Amnon's Outrage on behalf of his Sister Tamar Absalom [one of a pair]
(Andrea Celesti)


These pictures belong to a particular tradition in Italian seicento painting, where bravura is coupled with something of the delicacy of rapid bozzetto handling regardless of the scale involved. It is particularly characteristic of a small group of painters active in Venice around the Florentine Sebastiano Mazzoni, present in the city by 1649. Their unusual Old Testament subjects also conform to a taste for somewhat recondite themes current in the Mazzoni circle, coupled with disturbing visual and perspectival effects, as in Mazzoni’s Dream of Pope Onorio III (Venice, S. Maria del Carmine).

Celesti worked not only in Venice but also in Padua, Rovigo, Treviso and Vicenza. In addition to his period in the Venetian studios of Matteo Ponzone and Mazzoni (where Fumani and Bambini also studied), one of Celesti’s greatest debts was to the Vicentine painter Francesco Maffei. Maffei transmitted not only something of his often hectic style to Celesti but also his great admiration for Jacopo Bassano, Tintoretto and Strozzi but above all Veronese. In both of the present pictures, the pyrotechnics associated with Mazzoni (probably derived from Cecco Bravo) are eminently present; in this they are close to Celesti’s The Virgin liberating a City (Venice, Chiesa dei Carmine) and The Israelites sacrificing to Idols (Dresden, Gemaldegalerie) with its echoes of Tintoretto and even Palma Vecchio. Their figure types and paint handling are also close to The Finding of Moses (Reggio Emilia, Galleria Civica).

Celesti was active at the height of the ‘cinquecento revival’ of the Venetian seventeenth century, coupling his borrowings initially with the darker tones of tenebrists like Loth and Langetti. Cochin writing in 1758 described Celesti’s work ‘… l’effet en est piquant … le pinceau est flou…c’est le plus hardi coloriste qu’on est vu a’ Venise…’ In The Outrage of Amnon, the surprising device of the table’s dramatic foreshortening into depth recalls Tintoretto’s famous Last Supper (Venice, S. Giorgio Maggiore). The paintings left by Giordano during his Venetian sojourn from 1685 led to a lightening of Celesti’s style both in tonality and the volume of his figures. This influence is apparent in the present pictures, in their palette of white, yellow coral and blue, looking forward to the early Rococo of Sebastiano Ricci. Celesti’s distinctive staring eyes and pointed features and extremities are present in both these pictures: his work sometimes seems to prefigure the Romantic movement, as in one of his rare portraits, An Imaginary Portrait of Count Alberto (Dublin, National Gallery). After 1684, he worked extensively in Brescia, later setting up a workshop there and providing large canvasses for many churches as well as for Salo and a number of small towns around Lake Garda.

The story depicted in there two pictures is drawn from the Old Testament, II. Samuel,

Chapter 13, verses 1-29:-

‘And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her.
And Amnon was so vexed that he fell sick because of his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and it seemed hard to Amnon to do any thing unto her.
But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah David’s brother; and Jonadab was a very subtil man.
And he said unto him, why, 0 son of the king, art thou lean from day to day? wilt thou not tell me? And Amnon said unto him, I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.
And Jonadab said unto him, Lay thee down on thy bed, and feign thyself sick: and when thy father cometh to see thee, say unto him, Let my sister Tamar come, I pray thee, and give me bread to eat, and dress the food in my sight, that I may see it, and eat it at her hand.
So Amnon lay down, and feigned himself sick: and when the king was come to see him, Amnon said unto the king. Let my sister Tamar come, I pray thee, and make me a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat at her hand.
Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, Go now to thy brother Amnon’s house, and dress him food.
So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house; and he was laid down. And she took dough, and kneaded it, and made cakes in his sight, and did bake the cakes.
And she took the pan, and poured them out before him; but he refused to cat. And Amnon said, Have out at men from me. And they went out every man from him.
And Amnon said unto Tamar, Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat of thine hand, And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother.
And when she had brought them near unto him to eat, he took hold of her, and said unto her, Come lie with me, my sister.
And she answered him, Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel; do not thou this folly.
And I, whither shall I carry my shame? and as for thee, thou shalt be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray thee, speak unto the king; for he will not unhold me from thee.
Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but being stronger than she, he forced her, and lay with her.
And it came to pass after two full years, that Absalom had sheepshearers in Baal-hazor, which is beside Ephraim: and Absalom invited all the king’s sons.
Then Amnon hated her with exceeding great hatred; for the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone.
And she said unto him, Not so, because this great wrong in putting me forth is worse than the other that thou didst unto me. But he would not hearken unto her.
Then he called his servant that ministered unto him, and said, but now this woman out from me, and bolt the door after her.
And she had a garment of divers colours upon her: for with such robes were the king’s daughters that were virgins apparelled. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her.
And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of divers colours that was on her; and she laid her hand on her head, and went her way crying aloud as she went.
And Absalom her brother said unto her, Liath Amnon thy brother been with thee hut now hold thy peace my sister: he is thy brother; take not this thing to heart. So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s house.
But when king David heard of all these things, he was very wroth And Absalom spake unto Amnon neither good nor bad: for Absalom hated Amnon. because he had forced his sister Tamar.
And Absalom came to the king, and said, Behold now, thy servant hath sheepshearers; let the king, I pray thee, and his servants go with they servant.
And the king said to Absalom, Nay, my son, let us not all go, lest we be burdensome unto thee. And he pressed him: howbeit he would not go, but blessed him.
Then said Absalom, if not, I pray thee, let my brother Amnon go with us. And the king said unto him, Why should he go with thee?
But Absalom pressed him, that he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him.
And Absalom commanded his servants, saying. Mark ye now, when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine; and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon, then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valient.
And the servant of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons arose, and every man gat him up upon his mule, and fled.’

7 5/16 x 9 5/16 in. (18.5 x 23.7 cm.)
Oil on canvas
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Historical events
Italian - Venetian
1993-Fifty Paintings 1535 - 1825.
To celebrate Ten Years of Collaboration between The Matthiesen Gallery, London, and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York. 216 pages, 50 colour plates, numerous black and white text illustrations £20 or $32 inc. p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
$50,000 - $100,000