Allegory of Human Progress
(The Triumph of Bacchus and the Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite)
Oil on canvas
47 3/4 x 74 3/4 inches (121.5 x 190 cm)
Marchese Francesco Riccardi, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence; by descent in the Riccardi family at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, the palace sold in 1814; then with the Riccardi family until after 1822.
Collection of the Earl of Shrewsbury, Ingestre, Staffordshire (?)
Private Collection, England
Wildenstein & Company, New York, 1984
Frederick W. Field Collection, Beverly Hills, California, 1984-2003
Private Collection, New York, 2003-2017
Santissima Annunziata, Florence, October 18, 1705 (lent by Marchese Cosimo Riccardi); see Nota de’Quadri che son esposti per la Festa di S. Luca degli Accademici del Disegno l’anno 1705, Florence 1705
“From Sacred to Sensual; Italian Paintings, 1400-1750,” New York, Berry-Hill Galleries, Jan. 20-March 14, 1998.
Giovanni Paolo Lasinio, 1822 (in Riccardi Vernaccia, cited below)
Francesco Saverio Baldinucci, “Vita di Luca Giordano Pittore Napoletano,” (Ms. Biblioteca Nazionale, Florence, c. 153v., ca. 1710-21); published by Oreste Ferrari, “Una vita inedita di Luca Giordano,” Napoli nobilissima, V, 4, 1966 , p. 130.
Francesco Riccardi Vernaccia, Galleria Riccardiana dipinta da Luca Giordano...incisa da Lasinio figlio, Florence 1822, pp. 17-20 and pl. IV.
Oreste Ferrari and Giuseppe Scavizzi, Luca Giordano, Naples 1966, I, p. 100 and II, p. 113
W. H. Wilson, “An Unpublished Giordano Bozzetto,” Fogg Art Museum Acquisitions 1966-1967, 1968, pp. 26-35, fig.4 (Lasinio’s engraving).
Frank Büttner, Die Galleria Riccardiana in Florenz, Frankfurt 1972, pp. 43-44, 76, 194n.16, 239-240, 270, fig. 31.
Silvia Meloni Trkulja, “Luca Giordano a Firenze,” Paragone, no. 267, May 1972, pp. 38-39 and p. 53, note 62.
Marco Chiarini, in The Twilight of the Medici, Late Baroque Art in Florence 1670-1743, exh. cat. Detroit -Florence 1974, pp. 260f.
Fabia Borroni Salvadori, “L'esposizione del 1705 a Firenze,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, XIX , no. 3 (1975), pp. 393, 397
Ronald Millen, “Luca Giordano in Palazzo Riccardi; II: The Oil Sketches,” in Kunst der Barock in der Toskana, Munich 1976, p. 303.
Oreste Ferrari, in Civiltà del Seicento a Napoli, exh. cat., Naples 1984-1985, I, pp. 317-319.
Oreste Ferrari, Bozzetti italiani dal Manierismo al Barocco, Naples 1990, pp. 157, 163ill.
Oreste Ferrari and Giuseppe Scavizzi, Luca Giordano: L’Opera Completa, Naples 1992, I. pp. 86f, 315, cat. no. A387l, II, fig. 509.
Gabriele Finaldi, in Discovering the Italian Baroque; The Denis Mahon Collection, exh. cat. London 1997, pp.79f., fig. 27.
Robert B. Simon, From Sacred to Sensual; Italian Paintings, 1400-1750, New York 1998, pp. 80-83 ill. and cover.
Gabriele Finaldi, “Gli Affreschi di Palazzo Medici Riccardi,” in Luca Giordano; 1634-1705, exh. cat. Naples 2001, pp. 252, 257n.31.
Oreste Ferrari, in Oreste Ferrari and Giuseppe Scavizzi, Luca Giordano; Nuove ricerche e inediti, Naples 2003, p. 74.
Donatella Livia Sparti, “Ciro Ferri and Luca Giordano in the Gallery of Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, Vol. 47. No. 1 (2003), pp. 188-206, p. 216n.139.
Cristina Giannini, “Between ‘modello’ and ‘ricordo’ Luca’s ‘macchie’ for the Riccardi and the late-baroque taste for the ‘inaccompli’ /Fra ‘modello’ e ‘ricordo’ le macchie di Luca per i Riccardi e il gusto tardo barocco per l’inaccompli,” in Stanze segrete: gli artisti dei Riccardi. I ‘ricordi’ di Luca Giordano e oltre, exh. cat. Florence, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, April 15-July 17, 2005, ed. C. Giannini and S. Meloni Trkulja, pp. 1ff, 235ffm for the present work pp. 5n11, 238n11.
Cristina Acidini Luchinat, “The ceiling of Luca Giordano’s gallery: terrestrial courses, stellar triumphs /La volta della galleria di Luca Giordano: percorsi terreni, trionfi stellari,” in Stanze segrete: gli artisti dei Riccardi. I ‘ricordi’ di Luca Giordano e oltre, exh. cat. Florence, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, April 15-July 17, 2005, ed. C. Giannini and S. Meloni Trkulja, pp. 25ff, 251ff.
Luca Giordano’s lavish painted decoration of the Galleria and Library of the Medici Riccardi Palace in Florence is generally considered his masterpiece. The barrel-vaulted ceiling on which Giordano painted his rich allegorical mural is in room within an extension to Michelozzo’s venerable Medici Palace, which the Riccardi had constructed following their purchase of the palace in 1659. The commission for this project was given Giordano shortly after his arrival in Florence in 1682, but recent scholarship has indicated that the actual painting –executed in tempera a secco, rather than fresco-- was not begun until three years later, and was carried out entirely in the period between April and August of 1685.
The present painting is one of eleven large independent canvases by Giordano associated with the Galleria Riccardiana, as it was called (an additional canvas relates to Giordano’s painting in the adjoining Library of the palace). Nine of these (two illustrated below) are now in the National Gallery London, the gift of Sir Denis Mahon, and a tenth is in a private English collection. These had traditionally been called bozzetti (preliminary oil sketches) or modelli (prototypes for approval) for the completed project, but questions about their relationship to the completed compositions were raised by Meloni (1972), Finaldi (1997), and Ferrari (2003). Recently, Donatella Livia Sparti, first in a public lecture in 2001 and then in an exhaustive article in 2013, has persuasively argued that these canvases are in fact ricordi, highly finished adaptations of the compositions, painted for Giordano’s principal patron, Marchese Francesco Riccardi. The set of twelve paintings is recorded in Riccardi inventories of the 1690’s and was exhibited as a group in a 1705 exhibition in the Cloister of Santissima Annunziata in Florence. In 1715 they are cited in an inventory of the Palazzo as “Twelve paintings of various dimensions painted by Giordano [being] all the models for the decoration of this palace.” They remained together in Florence at least until 1822 (when they were engraved by Lasinio), before being sold by the Riccardi Family. At least ten, and probably the full set of twelve, were acquired by the Earl of Shrewsbury and were hung at his seat at Ingestre in Staffordshire.
Sparti’s reasons for considering the present painting (and the others in the series) to be ricordi and not bozzetti or modelli are many. First the canvases are fully finished paintings, with elaboration of details and ornament –very different from Giordano’s rapidly executedsummary sketches, which Marchese Riccardi’s secretary, Giuliano Bandinelli, termed macchie, literally “blotches.” Second, there are few pentimenti or corrections in the canvases, which one would otherwise expect in preliminary works. Further, the compositions of the individual canvases do not correspond to the physical divisions of the ceiling; rather the subjects are grouped together thematically. And, finally, the figures have been altered from the foreshortened poses they exhibit on the ceiling to more naturalistic attitudes appropriate to an easel painting intended to be hung on a wall and viewed horizontally. Similarly, the light blue, sun-filled illusionistic sky of the Galleria has been rendered in all canvases as a darker, deeper color.
The present painting repeats and adapts the left half of the ceiling decoration above the south wall of the Galleria (The Death of Adonis corresponds with the right half). In so doing Giordano retains the invenzione that he created for the Galleria ceiling, but reformulates it into a fully realized transportable painting, one that could be exhibited in a different part of the palace, in another family residence, or, as now, in a distant land. The artist has refined and condensed his composition, rearranging figures not only to populate a flat canvas as opposed to a curved wall, but also for clarity and legibility.
The iconographic program of the Galleria, which sought to illustrate the progress of mankind by means of Wisdom and the Virtues, was devised by Alessandro Segni, the tutor and friend of the Marchese Riccardi, although the form and composition of the work are clearly the artist's own. Segni later described the ceiling as representing “in a continuous narrative, comprising several hundred figures, all the theology of the Gentiles and the chief figures adored as divinities by that superstitious religion. Sky, Sea, Earth, and Fire are here represented by numerous figures expressing in a variety of different dramatic attitudes, the various strong passions which the Gentiles in their legendary tales attributed to their imaginary gods.”
The meaning of the entire decorative scheme of the Galleria is complex and has been much discussed. Finaldi writes that “the frescoes represent the progress of mankind by means of Wisdom and the Virtues… through the realms of the elements, Fire, Water, Earth and Air, represented in the narratives along the sides of the vault.”
Acidini refines that premise, considering the scenes on the side walls –which include those depicted in our painting— as linking the Beginning of Life, on one end wall, to the Triumph of Wisdom on the one opposite, “alluding to the four Elements…, to the times of the day and of the year, to the ages of man –as well as exempla of possible modes of behavior, expressed in mythological terms.”
At the left Bacchus appears in a chariot drawn by panthers (recalling his recent return from India), holding a thyrsus, and accompanied by satyrs, maenads, and putti. His Triumph is associated with maturity and the richness of autumn fruits. Above him the wind-god Aeolus sends furious winds that fill the sails and buffet the ship of the Argonauts, alluding to the element of Air and the struggle of man against the hostile forces of nature. Below him the figure of Atlas, signifying responsibility, passes the weight of the world to Hercules. As a counterpoint two male figures sit in the foreground: Harpocrates, the god of silence (holding his finger to his mouth), and Momus, the god of ridicule and laughter (in black holding a whip and a trumpet).
At the right Neptune stands on a shell drawn by sea-horses as he reaches toward his wife, the Nereid Amphitrite, who rides a dolphin. Their son Triton blows a conch-shell and a putto holds Neptune's trident as the sea-god calms the waters. This would signify the flowering of emotions, marriage, and the adventure of navigation, set in the season of summer in the element of Water. In the sky at right Venus and Cupid benignly observe and tacitly sanction the dynamic activity below.
Sparti has associated payments to Giordano’s pigment supplier between December 1685 and March 1686 as indications of the date of execution of the present canvas and the others in the series, thus confirming that they were painted immediately after the completion of the Galleria. All critics consider the present painting to be a fully autograph work by Giordano, executed without any workshop participation, as one might expect for a project for the artist’s most significant patron.