These two beautifully preserved bocetos were painted by Francisco Bayeu as preparatory works for two of the large frescoes commissioned by Charles IV in 1791 for the remodelled Oratorio in the royal palace of Aranjuez outside Madrid. The Oratorio was remodelled by the architect Juan de Villanueva who split it into two rooms which were then decorated in marble, stucco and gilded bronze by the brothers Billi and Juan Bautista Ferroni. Bayeu filled the vault with a large fresco depicting God the Father seated on a throne of clouds beneath a canopy supported by angels. On the lateral walls he painted the two Adorations; the Adoration of the Magi is flanked by a full-length depiction of St. Matthew and the Adoration of the shepherds by Saint Luke.1 The other scenes filling the room are the Visitation and the Flight into Egypt.
Bayeu's first royal commissions came to him somewhat indirectly when the painter Anton Rafael Mengs invited him to work under his direction at the Palacio Real in Madrid in 1763. The following year he began one of his most important early commissions, the Olympus: The Fall of the Giants (1764), a ceiling fresco in one of the public chambers of the Prince of the Asturias (in situ). His precocious talent saw him very soon appointed Pintor de Cámara (1767) and he began his great Apotheosis of Hercules series shortly afterwards. The style of these frescoes is in the italian tradition of Corrado Giaquino, learned from his master Antonio González Velásquez, himself a pupil of Giaquinto. Royal commissions, latterly at Aranjuez, continued until his death in 1795, the year he was appointed Director de Pintura at the real Academia.
We are grateful to Prof. Arturo Ansón Navarro for endorsing the attribution to Bayeu.
Leonardo Chopinot, who acquired these two works straight after Bayeu's death from the benficiaries of his will, was gold and diamond jeweller to the King Charles IV.2 Chopinot acquired a number of works by the artist in this way, including his wonderful signed dog portrait, Bastin dormido.3 Chopinot's own will testifies to the fact that the Adoration of the Magi, at least, was chosen by the kings' court painter Jacinto Gómez for the collection of the Prince of Peace, Don Manuel Godoy.
1. Morales y Marin, op. cit., pp. 122-3, no. 193, Saints Luke and Matthew reproduced.
2. They are described as Id otro cuadro que representa la adoración de los Pastores 1.100 reales de vellón and Id otro, de igual tamaño, representa la adoracion de los Reyes 1.100 reales de vellón.
3. Ibid., pp. 111-12, no. 155, reproduced.
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