(Teodoro Filippo de Liagno)
Naples 1587 – 1629 Rome
The Conversion of St. Paul and
The Apparition of St. James at the Battle of Clavijo
Oil on slate, octagonal
15 ¾ x 17 ½ inches (40 x 70 cm) each
Private Collection, South America
Filippo Napoletano is one of the most unusual and fascinating artists of the early Baroque period. His work corresponds to no norms, and it varies greatly in style, format, and materials, encompassing landscape, religious works, mythological subjects, fantasy, still-life, anatomy, genre scenes, and natural history. Baglione describes Filippo’s having his own Wunderkammer of “bellissime bizzarie” (beautiful bizarre things) – a description that could describe his own paintings. His painting style derives from many different artists, both Italian and Northern. He is said to have studied with the German-born artist Goffredo Wals and seems to have profited from close observation of the works of Adam Elsheimer, Paul Bril, Agostino Tassi, and Jacques Callot (with whom he collaborated in Florence).
Among Filippo’s most extraordinary works are the paintings he executed on stone. These fantastic objects include works on alabaster, marble, pietra paesina (found only in Florence), slate and other hard-stones (pietre dure). This proved to be one of his specialties at the court of Cosimo II de’ Medici in Florence, where he was engaged from 1617 to 1621. The present two paintings are painted on thick slabs of slate, polished smooth on the front and left rough hewn on the verso. Each depicts a historical battle scene associated with a religious theme; both take place at night, permitting the artist to take advantage of the natural deep blackness of the stone, which remains largely unpainted. In one picture the Apostle Paul, then known as Saul and not yet a follower of Christ, has a vision of divine light, depicted mystically at the very top center of the painting, and hears the voice of Christ. He falls of his horse, still holding his sword, and is helped by a soldier, while his other traveling companions gallop around in disarray, frantically waving their swords at the divine apparition.
The second painting depicts the legendary appearance of the Apostle St. James at the Battle of Clavijo. This event was said to have taken place in the year 844 and is cited as the turning point for the Christians in their reconquest of Spain. Legend has it that St. James appeared on a white horse with his white banner to help King Ramiro I of Asturias in his battle against the Moors. In the painting he is seen at center, driving away the enemy, several of whom have fallen to the ground. Although the legend specifically refers to the defeat of the dark-skinned Muslim moors (thus giving James the nickname of Santiago Matamoros, St. James the Moor-slayer), it is notable that all the soldiers depicted are of fair complexion.
Dr. Marco Chiarini, author of the 2007 monograph Teodoro Filippo di Liagno detto Filippo Napoletano (1589-1629), has confirmed Filippo Napoletano’s authorship of these two works. In an email (September 2014) he describes them as “very fine paintings belonging to a moment … between Florence and his trip back to Naples in the late 20’s.”
Both paintings are remarkably preserved and remain in their original gilt wood frames, buttressed by an iron framework with integral hanging hooks on the verso to support the considerable weight of the stone.