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All That Glistens

Francesco Solimena
Serino 1657 – 1747 Naples
Bacchus and Ariadne
oil on copper
14 x 19 inches
35.7 x 48.3 cm

In his maturity, Francesco Solimena (1657-1747) was considered one of the greatest painters in Europe, and gained a large fortune as a result. This acclaim can be attributed to the fact that he created an international court style which might be described as the impeccably correct late Baroque Roman Classicism of Carlo Maratti (1625-1713) livened up with flickering patterns of light and shade, essentially Maratti with chiaroscuro. In the 18th century, many celebrated artists worked abroad in the pursuit of richer pluckings but Solimena managed to be an artistic celebrity by remaining settled in Naples and giving the haute monde of the art world exactly what it wanted.

Bacchus and Ariadne, a rousing tale of romance, passion and rejection, was one of the most popular extracts for artists from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. After Ariadne had been deserted by Theseus on the island of Naxos, Bacchus and his troupe arrived. The God of wine was instantly smitten, promising Ariadne marriage and a place in the stars, which is the moment shown in this picture. Surprisingly enough for a god, he followed through on his promise! The highly finished quality of this work suggests that it may have been painted as a presentation piece or personal commission. Owing to the smooth, hard nature of his chosen medium – copper – Solimena was able to build a delicate mélange of figures, textures and tones. This is particularly evident in the sumptuous drapery surrounding Ariadne and the musculature in Bacchus’ side. Similarly, the wonderfully rich color of the coral held by the sea nymph in the lower right is brought to life by the copper support.

A substantially larger version of this composition on canvas, now lost, was last documented in a Viennese collection in 1932.[1] Both the canvas and copper compositions are nearly identical. Solimena often produced scaled-down versions of his larger works as well as many small-scale mythological and allegorical works in their own right, such as Apelles Painting Campapse and Zeuxis Painting Venus. These types of paintings were frequently produced as commissions for patrons such as Count Harrach or Prince Eugene of Savoy.[2] The exceptional quality of this example would suggest that it was produced for a significant patron.

Nicolas Spinosa dates this work to circa 1710, during the period when Solimena’s work combined both the Baroque and Academic styles. The influence of Luca Giordano can be seen in the bravura drapery and wonderfully rich tones through the sky, as seen in Giordano’s own Bacchus and Ariadne at the Chrysler Museum in Virginia (inv. no. 71.650, fig.1). Solimena returned to this subject and reworked the composition on at least one other occasion as we know from the drawing held in the National Gallery, Washington from the 1720s (inv. no. 2009.70.216). While the drawing may relate to an unfinished or unknown project, it more probably highlights the popularity of this schema and the interest that it held with the buying public. Although structurally similar, Bacchus stands contrapposto and raises his left arm indicating that Ariadne’s new constellation is in the upper right of the image in the Washington drawing, not the upper left as it is in the present work. Furthermore, Ariadne now meets the gaze of Bacchus as she receives his gifts. ❖


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Fig. 1 Luca Giordano, Bacchus and Ariadne, Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA, inv. no. 71.650.

London, Christie’s, 14 June 1935, lot 4 (as Antoine Coypel)

Acquired at the above sale by A.V.H. Turner

New York, Sotheby’s, 14 January 1994, lot 66

with Colnaghi, London and New York, 1994

James Oswald Fairfax (1933-2017), Bowral, Australia, by 1998

His sale, London, Sotheby’s, 5 July 2017, lot 18



Vienna, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Settecento Napoletano, Sulle ali dell’aquila imperiale 1707-1734, 10 December 1993 – 20 February 1994; travelled to Naples, Sopraintendenza per i Beni Artistici e Storici, 19 March – 24 July 1994

Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Copper as Canvas: Two Centuries of Master Paintings on Copper, 1575-1775, 12 December 1998 – 28 February 1999; travelled to Kansas City,

The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, 28 March – 13 June 1999



Nicola Spinosa, Settecento Napoletano, Sulle ali dell’aquila imperiale 1707-1734, Vienna and Naples, 1994, exh. cat., pp. 408-409, no. 207, reproduced.

Edgar Peters Bowron in Michael Komanecky (ed.), Copper as Canvas: Two Centuries of Master Paintings on Copper, 1575-1775, Phoenix, Kansas City and The Hague, 1998, exh. cat., pp. 289-290, no. 56, reproduced.

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