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Maestro Jacomo: is he the Doria Pamphilj family's Banksy?

by Esme Kroese | 09 May 2022

Who is Maestro Jacomo? Who is this artist who has mastered the depiction of candlelight in a way that many other artists have never been able to? How are his artworks found within the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj and how did they become part of the Pamphilj family’s art collection in Rome? These are all questions I asked myself when I visited the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome during spring break this year. I was amazed by the range of beautiful artworks and sculptures that were exhibited within. The Palazzo is still functioning as a home for the family’s successors, as well as a museum that contains an extensive art collection which is open to the public. The Doria Pamphilj family had been a prominent and powerful Italian family for centuries with relatives holding positions of both political and religious power. For example, Pope Innocent X, who was famously depicted in a portrait by Velazquez, was a member of this family. It was rumoured that he was shocked when he saw Velazquez’s painting and exclaimed how it was ‘too real’, yet this magnificent portrait remains a part of the Doria Pamphilj collection in the Palazzo. This prestigious family was able to use its wealth and power to acquire an extensive art collection and to collect unique artworks such as those created by this mystery painter. The origin of these artists could be from anywhere in Europe. There were many artworks in the collection that were made by the key artists of the Italian Renaissance as well as prominent artists in northern Europe such as Jan Bruegel [ Brueghel the Younger].What really stood out for me was a selection of artworks made by a certain artist labelled Maestro Jacomo. In the very sparse accounts of his works, he was referred to as an expert at creating the atmosphere and visual experience of candlelight in the realistic compositions and everyday subject matter he depicted in his artworks. We know extraordinarily little about this artist apart from the fact that he had several works attributed to him that are held in the family’s collection. One of his artworks shows a young girl who is in the process of picking fleas from her dress and dropping them into boiling water to kill them. Though this action is not glamorous, it is portrayed with such artistic skill that it makes even such an unattractive task as this, beautiful to the eye. At the time in which this painting was created fleas were commonplace and so they were purposefully killed as they spread diseases. However through depicting the scene in candlelight, with the candle lit in front of the girl so she can see what she is doing, it still fully illuminates her youthful face showing her pale complexion. We can also see how the shadows in the background blur showing the artists’ spatial awareness of the figure and also illuminating the fact that she is the main focus within the artwork. This makes the viewer fully focus on the beauty and youth that is depicted in the young girl which contrasts with the unpleasant nature of the task which she is completing.

Artwork attributed to Maestro Jacomo. Photo taken by writer in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

Other than the young girl who is depicted picking fleas off her nightdress, we also see another artwork attributed to this artist. This painting is of a young boy who is holding a candle which has wax melting down its sides, yet it still illuminates the left side of his face as he reads music while he sings a song or a religious hymn. He looks at us the viewer, so we feel that we have just stepped in on the scene of religious devotion or musical appreciation. He has thick hair and he has no facial hair showing that he is not yet in his late teenage years. The redness of his lips and his jumper are illuminated by the candlelight and unites the colour palette of the composition as the red and white tones of the boy’s clothes are the only vivid colours we can see, with everywhere else painted in a dark blur of shadow.

Artwork attributed to Maestro Jacomo. Photo taken by writer in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

Though both of these artworks depict different scenes, one of a musical nature and one of a commonplace practice of doing something that is not pleasant but has to be done to maintain a certain level of well-being, they both maintain the characteristic illuminating factor of a candle. This candlelit nature of the composition creates a different visual experience for the viewer as one feels they are stepping in on something private or a practice of daily occurrence that one would not normally see in victorious history paintings or mythological scenes that were well known by the educated upper class. Even though I have struggled to discover more about the artist himself , I like to think of him as the Italian Renaissance’s version of Banksy, a person unknown but one who’s art still shocks and appeals to the public in their own right. As well as these two paintings there is a wide selection of other artworks by famous artists such as Velazquez, Reni, Bruegel, Vasari, Raphael, Bernini and many more. Then there is also the magnificence of the Palazzo itself as a building and its richly decorated rooms. The Palazzo Doria Pamphilj and its collection are one of the many treasures of Rome and it is definitely worth a visit. You will not be disappointed.


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