Pier Francesco Mola, Italian 1612-1666
Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 19 1/4, sn#138
Provenance- Aufrere Collection; Yarborough Collection, acquired 1929, Christies

Oil on canvas, 25 7/8 x 19 3/8, sn#139
Provenance - Aufrere Collection; Yarborough Collection acquired 1929, Christies

by Susan Johnson

Pier Francesco Mola was born in the small village of Coldrerio, near Lugano in the canton of Ticino on February 6, 1612. He father was an architect and he moved with his family, to Rome in 1616. Piero trained with Prospero Orsi and the Cavaliere d'Arpino. In 1633, he went to Bologna to work with Albani. There is no documentary proof that Mola visited Venice, before 1644- we know that he was out of Rome during 1633-40 and the style of his later frescoes, the Coldrerio frescoes (1641-2) reveals his knowledge of Titian. It was after he returned from Venice to Rome, where he describes painting in a style he calls "Bassanesque" that he settled in Bologna with Albani. In 1641, he returned to Rome and completed frescoe cycles that show the influence of Bolognese painting and contact with Albani. In 1652-3 he painted frescoes at the Villa of Pamphili - all traces of which have disappeared since Prince Pamphili had them painted over after a disagreement with Mola over payment. Mob sued the Prince in court for failing to pay his fee. In July 1662, he was elected President of the Accadamia di San Luca in Rome. He left the position in 1663 due to illness. Mob was a contemporary of Battista Passeri and Testa. He had been invited to Fran0e as a court painter by Louis XIV but died before he was able to go. His pupils included: Francesco Giovani, Giovanni Bonati, G.B. Bancore, A. Gherardi. He was admired by Queen Christina of Sweden as the 'most genuine heir to rite Venetian tradition." His friendship with Testa (who was considered a brilliant, serf-educated and independent painter) was an important part of his life. Mola died in Rome at the age of 54

The subject of THE PROPHET ELIJAH AND THE WIDOW OF ZARAPATH (sn138) is from the Old Testament, 1 Kings 17:10-24; Given food by the widow, Elijah ensures that her meagre supplies never fail; her son dies and Elijah restores him to life by breathing into him. The subject of THE PROPHET ELISHA AND THE RICH WOMAN OF SHUNEM is from 11 Kings 4:8-37; Befriended by the woman from Shunem, Elisha causes her to bear a child when she thinks she can no longer bear children; but the child dies and she goes to Elisha and pleads with him to help her, he returns and and brings the child to life again. The subjects are closely related to the Carmelite order. The prophet Elijah was considered to be the founder of the order since he had lived as a hermit on Mt. Cannel. Elisha was a disciple of Elijah and was included in the Carmelite dynasty of anchorites and solitary exemplars. Cocke in his biography of Mola, says "the relationship of the Sarasota pictures to the decoration of S. Martino may be significant, for some of the payments to Deighel for frescoes in this church were made by the Milanese Omodei, who in the next decade was to be a patron of Mola. As Mola had only just come to Rome, from the North, it is possible that the two Sarasota paintings were commissioned in connection with the S. Martino scheme to which their theme would have been appropriate. This suggests a date of c. 1648-50 for these pictures and they fit with the 1648 Image of St. Dominic. The true, the romantic landscape in the latter, recall the handling of the trees in Elijah and the kneeling monk in the St. Dominic is reminiscent of the figures in Elijah".

The Sarasota paintings fit in the tradition of small landscapes, in which Mola appears to have worked in Bologna and yet continues the concepts of the fight knit groups of people. Mola did a number of small cabinet paintings, in which the landscape dominates the figures, probably before 1647. The landscape settings are strongly Venetian and their idyllic mood suggests Albani's influence. Cocke suggests the dates 1648-50 for these paintings. In 1647, Mola had established himself in Rome and his style reflected a deep knowledge of the work of Titian, the Bassano family, Guercino and Albani, artists he particularly admired in Northern Italy. Mola is most successful with individual figures, his frescoes have broad brush strokes and a rich palette. In the 1640's, his style is described as "typically baroque - especially in the rich, warm chiaroscuro - he copied Guerciano (1643-4) and also showed a knowledge of Annibale Carraci. He uses shadows and his pictures, particularly of Elijah, they share the same small dimensions and in contrast with an earlier group of paintings, are landscapes with subordinate figures." He makes his subject matter of secondary importance, inviting the eye to wander restlessly over the painting to the horizon and then back to the figures in the foreground. In 1643-4 Cocke points out that Mola studied Guercino, who eliminates any local color in the landscape and employs the use of shadows and a bulky sense of form. Mola in 1644, while studying with Albani, develops a new approach to color - it is darker than Albani's. His paintings continue the tradition of Annibale Carraci's "aldobrandine lunettes", a tradition which was carried on in Bologna by Albani. Mola's pictures retain the fluid touch that is characteristic of him and a reminder of the impact of Venice at the same time they are increasingly influence by Bologna. The format of ELUAH, the organization of the landscape and the gesture of the figure are strikingly close to the 1684 frescoe of ELIJAH PROPHESYING A STORM by Crimaldi in S. Martino ai Monti. The ELISHA recalls another fresco by Grimaldi (Elijah Crossing the Jordan) in S. Martino - in its use of the river behind the main protagonists. These pictures are close to the Hagar in the collection, but the composition of the landscape, enclosed by massive trees, is firmer and more solid. This greater compactness reveals Mola's debt to Grimaldi.

There is much confusion about Mola's early training and career. This derives from the fact that two different people have described his life - Passeri and Leone Pascoli. What we are sure about is that he left Rome and went to Albani's studio in Bologna. We do know that Albani wanted Mola to marry his daughter but Mola was not yet ready to settle down. He traveled from Bologna to Milan, and then to Venice and then returned to Rome, although documentary evidence before 1648 is scarce, according to Ann Sutherland, in an article in Buffington Magazine. We therefore know that he was part of the norther Italian school and Roman school of art that flourished in the mid 17the century. Although, in 1633-34 long lists were drawn up of all the painters, sculptors, architects, foreign artists, guilders, embroiderers and stone masons in Rome in order to charge them dues and put the Academy of St. Luke back into sound financial condition. Mola is not listed, but his friend Testa is: this suggests that he may not have been in Rome in 1633. Mola lived during the reign of Pope Alexander VII who was a patron of his as was the Colonna family. The two paintings in the Sarasota Museum representing a 17th century Carmelite legend, reflect the characteristic of mediaeval historiography with ifs lack of period sense. The past was studied in terms of the present. Old testament narratives were employed to prove the validity of existing institutions. The Carmelite order, for whom Mola painted the two paintings observed, had always been exponents of this "visual appeal." Now, in the 17th century, the whole cycle of legends was drawn upon and illustrated. The output of Carmelite literature became extremely large, and volume after volume appeared throughout the 17th century recounting its venerable past. The redecoration of the S.Martino ai Monti at Rome took place between 1639 and 1652. Many of the landscapes and paintings dealt with the lives of Elijah and Elisha (in all there are eighteen of these landscapes) as narrated in the First Book of Kings. The prophetic figure of Elijah, claimed by the Carmelites and appearing in most Carmelite histories, was important and central to the order.

Faulkner, in the History of Chelsea and Ifs Environs, Historical and Topographica Description of Chelsea and It's Environs;1829, Volume II pg. 297; discusses the "illustrious and eminent persons who have resided in Chelsea during the three preceding centuries. "Sometime after the death of Sir Robert Walpole (1745); Lady Walpole's house was sold to the Earl of Dunmore, of whose executors it was bought by the late George Aufrere, Esq., who had a noble collection of paintings, consisting for the greater part of the productions of the Venetian, Bolognese and Lombardy schools. These were chiefly collected by Mr. Aufrere during his travels through Italy. When Mrs. Aufrere died the house came into the possession of the Earl of Yarborough, who married in 1770, Sophia the daughter and sole heir of the late George Aufrere. All the pictures had been removed to Brocklesby Hall, Lincolnshire - where his Lordship built a gallery for their reception. Among the collection were Titians and other northern Italian artists representing one of the finest collections in England." The Mola paintings, came from this collection and were purchased by Ringling at auction at Christies in 1929.

Cocke, Richard, Pier Francesco Mola, Oxford Clarendon Press, 1972
Pier Francesco Mola, Electa Books, Consiglio di Stato della Republica e Cantone del Ticino, Commune di Roma
Warburg & Courtald Institutes Journal, A 17th Century Carmelite Legend, by T.S.R.Boase
Tomory, Peter, Catalogue of Italian Paintings before 1800, 1976, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Sutherland, Ann B., Pier Francesco Mola - His Visits to North Italy and His Residence in Rome: Burlington Magazine, Vol. 106, July-December 1964,10gs. 363-368
Faultmet.Thomas, A History of Chelsea and It's Environs, Historical and Topographical Description of Chelsea and It's Environs, London, printed by J. Tilling, Chelsea, for T. Egerton, Military Library, Whitehall 1810 (Rare Book Collection Avery Library, Columbia University).
Dictionary of Art
Suida, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida