I n 1649, the painter Diego Velázquez departed his native Spain on a royal pursuit. With impetus from King Philip IV of Spain, the illustrious artist traveled to Rome to mine the metropolis’s boulevards for artwork worthy of a monarch. His task was to assemble paintings and sculptures from the city’s finest artists, commissioning and purchasing a plethora of singular pieces for the country’s royal collections.
It was in Rome that Velázquez first witnessed the outstanding work of high-baroque artist Alessandro Algardi, a preeminent sculptor of the epoch. Algardi’s oeuvre evidently piqued Velázquez’s interest, as the artist commissioned the remarkable creation that is Jupiter Victorious over the Titans, circa 1650-54, for King Philip IV. Jupiter was part of a set of four bronze sculptures which, altogether, tell the classical myth of the world's creation. The scene is meant to symbolize regal omnipotence, a fitting work for a king.
“And he [Zeus] was reigning in heaven, himself holding the lightning and glowing thunderbolt, when he had overcome by might his father Kronos (Cronus).”
Jupiter Victorious over the Titans depicts the king of gods, Jupiter, wielding a thunderbolt in his outstretched hand, seated upon an eagle which perches atop a celestial globe engraved with the signs of the zodiac.
The globe is set on a ring of rocks, supported by three nude, male Titans – a race of giants that sought to challenge the gods, aiming to conquer heaven by piling up a monumental rock formation that would reach the height of Olympus. Jupiter is seen defeating the Titans, hurling a thunderbolt, and subsequently crushing them beneath the rocks of Mounts Pelion and Ossa.
Unfortunately, Velázquez commissioned this exceptional sculpture series near the end of Algardi’s life. As a result, the sculptor was only able to complete and supervise the production of two of the four Elements, Jupiter and its companion piece Juno Victorious over the Wind, before his death in 1654. The other two bronzes in the sequence, Neptune and Cybele, were completed by his assistants posthumously.
Velázquez originally commissioned the completion of two casts of each Element for Spain’s royal inventory. The initial two casts of Jupiter, alongside the Juno casts, were put on a ship to be sent to Spain in March 1654, shortly before the artist’s death. Despite a delay caused by storms outside Civitavecchia – and rumor of a shipwreck – the casts eventually docked in Spain. Around 1662, seven of these bronzes (with the exception of one cast of Jupiter) were installed in the Neptune Fountain in the gardens of Aranjuez.
This bronze was not placed on the fountain; it instead entered the Spanish Royal collections of the Alcázar in Madrid in 1666. Remarkably, Jupiter survived the fire which destroyed the Alcázar in 1734.
A highly significant discovery, Jupiter is the most refined example of this model to have emerged. The piece provides the closest link to Velázquez’s extraordinary commission – and an open window to Algardi’s last moments of creation – as Jupiter Victorious over the Titans is believed to be one of the baroque artist’s final masterpieces.