, Lot 7 [see penultimate image above for comparison side by side]. The composition of our work also brings to mind that of Gionima's Daniel and Susanna (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna, 6571, see penultimate image above) and The Prodigal Son (sold by Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London, European Drawings: Recent Acquisitions, 23.11-9.12.1988, cat. no. 37, see final image above). 



The subject of this work is taken from the St John's Gospel. The Pharisees were looking for ways to confound Jesus on matters of law and so they asked him various difficult legal queries publicly. One such incident involved a woman accused of adultery, whom they brought in front of Jesus while he was teaching. They said that the punishment for such a crime was that she be stoned to death in accordance with the Mosaic law, and asked Jesus what he had to say on the matter. Jesus bent down and drew in the dust at his feet. He then said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone", and bent down to draw again. The woman was then left alone, as her accusers departed, at which point Jesus asked her if there were any accusers left who condemned her. When she told him that there were not, he said "Then neither do I condemn you. Go on your way, and sin no more."


In our drawing, we see the moment at which Christ has replied and knelt down again. The figures wearing conical hats to the right foreground are the Pharisees, departing the scene; the woman remains held by guards, who wear anachronistic armour and bearing modern halberds; meanwhile, figures around the main group strain to hear what Jesus has said and to see what he has drawn in the dust. Gionima gives the scene a modern, cosmopolitan flavour, with the pyramids to the far right background, the Venetian costumes of the Pharisees and the classical architecture that frames the foreground. 



Antonio Gionima was one of the most promising painters in Bologna prior to his premature death from tuberculosis, aged just 35. He avoided scholarly recognition in subsequent years, partly because the majority of his commissions came from private clients rather than public bodies, and that there is little biographical material on him [1]. We know that Gionima was the son of a painter, a pupil of Aureliano Milani, and that after Milani left for Rome in 1719 Gionima continued his training in the studio of Giuseppe Maria Crespi. He favoured highly expressive compositions and dramatic chiaroscuro and colour in his paintings, partaking in the general revival of Mannerism in Bologna that was ongoing during his brief career. 


In his drawings, Gionima would often create a complex mixture of wash and white bodycolour, as displayed to great effect in The Triumph of David, Royal Collections Trust (903742). His works on paper are little-studied, although highly esteemed by collectors, with sheets scattered around the world in public collections.


This drawing was a gift from the distinguished collector and dealer Eugene Victor Thaw to Mrs Drue Heinz, editor of The Paris Review, co-founder of the Ecco Press (New York) and "the great literary philanthropist of our time" [2]. 




[*] The inscription on the verso of this sheet can be compared to the letter written on the verso of another drawing by Gionima, which survives in its entirety, in the collection of the Rhode Island School of Design (58.157). 
[1] The main source of information on Gionima is his teacher's son Luigi Crespi's account (1769, vol. III, pp.234-237). Please contact us  for a further bibliography. 

[2] Cf. Mrs Heinz's obituary, from The Heinz Endowments website: https://www

[Last accessed 03/03/2022]