Antonio Piccolomini Bellanti, Siena, possibly by whom acquired from the artist;
From whom purchased by Sir Robert Keith Dick-Cunningham, Bt., Prestonfield House, Edinburgh, circa 1837;
From whose descendant purchased in 1960 by a collector;
By whom anonymously sold, Monaco, Christie's, 7 December 1990, lot 342A, where purchased by the present collector.
G. Capy, Guillaume Guillon Lethière, peintre d'histoire 1760-1832, Paris 1991, cat. no. 30.
This grand and impressive canvas was painted by the artist during his tenure as the Director of the French Academy in Rome (1807-1816), and the strongly classical character of the composition can hardly be coincidental. The subject of the painting—as much of Lethière's corpus—is derived from Homer (although the story was also elaborated on by a number of ancient authors). The artist has chosen to adhere strictly to the classical texts in his depiction of the event. At the foot of Mount Ida (Mount Garagarus in some sources) in Asia Minor, the three goddesses stand, having been guided by Hermes, who is shown flying from the scene as if to suggest he knows that no good will come of what is about to unfold. The contestants pose by the pool in which they have just bathed, while the river god Simois leans on the spring's source at the right. The prince/herdsman Paris, appropriately dressed in his Phrygian cap with his dog by his side, kneels before the nude Aphrodite awarding her the prize, while Hera and Athena look on.
Lethière was careful to portray his figures based on classical prototypes, a source given his position in Rome of which he was able to take full advantage. The figure of Athena, for example, appears to be based on the so-called Giustiniani Minerva; this is hardly surprising, as the sculpture was then in the collection of Lucien Bonaparte, installed as the centerpiece of the great hall in his home, the Palazzo Nunez, perhaps a five minute walk from the French Academy. Bonaparte had become one of Lethière's biggest patrons, commissioning from him a number of important paintings and had probably been responsible for his appointment at the Villa Medici. The two were quite close, and the artist advised him on many of his acquisitions, even travelling with him to Spain in search of paintings for his collection.1 A preparatory drawing for the painting by the artist is in the collection of the Musée Ingres, Montauban (see fig. 1).2 This Judgment of Paris appears not to be the only version of the subject painted by the artist; another even larger canvas is mentioned in the 1815 sale of the Italian dealer Vittore Zanetti in Manchester, which was paired with a pendant of Homer Singing his Iliad.3
The early provenance of this picture is interesting. It was in the collection of Antonio Piccolomini Bellanti of Siena, a collector of pictures and patron of the arts. The English picture and print dealer Samuel Woodburn recorded a visit to his collection in a letter of 31January 31 1822, when he noted that during a trip to Italy he had visited "Count Piccolomini Bellanti of Sienna, who is an Amateur and shewed me several pictures of good taste." His collection seems to have included paintings of the Sienese school, such as the Portrait of a Young Woman by Gerolamo di Benvenuto (now National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, inv. 1939.1.353) as well as a few celebrated works of art, including a supposed portrait of Petrarch's Laura.4 Bellanti also seems to have been interested in contemporary artists, and embraced the then prevailing neo-classical style. In a letter dated 18 March, 1811, the celebrated sculptor Berthold Thorvaldsen writes to Bellanti, excited about his imminent trip to Rome, and invites him on his visit to "scegliere uno dei miei lavori a vostro piacere , siccome sarà di mia sodisfazione il rilasciarlo nelle mani, d'uno come Voi, intendente dell'Arte, stimandomi fortunate di vederlo unito alla vostra ottima raccolta, dove sarà veduto, e mi farà onore."5 It is tempting to think that during this trip in 1811, Bellanti may have met and commissioned the present work from Lethière as well.
1. In 1802-4. The relationship between the two men seems not to have been restricted to artistic matters; Bonaparte is alleged to have had an affair with the artist's wife.
2. See "Une culture française toute imprégnée d'Italie" in Papiers d'Ingres : collections graphiques du Musée Ingres, Montauban, 1989, p. 4, reproduced fig. 95.
3. Both pictures measured 8 feet by 10 feet 8 inches. The sale is held in Manchester, 1815, but the catalogue does not provide the date of sale. A copy of the catalogue is in the British Museum Print Room, London.
4. Period sources list other paintings in his collection as well, giving Bellanti a profile as an early collector of gold ground pictures. In a letter that the collector wrote in 1817 to Carlo Lasinio, he offers the famous curator of the Camposanto, Pisa, a group of pictures from his collection "'Due Dittici alti circa cinque terzi di braccio di molta considerazione perche sicurissimi di Duccio di Buoninsegna. Una Circoncisione di N.S. Largo circa mezzo B.o di Ugolino da Siena. Due Altri Antichi poco piu grandi del precedente di qualche merito. Una Venere che esce dal Mare (larghezza d'un Br.o e un sesto) bel soggetto, e sicurissimo del Sodoma di quattro figure intere. Un Q.o istoriato di cinque figure intiere alto pi' che Braccio, che sarebbe di molto effetto se ripulito di Mecherino'."
5. Trans: "...to choose one of my works to your taste, as it would be my pleasure to turn it over to hands, of one such as you, a judge of Art, considering myself luckily to see it joined to your most excellent collection, where, it being seen, will do me honor." Ernst Jonas Bencard, Kira Kofoed & Inge Lise Mogensen Bech (eds.): The Thorvaldsen Letter Archives, Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen, letter from Thorvalsen, Rome 18, March 1811 to Bellanti.
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