Lot 29
  • 29

GIOVANNI BATTISTA PITTONI | The Continence of Scipio

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Giovanni Battista Pittoni the younger
  • The Continence of Scipio
  • oil on canvas
  • 111 x 145.5 cm.; 43 3/4  x 57 1/4  in.


Dr Voss(?) (his collector's label affixed to the stretcher); Prof. Dr Herman Wedewer (1852–1922), Wiesbaden;

His sale, Berlin, Rudolf Lepke, 2 December 1913, lot 87 (as Sebastiano Ricci) with pendant;

There acquired by Dr Martin Wassermann, Berlin;

His sale, Berlin, Internationales Kunst und Auktionshaus, 21 April 1934, lot 189 (as Sebastiano Ricci);

Where bought back and thence by descent to the present owner.


H. Voss, 'Giovanni Battista Pittoni', in Thieme-Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, Leipzig 1933, vol. XXVII, p. 120; L. Coggiola Pittoni, 'Pseudo influenza francese nell’arte di Giambattista Pittoni', Rivista della città di Venezia, XI, August 1933, p. 410;

W. Arslan, 'Studi sulla pittura del primo Settecento veneziano II', La Critica d'Arte, I June 1936, p. 241, n. 82; 

A. Pigler, Barokthemen, Budapest–Berlin 1956, vol. I, p. 264;

F. Zava Boccazzi, 'Nota sulla grafica di Antonio Kern', Arte Veneta, xxix, 1975, pp. 246–47, 251, reproduced fig. 2;

F. Zava Boccazzi, Pittoni: L’Opera Completa, Venice 1979, pp. 144, 151, 188–89, 215–16, no. 286 (as location unknown);

A. Binion, I Disegni di Giambattista Pittoni, Corpus Graphicum vol. IV, Florence 1983, pp. 25, 33, 41, 43.

Catalogue Note

This painting is the prime original of one of Pittoni's most successful designs, which was repeated in numerous versions and copies, and this is its first appearance on the open market for eighty-five years. The story is taken from Livy’s Ab urbe condita (XXVI: 50). After capturing the Spanish city of Carthage during the second Punic War, the Roman general Scipio Africanus received a beautiful young woman as a prize of war, but upon hearing of her engagement, he freed her and then summoning her fiancé Prince Allucius, magnanimously gave him her ransom money as a wedding gift. This and similar subjects of female virtue in danger were painted many times by Pittoni, who was one of the most successful painters of such histories in the Venetian rococo. He seems to have first developed these themes alongside his religious works during the 1720s. Together with its pendant (see following lot), the present canvas can be dated to around or just before 1730, by which time Pittoni had achieved considerable fame both north and south of the Alps. As these works show he had by this date evolved a highly distinctive personal rococo style: simultaneously theatrical and dynamic, ornamental yet supremely elegant, and above all notable for its broad, expressive brushwork and bold use of colour.1 Pittoni was a very capable technician, and each of his paintings was preceded by elaborate and careful preparation on paper. For the present canvas, for example, his preliminary study of the hands of the young woman and her father survives in the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice (fig. 1).2 Another study, for the heads of the young woman and the attendants on the left of the painting, is in Milan, Castello Sforzesco, Gabinetto dei disegni.3 In addition we also have the fascinating testimony of two highly finished drawings, perhaps intended as ricordi, made by his pupil and assistant the Bohemian painter Anton Kern (1710–1747) preserved today in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Poitiers and the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest (fig. 2).4  The drawings follow the left and right-hand sections of the composition separately, and they can be dated to Kern’s stay in Pittoni’s studio between 1723 and 1730, which allows us to date the present painting to the same time. This dating is further supported by the fact that the figure of the young girl can be found amongst the figures contributed by Pittoni to the painting of the Tomb of Isaac Newton (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum) painted between 1727–30 for the Irish impresario Owen McSwiny as part of a series of allegorical tombs commemorating heroes from recent British history.5

The success of Pittoni’s design is witnessed by the large number of repetitions and copies that were immediately made of it. Most notable among these are two variants by Pittoni himself, one in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, and the other in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, both of which were painted as pendants to canvases depicting another scene of female virtue imperilled, The Sacrifice of Polyxena.6 Zava Boccazzi suggest that the Munich canvases were probably painted around 1735, and those in Paris slightly earlier, between 1733 and 1735. A high-quality replica, now in a Venetian private collection, is published by Zava Boccazzi as by Pittoni himself, but this attribution is rejected by Binion, who suggests instead that it may be a copy by Anton Kern.7 

1 Although the work of his Venetian contemporaries, Ricci, Tiepolo, Piazzetta and Pellegrini, were the most obvious sources of this style, scholars have also remarked upon the marked affinity of some of Pittoni’s work with contemporary rococo art in France. Binion suggests that this may have been the result of a visit to France in 1720 with Rosalba Carriera, Pellegrini and Anton Maria Zanetti.
2 Binion 1983, p. 43, no. 30.102, reproduced fig. 252.
3 Binion 1983, p. 33, no. B-2087, reproduced fig. 250.
4 Zava Boccazzi 1979, pp. 215–16, nos D56 and D62. The drawing in Budapest is signed and inscribed: Ant. Kern del: aus einem Bilde seines Meisters.
5 Zava Boccazzi 1979, pp. 123–24, no. 4, reproduced fig. 202.
6 Zava Boccazzi 1979, pp. 144, 150, nos 119, 120 and 144, reproduced figs 275, 312 and 313.
7 Zava Boccazzi 1979, p. 176, no. 228, reproduced fig. 164, and Binion 1983, p. 33, under no. B-2087, reproduced fig. 253.