April 19, 2010

Corrado Giaquinto

The Penitent Magdalen
by Corrado Giaquinto
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

When I first viewed The Penitent Magdalen by Corrado Giaquinto at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was surprised to see that it was classified as Italian. I wondered about that, because many of the "Italian" paintings are classified by region. At first I thought it might be an oversight, or possibly a slight against the artist's birthplace in Puglia. Uncomfortable with my own wild speculation I decided to investigate. I found that the regional labels had more to do with particular artistic styles than the origin of the artists themselves, although in many cases they were identical. Corrado Giaquinto was a special case. He was known to adopt the style of the various locations where he painted, making classification difficult, and his work even more interesting.

Corrado Giaquinto was born in Molfetta, Puglia, in 1703. At sixteen he travelled to Naples and studied under the tutelage of Nicola Maria Rossi, a pupil of Francesco Solimena. Eventually, he would receive art instruction from the Neapolitan master himself. After several years of apprenticeship in Solimena's studio Giaquinto would seek his fortunes elsewhere. Unfortunately, only one work by the artist from this period is known to exist, a copy of one of Solimena's paintings.

Examples of the various regional classifications
Giaquinto arrived in Rome in 1723. He lodged at the workshop of Sebastiano Conca along with Neapolitan artist Giovanni Pandozzi. He spent his time studying contemporary Roman painting and sketching sculptures, oftentimes Michelangelo's famed Pietà. In addition to some altarpieces, Giaquinto was commissioned to paint the cupolas of San Nicola dei Lorenesi and the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Damaso.

On the move again, the Southerner visited Turin in 1733 where court architect Filippo Juvarra (a native of Messina, Sicily) gathered together a collection of artists to aggrandize the capital of Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy. Along with fellow Neapolitans Conca, Francesco de Mura and Sicilian Mariano Rossi (among others), Giaquinto painted decorations for the Royal Palace and villas of Cardinal Maurizo di Savoia and Queen Maria Cristina.

Giaquinto returned briefly to Rome in 1735 and again in 1738. He painted altarpieces and the vault of the Chiesa di San Giovanni Calibta. However, a series of paintings, commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV, for the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is considered his crowning achievement in the Eternal City. In 1740 he was admitted into the prestigious Accademia di San Luca and by 1752 he was the institution's chamberlain.
The Lamentation by Corrado Giaquinto
Giaquinto's fame was such that he received commissions from patrons back in Naples. Perhaps the most notable of these were his immense, Translation from Pozzuoli to Naples of the Relics of SS Eutyhes and Acutius for Giuseppe Spinelli, the archbishop of Naples. The painting (which was the first in the southern capital to move towards the barocchetto) was highly influential on Neapolitan artists at the time.

In 1753 Giaquinto reached the pinnacle of his career when Ferdinand VI summoned him to Madrid. He succeeded Jacopo Amigoni as primer pintor de cámara and was appointed director general of the Academia de Bellas Artes and head of the Real Fábrica de Tapices y Alfombras de Santa Bárbera. As court painter he had a profound influence on Spanish artists, most notably Antonio González-Velázquez and Francisco Bayeu. Even today, Spain is one of the few places that still revere the artist.

After the abdication of Ferdinand VI and the succession of Carlo di Borbone in 1759 Giaquinto began to lose prominence. Queen consort Maria Amalia of Saxony preferred the Neoclassicism of Anton Raffael Mengs (their court painter from Naples) to the barocchetto of Giaquinto. In 1762 Giaquinto was granted permission to leave the King's service and returned to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. He received commissions for the new baroque Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta as well as for the Chiesa di San Domenico in his hometown of Molfetta. His last substantial project was to paint the sacristy in San Luigi di Palazzo in Naples.

On April 19, 1766 Corrado Giaquinto died at the age of sixty-three.
Medea Rejuvenating Aeson by Corrado Giaquinto
(Photo added 1/26/13)
Corrado Giaquinto was very popular in his day; he became very wealthy and influential (especially in Spain and Italy) and has been compared to Neapolitan giants like Luca Giordano and Francesco Solimena. However, like many Southern Italian artists his reputation has waned over time as taste in art changed (among other factors). Thankfully, of late there has been a growth of scholarly interest in the history of Southern Italy; hopefully, this interest will continue to expand, especially into the arts. Anyone viewing the works of Corrado Giaquinto can plainly see they've been unjustly neglected and ignored.

It has always been the expressed purpose of this blog to recognize the achievements and contributions to world civilization by Southern Italians and to give these "forgotten" Titans their due. Well known across Europe before the Risorgimento, and celebrated in Spain today, Corrado Giaquinto is certainly one of these figures.

The following source proved invaluable to this post:
A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America 1650-1750, Yale University Art Gallery, 1987.