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Art in Eighteenth-Century Rome


Placido Costanzi
Rome 1702–1759 Rome

Study for ‘Charity’

oil on canvas
16 3/8 x 13 7/8 inches
41.5 x 35.2 cm



Christie’s, London, Important Old Master Pictures, 4 July 1997, lot 365A, as ‘Italian School-Roman’
with Walpole Gallery, London
Private Collection, United States



Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Splendor of 18th-Century Rome, 16 March – 28 May 2000; traveled to Houston, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The Splendor of Rome: The 18th Century, 25 June–17 September 2000



Melissa L. Bryan, in Edgar Peters Bowron and Joseph J. Rishel, Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, Philadelphia, 2000, exh. cat., p. 355, reproduced no. 207.

This exquisite modello is preparatory for a fresco representing Charity painted by Placido Costanzi for a room on the piano nobile of the Palazzo Chigi-Zondadari, probably at the behest of Cardinal Antonio Felice Zondadari. The actual patron was the young Giuseppe Flavio Chigi Zondadari but the Cardinal, who had just commissioned two canvases depicting scenes from the lives of his ancestors from Costanzi in 1727, probably selected Costanzi for this assignment as well. A trio of eminent Roman painters, Marco Benefial (1684–1764), Giovanni Odazzi (1663–1731) and Placido Costanzi were engaged to decorate the Sienese palace of the young Giuseppe Flavio Chigi Zondadari. Costanzi painted three frescoes for this project, Charity, an Allegory of Virtues, and Intelligence. He also produced a series of drawings of Sybils, now in Frankfurt, which were the basis for the paintings completed by Benefial.

Placido Costanzi was the subject of a short paper by Tony Clark delivered in 1968 in St. Louis. That began with the quotation from Sir Joshua Reynolds’ 1788 Discourse XIV in which he described the oblivion into which Costanzi, so renowned in his day, had already fallen. When this Charity was painted, Costanzi’s star was high. He had just unveiled the monumental ceiling for S. Gregorio Magno, a work described by Clark as being of ‘classical order, sobriety, proportion and an anti-Rococo monumentality and nobility’, words which perfectly sum up the qualities of this modello. Costanzi would go to enjoy a highly successful career as a painter of frescoes, altarpieces and even contributing figures to landscapes by Orizzonte (several of which are in the Hall of Landscapes in the Galleria Colonna, Roma). He was elected president of the Accademia di San Luca but, thwarted by ill health, he was less productive in later years. Twenty-five years after Costanzi’s death his studio in the Via del Babuino was rented to the young Jacques-Louis David who painted The Oath of the Horatii (Musée du Louvre, 3692) there.❖

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