Lot 18
  • 18

Francesco Solimena

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
392,750 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Francesco Solimena
  • Bacchus and Ariadne
  • oil on copper


Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Lady'), London, Christie's, 14 June 1935, lot 4 (as Antoine Coypel);

Acquired at the above sale by A.V.H. Turner;

Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby's, 14 January 1994, lot 66;

With Colnaghi, London and New York, 1994;

James Oswald Fairfax (b. 1933), Bowral, Australia, by 1998.


Vienna, Kunsthistoriches Museum, 10 December 1993 – 20 February 1994; Naples, Sopraintendenza per i Beni Artistici e Storici, 19 March – 24 July 1994, Settecento Napoletano, Sulle ali dell'aquila imperiale 1707–1734, no. 207;

Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, 19 December 1998 – 28 Feb 1999; Kansas City, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, 28 March 1999 – 6 June 1999, Copper as Canvas, no. 56.


N. Spinosa, in Settecento Napoletano, Sulle ali dell'aquila imperiale 1707–1734, exh. cat., Naples 1994, p. 408, cat. no. 207, reproduced p. 409;

E.P. Bowron, in Copper as Canvas, M. Komanecky (ed.), exh. cat., New York, Oxford 1998, p. 289, cat. no. 56, reproduced p. 290.

Catalogue Note

Francesco Solimena was the leading Neapolitan artist in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, combining the last throes of the Baroque with the new Academic style. Depicting Bacchus and Ariadne’s first meeting, this work elucidates the moment after Ariadne’s desertion by Theseus on the island of Naxos as described by Ovid (Metamorphoses 8: 176–82). As Theseus makes his departure, Bacchus and his troupe arrive promising Ariadne the stars themselves: the jeweled crown he has crafted for her has been thrown to the heavens, becoming the constellation onto which they will depart following their marriage. Gifts and luxuries are showered upon her by cherubim, fauns and nymphs: gold, coral and pearls. Ariadne dolefully, but curiously, inspects the items on offer as her drapery is tugged and tousled by the cherubim on her left; the sailors on board Theseus’ boat permitted roles only as spectators to the scene as they drift away.

The extremely high finish of this work may suggest that it was painted as a presentation piece or personal commission. Owing to the smooth, hard nature of his chosen medium – copper – Solimena was able to build a delicate melange of figures, textures and tones and this is particularly evident in the sumptuous drapery surrounding Ariadne, and the musculature in Bacchus’ side. Similarly the wonderfully rich colour of the coral held by the sea nymph in the lower right is brought to life by the copper support.

Now lost, a substantially larger, canvas version of this composition existed and was last documented in a Viennese collection in 1932 (fig. 1).1 Both the canvas and copper compositions are nearly identical. Solimena often produced scaled-down versions of his larger works and also many small-scale mythological and allegorical works in their own right, such as Apelles Painting Campapse and Zeuxis Painting Venus.2 Works such as these were also frequently produced as commissions for patrons such as Count Harrach or Prince Eugene of Savoy.3 The exceptional quality of this example would suggest that it was produced for a significant patron.

Spinosa dates this work to circa 1710, during the period when Solimena’s work straddled both the Baroque and Academicism. The influence of Luca Giordano can be seen in the bravura drapery and wonderfully rich tones through the sky; see, for example, his own version of Bacchus and Ariadne, in the Chrysler Museum Virginia.4  Solimena returned to this subject and reworked the composition on at least one other occasion as we know from the drawing held in the National Gallery, Washington from the 1720s (fig. 2).5 Whilst this may relate to an unfinished or unknown project, it more probably highlights the popularity of this schema and the interest that it held with the buying public. While structurally similar, in the Washington drawing Bacchus stands contrapposto and raises his left arm indicating that Ariadne’s new constellation is in the upper right of the image, and not the upper left. Furthermore Ariadne now meets the gaze of Bacchus as she receives his gifts.

An intensely religious man, Francesco Solimena had originally taken clerical orders but was later encouraged by the future Pope Benedict XIII, Vincenzo Orsini, to pursue an artistic career. In the wake of Luca Giordano and Mattia Preti, Solimena came to dominate Neopolitan art at the end of the seventeenth century, and well into the eighteenth. He amassed a great fortune running a studio in which Francesco de Mura, Corrado Giaquinto and even Allan Ramsay worked, and in later life was created a Baron. Characterised by dynamism and drama his compositions tend to be set in loose and atmospheric confines, with the focus solely on the figures, their drapery and the theatre of chiaroscuro.

At the time of the New York sale, Sotheby’s, 14 January 1994, a photograph and a label were present indicating the sale of this work in an as–yet–unidentified sale, lot 665.

1. N. Spinosa, Pittura napoletana del Settecento dal barocco al Rococo, Naples 1993, p. 110, no. 30, fig. 35.

2. Sold, New York, Sotheby's, 30 January 1997, lot 109.

3. M. Komanecky, Copper as Canvas, Two Centuries of Masterpiece Paintings on Copper 1575–1775, exh. cat., New York and Oxford, 1999, p. 289.

4. Inv. no. 71.650; Bacchus and Ariadne, circa 1685, in the Chrysler Museum, Virginia

5. Inv. no. 2009.70.216; The McCrindle Gift: A Distinguished Collection of Drawings and Watercolors, M. Grasselli and A. K. Wheelock, Jr. (eds), exh. cat., Washington 2012, p. 182.