the importance of rigorous, accurate draughtsmanship and who had been the professor of an academy modelled on the Bolognese academies where students drew from the live model. If the young artist, who was more talented than his master, retained something from his short apprenticeship, it is the importance of drawing in learning the art as it is in the preparation of works. It is finally Solimena who would renew in a durable manner the Neapolitan practice of drawing by imposing his formula on his pupils. The prolific artist organized a workshop in his house, “scuola rigorosa”, in which he passed on to his pupils an efficient working method based on drawing, in particular drawing from life.2 The rigour of black chalk allowed him to better emphasize the effects of light and shadow that are so typical of his painting, the chiaroscuro of which forms a structural element. In observing the heroic muscle structure and specific movement that animates the pose, we see the “mossa” that was so admired by his contemporaries, that the study of a nude model is already considered on the basis of its probable use in a painted composition. The anatomical models of Solimena were used on several occasions by his students, in particular by Francesco De Mura, whose figures are often very close to those of his master, a consequence of the common working practices of the studio described by De Dominici. 1 The celing was destroyed in the fire of 1950 and is now only known from photographs and a bozzetto at the Národní Gallery in Prague which is reproduced by Nicola Spinosa dans Pittura napoletana del settecento dal Barocco al Rococò, Naples, Electa, p. 114, no 41, fig. 45 and 46. 2 “Nella sua scuola, si è frequentata sempre l’Accademia del nudo, ed egli è stato il primo a disegnarla, e molte volte a dipingerla ; ma da molti anni a questa parte le ha sempre disegnate, per dare esempio di disegnare il nudo ai suoi scolari, e a chiunque v’interveniva a disegnar l’Accademia” (Vite dei Pittori, Scultori ed Architetti Napoletani, Naples, Tipografia Trani, 1844, vol. IV, p. 458).
18 FRANCESCO SOLIMENA Campania 1657 – Naples 1747
Study for the Death of Messalina Black chalk Inscribed in black ink lower centre Solimene Watermark anchor in a star topped with a circle 120 x 130 m (4 3/4 x 5 1/8 in.) According to Bernardo De Dominici, it was possible in Venice to admire several works by Francesco Solimena in the house of the procurator Casale, including a Messalina col carnefice che si stende a ferirla1 for which our sheet is a quick, efficient preparatory study. The drawing, like the painting, depicts the murder of Messalina ordered by the Roman Emperor Claudius, her husband, weary of her intrigues and adultery. Ferdinando Bologna and Nicola Spinosa both date the works belonging to procurator Casale, “of extraordinary visual beauty and superior vigour of composition”,2 between 1705 and 1710, while Solimena, pondering the tenebrism of Mattia Preti and the formulas of Luca Giordano, was trying out a period of pictorial calm and profound reflection on his subjects.
Comparison between our preparatory drawing and the painting proves this analysis. Indeed, the painting shows a magisterially orchestrated scene, which leaves no doubt about the end of the story: forming, between the soldier’s left arm and Messalina’s, a triangular space whose point leads to her breast, the painter has indicated the place where the stabbing knife will reach its target. The red coat spread around her anticipates the floods of blood that will flow. Beyond the chiaroscuro and the pictorial dynamism, the clarity of narration and power of the composition can only be admired, thus confirming that in the first decades of the century, as Nicola Spinosa writes, “the old master, without ever sacrificing his innate desire to participate passionately in the events being shown, sought to render a new grandeur in the stories of his Pagan and Christian heroes through a more studied orchestration of the composition, a more skilful play of scenographic devices and lighting effects: the result is a slowing down and almost a calming of the rhythm that was previously extremely insistent, of the narrative without ever jamming it in an abstract immobilisation of form empty of all feeling of reality.”3 As for our drawing, whose small size, rapid technique and differences compared to the final composition indicate that it is an initial study, its composition is more spontaneous. It describes the reality of an assault; a quick jostling, a tussle, a short moment of imbalance. The dominant feeling is of speed and violence, the half-length figure throwing the spectator into the scene. In the draughtsman’s mind, real images are combined with attacks painted by Titian and Giordano which gives this instantaneous feeling. However a detail shows that although he is in the process of drawing spontaneously, the artist has fully assimilated the dark motivations of the subject. Between the attacker’s right thigh and his forearm, the victim’s prominent navel is to be found. This almost unseemly incongruity is an extraordinary way – perhaps unconscious – of drawing the eye to Messalina’s navel, the locus of all the
120 NEAPOLITAN DRAWINGS
Published on Mar 11, 2014