Saint Camillus of Lellis
(Gaetano Gandolfi)


The Saint Camillus’s Bolognese origins are obvious. The image of a male saint in a state of devotion or contemplation, often before a Crucifix, derives from Guido Reni’s art, such as his full-length St Francis of 1631 (Rome, Colonna Gallery) or the smaller, half-length composition in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.[1] However, Guido would never make such a bold departure from the tonal median as the saint’s black robe. Gandolfi’s successful integration of the dominant dark colour with other rich hues, the white accent of the lilies and the verdant landscape recall the example of Domenichino, for instance his similar Counter-reformation image of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Vision of Christ and God the Father of 1622 (Los Angeles, County Art Museum).[2]

However, in its bravura painting and emotive excitement, the Saint Camillus can only be of the Settecento. It is a work in which Gaetano draws particularly close to his older brother, Ubaldo, who seems to have made something of a speciality in painting devotional images of male saints, often Dominican or Capuchin figures. Two of the finest of these were painted for his patron Gregorio Casali, and the exhibited picture by Ubaldo appears to postdate the style of the Saint Domenic (Bologna, Private Collection) painted for him in 1763.

Cazort points out that Oretti obsessively documented most works prior to the cessation of his chronical in 1786. Since the Saint Camillus is not documented, Cazort considers it to be a late work comparable to the San Gaetano da Thiene (Loreto, Museo Pinacoteca Santa Casa) and therefore datable around 1793 (see Fig. 1).[3] Biagi Maino, however, describes the exhibited painting in her monograph as a work of the late 1770s. She also identifies the subject matter as St. Cajetan of Thiene rather than Saint Camillus of Lellis.

Camillus of Lellis (1530-1614) was the founder of the Congregation of Ministers of the Sick. Born in the Abruzzi, as a young man he joined the Venetian army and fought against the Turks, suffering grievous injuries. He had a violent temper and was a notorious gambler. In about 1573, after losing everything in a wager, Camillus had a religious experience. He made his way to Rome, where, advised by St. Philip Neri, he founded a congregation of male nurses pledged to serve the ill, the battle wounded, the plague stricken, prisoners and slaves. He and his followers worked in Hungary and Croatia, and it is claimed were the first to use military ambulances. Camillus was a pioneer in insisting on suitable diet and quarantine for the sick, and he founded eight hospitals before his death in Genoa. This attractive figure was also well known for his physical stature. He was supposedly six and a half feet tall, and Gandolfi’s representation successfully conveys both his moral and corporeal presence. The saint in our picture bears the red hospitalier’s cross thereby confirming his identification.

Biagi’s proposed alternative identification of the saint with Saint Cajetan of Thiene (born c.1480, died Naples 1547) was probably due to this saint’s popularity in Northern Italy where he was active in religious and charitable work. In 1524, he joined with Bishop John Peter Caraffa (later Pope Paul IV) in founding the first congregation of Clerk’s Regular who became known as the Theatines. Rome was sacked by Imperial troops in 1527 and the Theatine headquarters were moved to Naples where Cajetan spent most of the rest of his life. Ubaldo Gandolfi painted a large altarpiece of the Madonna and Child with St. Cajetan (now in a private collection in Bologna) proving that the Saint was popular in Emilia. This composition was engraved. Representations of St.Cajetan in Bolognese painting generally include the Christ Child since one of the main events in this saint’s life was the privilege accorded him by the Virgin herself in holding the Child and this was celebrated at the cermonies of Christmas, the Circumcision and the Epiphany. The Child is clearly absent from our composition. In contrast Gaetano also painted compositions of Christ on the Cross, stretching out his arms to Saint Camillus of Lellis (one whereabouts unknown, the second in San Lorenzo in Budrio). In these latter two paintings, the saint is clearly identified by wearing the same habit as in our picture, emblazoned with a red cross on the chest. An identification therefore of the subject of our painting with Saint Camillus of Lellis seems certain.


[1] Formerly Matthiesen Gallery, London, 1986.

[2] Formerly Matthiesen Gallery, London, 1986.

[3] Mimi Cazort (Ms.Communication dated 18 Oct 1998) confirms her 1993 opinion of the late dating of this picture in Gaetano’s oeuvre. She underlines the fact that earlier works such as the frontal with SS.Agostino e Monica in Crespellano and The Assumption in Limisano are significantly different in paint and colour. ‘In the 1770s Gaetano is quite painterly enjoying the delights of impasto. His colour is warm with reds, golds and browns’. Cazort opines that the St.Camillus is late in date both on account of its colour and the manner in which the forms are contoured. ‘The palette limited to stark blacks and whites in a context of pastel-neutrals is something he arrived at rather late, see the Pisa Beato Vernigalli, 1788. The tight delineation of forms, from the profile of the saint to his drapery and details, also speak to me of a later date. There was also, in his religious work, a tendency to stereotype his faces. He did this earlier, of course, but later it became a pronounced stylistic convention’.

41¾ x 29 1/8 in. 106 x 74 cm
Oil on canvas

PROVENANCE: With Colnaghi, London, 1980; Private Collection, London.


LITERATURE: La pittura bolognese del’700. Edited by A.Cera. Milan 1994, as F.Pedrini, plate 3; D.Biagi Maino, Gaetano Gandolfi, Turin, 1995, p. 373, no. 112, fig. 129, where wrongly identified as representing San Gaetano da Thiene.


Matthiesen Gallery, London, ‘The settecento’, 1999

Where is It?
Given as a gift to the Toledo Museum of Art
Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Religious: New Testament
Italian - Bolognese
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
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