This highly important, large drawing is a rare example of Giaquinto’s graphic style. It was first identified by Anthony Clark as a finished compositional study for a major work by the artist, The Translation of the Relics of Saint Acutius and Saint Eutyches from Pozzuoli to Naples. This ambitious altarpiece, painted for the Cardinal Archbishop of Naples, Giuseppe Spinelli (1694–1763) and executed for the left-hand tribune wall in the Duomo of Naples, was painted ca. 1744–45 in Rome, shortly after Giaquinto had completed the impressive cycle commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV for the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.
Such a grand compositional study is a rare survival, providing, as Irene Cioffi observed, important insights into the artist’s working methods (see Exhibited, Philadelphia 2000). Though such a finished drawing must have been conceived as a modello, the present work differs in many details from the final painting. Cioffi highlights the theatrical and dramatic Baroque representation of the transportation of the relics of the two martyrs, ‘held within one of the large, elaborately shaped reliquaries for which the Neapolitans were famous…’. The scene is a great theatrical event, the saints’ remains carried aloft in procession on the shoulders of elegantly garbed priests through a grand architectural setting reminiscent of a Baroque stage.
The theatricality of this image reflects prevailing artistic traditions in Naples at the time. The miraculous translation of the remains of the two martyrs—two of the six companions martyred with St. Januarius, patron of Naples—is elegantly displayed in a crescendo of movement, combining the religious message with a world of magical effects, enhanced by the central light emanating from the elaborately decorated Baroque reliquaries. The composition is beautifully orchestrated, starting with the woman seated in the foreground, with two children and two youths witnessing the event while she points to the scene above. On the left, an elegantly dressed young nobleman strikes a languid pose, while observing another young man holding a brazier. In the top section of the drawing, inundated by light, the ascending reliquaries are carried by young clerics, while others sing and play trumpets behind a high priest, who looks upwards at a chorus of angels hovering above the two ornate reliquaries. On one hand, the grand composition is influenced by Solimena but on the other there are echoes of the international Rococo that Giaquinto encountered in Turin in the 1730s. That a large, now untraced, sketch for it was attributed to Vanloo in 1913 is indicative.
Exquisitely executed with a fluid and controlled use of the pen and ink, the sheet is embellished with gray washes, heightened with white, on paper whose delicate pink-gray preparation gives this sheet a harmonious tonality. This drawing is seemingly dashed off with the dazzling sprezzatura for which Giaquinto was criticized by his more academic contemporary, Anton Raphael Mengs. However, it is for all its brio, a highly finished study ‘whose overall compositional framework, elegant figural poses, complex lighting effects, and dramatic subject matter all closely anticipate the sophisticated polish of the final version in oil’ (Cioffi, op. cit.).
A copy of this drawing is in Princeton at the Princeton University Art Gallery (51–109; fig. 1; see Gibbons, loc. cit.).❖