Giuseppe Maria Crespi known as Lo Spagnuolo
(Bologna 1665 – 1747)

The Slaughter of the Innocents

Oil on canvas, 67.5 x 94 cm (266 x 37 inches)

«La Strage degli Innocenti (The Slaughter of the Innocents)… similar to the one he incised on copper » (Fig. 11) forms a pair with the San Giovanni Battista battezza molte figure con Paese, mezzana grandezza (St. John the Baptist Baptises Many Figures with Landscape, medium size)», which Oretti recalls in Palazzo Aldrovandi, in Strada di Galliera (Oretti, M., Le Pitture che si ammirano nelli Palaggi e Case de’ Nobili (The Pictures which can be Admired in the Palaces and Noble Homes), ms. B 104, Bologna, Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio, 1760-1787 circa, part II, c. 6).

Lo Spagnuolo painted many ‘Slaughters’ and also engraved a couple. Marshal Caprara had one in Vienna, as did the Prince of Dizeldorf (exchanged for “a silver basin, coupled with its jug for pouring water, and a necklace with a gold medal of great value”) and one was held at the Bocchineri di Prato, recounts Zanotti. But the one which is best remembered, thanks to the picaresque biographer’s novel, is the canvas at the Uffizi. Painted for a priest who refused to pay for it (but who attempted to acquire it by force), this canvas was defended by the painter using a blunderbuss. He rolled it up, lowered it from a window and carried it up to Florence under his arm, then by boat along the Arno river, to finally give it to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, thereby forever assuring himself of the latter’s support and friendship.

Fig. 11: Giuseppe Maria Crespi, known as Lo Spagnuolo, The Slaughter of the Innocents. Milan, private collection.