Although active for many years in Venice, Amigoni travelled all over Europe and worked in Germany, France, England and Spain. His style remained largely unchanged throughout his artistic career and a chronology for his work is extremely difficult to establish, largely due to the rarity of documented, dated or signed paintings. The fact that this canvas is apparently signed makes it a rare (if not unique) example in Amigoni’s oeuvre. His name may have been inscribed in the lower left corner at the request of a patron and its unusual form and spelling would suggest an English interpretation of his name (Amiconi instead of Amigoni). The painting is executed in a very swift and fluid manner: the paint is broadly applied and there are visible pentimenti in Narcissus’ left hand. This style finds parallels in Amigoni’s later works, such as his Venus and Adonis in the Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice, or the four Old Testament scenes in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin (on loan from the Streit Foundation).1 A date of execution in the mature phase of Amigoni’s artistic career, that is in the 1730s, would lend support to the theory that this was painted or owned by an English patron as his ten-year sojourn in England took place between 1729 and 1739.
The poignant story of Narcissus and Echo is told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. The nymph Echo was condemned by Juno to repeat the last words that were spoken to her and, in punishment for having spurned her love, the handsome youth Narcissus was made to fall in love with his own reflection. His rather glum expression in Amigoni’s painting points to the fact that his love caused him to pine away and die, as did Echo in her grief. Upon his death Narcissus was transformed into the flower that bears his name (narcissi) and nothing remained of the nymph except her voice (an echo).
1 Venus and Adonis is reproduced in A. Scarpa Sonino, Jacopo Amigoni, Soncino 1994, p. 58, fig. 28. All four paintings - Lot and His Daughters, The Sacrifice of Isaac, Susanna and the Elders, and Bathsheba - are datable to circa 1740: see Scarpa Sonino, op. cit., pp. 124-29, cat. nos. 29-32, all reproduced in colour.
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