Lot 22
  • 22

Luca Giordano

100,000 - 150,000 USD
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  • Luca Giordano
  • An Astrologer
  • oil on canvas


Purchased by the father of the present owners in the 1950's;
Thence by descent.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com , an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting is in unusually good condition and despite the fact that there are some structural damages, the quality and condition of the paint layer in the figure particularly is remarkably good. There is a restored tear in the lower center which runs for approximately eight by six inches. Next to the shoulder in the background in the right there is a small break approximately three inches long and above the head in the background there is a horizontal tear running for approximately seven inches by three inches. Nonetheless, the condition of the painting is almost completely unaffected by the passage of time, as is clearly evident in the face and hands for instance.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

The present painting is an early, unpublished work by Luca Giordano. In its immediacy and confidence of handling, it must surely rank as one of the finest examples of Giordano's early "Philosopher" portraits. This group of works, a set of which now hangs in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (O. Ferrari & G. Scavizzi, Luca Giordano, 1992, cat. no. A138a-d, illus. vol. II, figs. 213-216), was probably painted by the artist in Naples, at a time when he was heavily influenced by Jusepe de Ribera. Giordano's philosophers from the 1650s are strongly reminiscent of Ribera's single-figure compositions of half-length saints and philosophers of the 1620s and 30s, many of which would have been accessible in a number of important Neapolitan collections.

A comparable composition, formerly with Robilant and Voena, in which the subject holds a similar piece of paper up his chest with his left hand (as opposed to his right hand in the present work), may also be dated to a similar early moment in Giordano's career. All of these figures are traditionally shown half-length, in sharp contrast of light and shadow, against dark backgrounds, and accompanied by various attributes. Giordano was known to have looked to antique sculpture for inspiration for his images of Socrates, Seneca, Cato and other great thinkers. Few documented patrons of these paintings are known but one can assume that these philosophers, astrologers, and mathematicians would have found a receptive audience by intellectuals who intended to hang them in their studies or libraries. The paintings allowed Giordano to represent different figure types and facial expressions, and he is known to have represented both himself and his father as philosophers, as seen in the works in the Alte Pinakotheck, Munich. Many of Giordano's philosophers are generically represented, shown as anonymous beggars (filosofi-mendicanti) or scientists (filosofi-scienzati); however, as Scavizzi notes, while the occupation of the present subject is more generally represented, his facial features are quite specific and expertly detailed, which may suggest that this is in fact a real portrait, something quite rare in Giordano's oeuvre.3

We are grateful to Professors Giuseppe Scavizzi and Nicola Spinosa for independently confirming the attribution of this work to Giordano, based on photographs. Professor Scavizzi has suggested a dating to the early 1660s, calling it "a magnificent work", and plans to publish it in his forthcoming study of the early works of Giordano. Professor Spinosa similarly dates the work to after 1660.

1.  Ribera's paintings could be found in Giordano's time in collections such as those of the Duca della Tore, Duca di Maddaloni, Principe di Avellino, and the third Duca di Alcalà, viceroy of Naples and Palermo, as noted by his biographer Bernardo De'Dominici.
2. See Italian Paintings from the 17th to the 18th Centuries, exhibition catalogue, New York 2011, pp. 36-7.
3. Written communication, 16 April 2011.