This elegant depiction of The Triumph of David exemplifies Mastelletta's highly individual and idiosyncratic style, a manner of painting which led Calvesi to describe the artist as "poeta, fragile visionario, fantasticatore timido e ardente".1 He depicts the moment when David enters Jerusalem with King Saul after the defeat of the Philistine army. Mastelletta has adhered to the biblical account closely, and shows the women of Israel who come out to great them, playing instruments and singing their praises (I Samuel 18.6-7). The emotive quality of the scene is heightened by the early morning glow of dawn which lights the scene; a moving detail, symbolic both of the darkness in which the defeated enemies of Israel must remain contrasted with David's own "rising sun," details which would not have been lost on the artist's sophisticated circle of patrons.
Mastelletta treated the theme of The Triumph of David on at least one other occasion, in a vast canvas in the private apartments of Palazzo Doria, Rome, which was painted as a pendant to The Finding of Moses in the same collection.2 The Doria picture is of square format and, despite its huge dimensions, the figures are much smaller in relation to the picture space. The Doria scenes play out before extensive wooded landscapes and Mastelletta delights in painting their surroundings, placing verdant trees in the middle ground and sweeping vistas beyond. In the Doria painting David walks in from right to left, holding Goliath's head triumphantly before him. Here David is more a boy than a young man, and his position within the composition is less evident, his pose less confident. Prominence is given to the music-making throng of female figures that welcome him home and the horseman at whose side David walks. The horse is, in fact, the only parallel quotation in each composition. This might lead one to suppose that the present canvas may be connected to the Doria commission in some way, even though the fact that the format is so different – upright and rectangular, as opposed to square – would argue against such a theory. However, it is possible that the present work constitutes a first idea for the composition, perhaps a modello to be shown to the patron, and that the design was subsequently changed.3 Alternatively this canvas may have been commissioned by someone who had seen the Doria picture and who wanted a smaller-scale painting of the same subject for his own collection. In any event the two paintings probably date from around the same time, for stylistic if not for iconographic reasons.
Scarce biographical information and few documented works make it extremely difficult to establish a firm chronology in Mastelletta's œuvre. His early works, however, particularly those painted during his Roman sojourn at the beginning of the 17th century, are distinctly characterised by elongated figures painted in delicate pastel colors reminiscent of Parmigianino, Bertoja and Niccolò dell'Abate.4 Indeed these figures are hallmarks of Mastelletta's idiosyncratic style and they were an object of praise for the biographer Malvasia, who noted the "galanti e spiritose figurine nelle quali [prevaleva] ad ogni altro".5 Elegant but not mannered, the figures in this and the Doria canvases certainly echo dell'Abate but they are painted with greater naturalsim and an effective use of chiaroscuro. The foreground figures are placed in 'lost' profile, a motif that finds parallels in other works of this date: the best example is Mastelletta's Finding of Moses in the Galleria Estense, Modena, where we find the same female types among the servant girls crowding around Pharaoh's daughter.6 This and the Doria canvases, as well as the present Triumph of David , probably all date from the middle of the 1610s or shortly afterwards.
1. [trans. "poet, fragile visionary, fanciful, timid and ardent"], from Maurizio Calvesi's biography of the artist in catalogue of the seminal exhibition of Bolognese Baroque Paintings, Maestri dell Pittura del Seicento Emiliano (Bologna 1959, p. 67).
2. Appartamenti Doria, Salone di Poussin, oil on canvas, 215 by 222 cm.; A. Coliva, Il Mastelletta (Giovanni Andrea Donducci 1575-1655), Rome 1980, pp. 122-23, cat. nos. 69 and 70, both reproduced. Coliva states that the Doria painting is based upon a lost work by Franecsco Vanni, whose composition is recorded in his pen and ink drawing in the Uffizi (her fig. 69a). The only real point of similarity is the figure of David, but this is far removed from the same figure in the painting being offered for sale here.
3. This is unlikely given that no upright pendant of The Finding of Moses, of similar dimensions to the present work, is known.
4. Two such examples are Mastelletta's Crossing of the Red Sea and Moses striking the Rock, two of a set of five canvases painted for the Galleria Spada, Rome, in 1602-3; Coliva, op. cit., pp. 90-91, cat. nos. 3 and 4, both reproduced.
5. [trans "..."galant and lively figures in which he excelled above all else"], C.C. Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, Bologna 1678, ed. Bologna 1841, vol. II, p. 69.
6. Oil on canvas, 91 by 126 cm.; ibid., pp. 121-22, cat. no. 68, reproduced, and a detail reproduced in colour plate V.
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