A Piece of San Lorenzo, Turin, in New York

Preparatory drawing in the Metropolitan Museum

Franceschini San Lorenzo drwg MET

Marcantonio Franceschini, Saint Lawrence Standing and Holding the Grill, Instrument of His Martyrdom, ca. 1715
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art / public domain

This preparatory drawing by Marcantonio Franceschini for the altarpiece of the high altar in San Lorenzo, Turin, somehow found its way to New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1962. The drawing depicts the titular saint of the church, Saint Lawrence, with the gridiron on which, according to legend, he was martyred by grilling over a fire. His eyes already look toward heaven as a putto at lower left hands him his martyr’s palm and two cherubim witness the scene from the upper right.

Marcantonio Franceschini, San Lorenzo, 1715, (San Lorenzo, Turin) Source: Fondazione Federico Zeri / CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The image is squared for transfer to the canvas of the painting, and indeed the finished altarpiece conforms very closely to Franceschini’s drawing. The altarpiece hangs on the rear wall of the retrochoir, detached from the altar itself, which stands at the junction between the retrochoir and the presbytery. Guarino Guarini, the architect of the church, also designed the high altar, with most of its construction completed in 1680-1682, although it was not dedicated until 1696. It features a bas-relief of Duke Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy making his vow to build the church after he led the forces of Philip II to victory at the battle of San Quintino (St. Quentin) on 10 August 1557, the feast day of Saint Lawrence. Philip II also vowed to build a church that day, resulting in the Escorial with its centerpiece church of San Lorenzo. It took over a century for Emanuele Filiberto’s vow to be fulfilled with the completion of Guarini’s church in 1680. Thus, the belated commissioning of the altarpiece thirty-five years after the church opened should be seen in the context of a long-term dynastic project spanning several generations and portions of three centuries.

San Lorenzo, Turin, view of high altar and altarpiece by Marcantonio Franceschini<br/>Source: Wikimedia Commons / eccekevin / CC BY-SA 4.0

Further reading

Jacob Bean, Seventeenth-Century Italian Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York: Abrams, 1979), cat. 193, pp. 152-153.