Francesco del Cairo, whose family was originally from the area of Varese, was born in Milan in 1607. He went through his first artistic apprenticeship in Milan in the circle of Morazzone, but he was also soon able to see the paintings of Cerano, another model for his early works.
When he became court painter in Turin, Cairo was able to see some examples of Caravaggio-style painting in the abundant collections of the Savoy family. This was the source of his highly contrasted lights and shadows which are so characteristic of his sombre, sacred subjects, always pervaded with powerful emotional tension.
Forced to leave the city by the struggle for succession to the throne after the death of Victor Amadeus I, Cairo worked for some years in the area of Varese and Milan.
This is the period in which he was introduced to the fare grande, the grand style of Rome, of Pietro da Cortona and the works of Van Dyck which he saw in Genoa. These were both experiences which, right from the early 1640s, brought lighter, more relaxed and composed tones to his paintings.
The more luminous and tranquil period in which the hitherto unpublished painting presented here can be said to belong, reached its height during the artist’s return to Turin, as from 1644, and then after his final move to Milan in 1649. In both periods, he moved closer to Cinquecento painters and to Titian in particular. He died in Milan in 1665.
Unlike many of Cairo’s works, which often portray figures caught in attitudes of exasperated languorousness, revealing a sometimes morbid pleasure in depicting pain, this particular painting is an extremely sophisticated work made for the highly cultured world of 17th-century collectors. Paintings like this one were made for the homes of rich, refined patrons of the arts, and the subject in this case (which is actually fairly generic) is above all that of an opulent female figure, as was the taste in the 17th century, and it is one of great beauty.