- Francesco Solimena
Christ and the Woman of Samaria
- oil on canvas
This hitherto unknown work was painted by Francesco Solimena in the late 1680s and represents an important addition to his oeuvre. Though Solimena treated the subject throughout his career, the present design was known until now only through an old copy.1 It chronicles perfectly the artist's style at a stage of his career which should be considered the high point of his early period, a phase which was to culminate in the signed and dated frescoes of 1690 in the sacristy of San Paolo Maggiore in Naples.2 These heralded a new approach in Solimena's style which was marked by a more somber approach to both palette and subject matter.
Solimena's focus in these years is his interest in the play of light, betraying the influence of Luca Giordano and, through him, that of Pietro da Cortona, whose style can also be felt in the fluffy voluminous folds and lively tones of the woman's sleeves and dress. The strong use of chiaroscuro in this work is a development on his previous work and suggests it was painted after the frescoes of Santa Maria Donnaregina Nuova in Naples from circa 1685 where he had focused closely on a vibrant luminosity.3 In the present painting the figures still act as models on which Solimena explores the effects of a strong light (which enters the scene here from the left) but it now dissolves into shadow, increasing the theatricality of the scene. All the faces are shown half-bathed in light and half in the shade with the notable exception of Christ whose face emits a radiance befitting of the Messiah whom he has just confessed to be to the Samaritan woman. The hands and hair of the figures similarly catch shimmers of light, while behind the clear V-shaped disposition of the foreground figures even the landscape mirrors the chiaroscuro effect as a piercing shaft of light is blown into the murky dark clouds.
We are grateful to Professor Nicola Spinosa for endorsing the attribution, based on photographs, and for proposing a date of execution circa 1685-90.
1. For Solimena's Christ and the Woman of Samaria from circa 1730 see F. Bologna, Francesco Solimena, Naples 1958, p. 266, reproduced plate 192. The studio copy after the present design is listed in the Zeri archive.
2. See Bologna, op. cit., p. 264, reproduced figs. 74-75 and 77-83.
3. Idem, pp. 262-63, reproduced figs. 43-44, 46-47 and 49-60.