Cardinal Borromeo distributing Charity in a Landscape with Ruins, attributed to Henry Ferguson, or Hendrick Vergazon, dated, 1700-1720, oil on canvas, 130 cm x 193 cm,
“This painting poses all sorts of intriguing questions. It shows the saint Carlo Borromeo standing in an idealised classicist landscape next to an enormous marble sarcophagus showing in relief an adoration of the shepherds. According to the Rijksmuseum this scene was based on a painting that was attributed to Raphael since c.1635. I haven't been able to find it - suggestions are appreciated!
Borromeo points to the relief while addressing two men, one of them a dean. A crippled man sits next to him in front of the sarcophagus. On the left, in the foreground, we see the Holy Family with the Christ Child riding on donkeys, accompanied by a young man. In the centre a blind boy and a blind girl cross a stream. To the right, in the middle background, a richly dressed young mean gives alms to a group of beggars.”
Flight into Egypt group.
Of the painter, Henry Ferguson, or Vergazon, little is known, except that he was born in The Hague in 1655 or 1665 and died in Toulouse in1730. A painter named H. Ferguson is recorded in the guild at The Hague for 1712-1719. Ferguson worked in London before 1712 where Walpole speaks of a Hendrick Vergazon, who assisted in Kneller's workshop and who painted some landscapes himself.
So, Vergazon or Ferguson, or whatever you want to call him, is mentioned in Walpole and was in the employ of the famous English portrait painter, Sir Godfrey Kneller. I’m afraid that I know nothing about English portraiture (hello Bendor), but there’s tons of Kneller on the Public Catalogue Foundation website.
Adoration of the Shepherds, supposedly based after a Raphael composition known since 1635. Cardinal Borromeo and the distribution of charity.
In summary, this is what we know about Henry Ferguson.
He was born in the Hague in 1655, or 1665. He was probably a member of the Guild at the The Hague between 1712-1719. It’s here that he must have learnt more about 17th century French landscape and religious painting; there are substantial links between Poussin and Co and the landscape painters in the Netherlands in the early 18th century- but I’ll leave that for another post.
In his Anecdotes of Painting, Horace Walpole speaks of a Hendrick Vergazon who works in the atelier of Sir Godfrey Kneller. Walpole’s description is worth quoting as it tallies with the Rijksmuseum picture:
“A Dutch painter of runs and landscapes, with which he sometimes was called to adorn the back-grounds of Kneller’s pictures, though his colouring was reckoned too dark. He painted a few small portraits, and died in France.”
Interestingly, a genre picture attributed to Ferguson was sold at Sotheby's in 2010. The traditional attribution was to William Gowe Ferguson, his father. Martin Eidelberg has now returned it to the son, Henry. Eidelberg has a very nice site on Watteau, his main area of expertise; he has written an article on Ferguson, which I’ve yet to track down. Perhaps for that Poussin and Dutch landscapists post?