Lot 30
  • 30

GIOVANNI BATTISTA PITTONI | Achilles among the daughters of Lycomedes

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
250,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Giovanni Battista Pittoni the younger
  • Achilles among the daughters of Lycomedes
  • 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;

His sale, Berlin, Internationales Kunst und Auktionshaus, 21 April 1934, lot 190 (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, XII, August 1933, p. 410;

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

F. Zava Boccazzi, 'Nota sulla grafica di Antonio Kern', Arte Veneta, XXIX, 1975, pp. 247, 251, n. 10;

F. Zava Boccazzi, Pittoni: L’Opera Completa, Venice 1979, pp. 188–89, no. 287 (as location unknown);

A. Binion, I Disegni di Giambattista Pittoni, Corpus Graphicum vol. IV, Florence 1983, pp. 9, 31.

Catalogue Note

This beautiful canvas was painted by Pittoni in Venice around or just before 1730 as the pendant to his Continence of Scipio (see preceding lot). The episode depicted here is recounted by Gaius Julius Hyginus in his Fabulae and by Ovid in the Metamorphoses (XIII: 162ff). The Greek hero Achilles was hidden by his mother Thetis at the court of Lycomedes of Scyros, as she had foreseen his death in the Trojan War to come. Here he was discovered in disguise among the King’s daughters by Ulysses, who had been sent by the Greeks to find him, and who tricked him into revealing his true identity by hiding a sword among gifts of jewellery. In the centre of the painting we see Achilles, clad in female attire, delightedly drawing the sword from its scabbard. No doubt on account of its twin themes of disguise and cross-dressing, this scene had been one of the most popular of all episodes from the life of Achilles for painters from the seventeenth century onwards, and its semi-theatrical subject was well suited to Pittoni’s gift for decorative multi-figure compositions. Remarkably, although the companion Scipio was painted again by Pittoni on more than one occasion, and is equally well-known through numerous copies, the present canvas remains the only known painted version of this composition to have survived. The only other version of any kind is a large highly finished drawing in pen and brown ink and wash by Pittoni himself, last recorded in the Geiger collection in Venice (fig. 1).1 In this the general composition has been narrowed, and the figures of the daughters of Lycomedes and that of Achilles himself in the centre are disposed in quite different poses around their dressing table.2 Because of its relatively large size (327 x 512 mm) and because Pittoni does not seem to have made drawings as independent works of art, both Zava Boccazzi and Binion agree that this drawing most probably served as a detailed preparatory study for the present canvas. Such finished drawings may also have served later as the basis for the replicas made in Pittoni’s workshop, but if that had been the case here none have survived. In addition to this sheet, two further drawings, studies for the turbaned head and outstretched hand of the figure on the right of the composition, are preserved alongside the preparatory drawings for the Continence of Scipio at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice (fig. 2).3 

At the time both this canvas and its pendant were painted, Pittoni’s career was probably at its highest point. In 1729, he was elected Prior of the Collegio dei Pittori, the association of Venetian painters, and in the same year he was one of the forty-six founding members of the Venetian Accademia. Inside Italy Pittoni’s reputation was considerable, especially in the Veneto and Lombardy. It is remarkable, however, that more requests for major altarpieces came to him from other Italian cities such as Padua, Verona, Milan and Bergamo than from Venice itself. Outside of Italy he was held in great esteem, notably in Germany and Austria and in Dresden and Cologne in particular, but also in Poland, Bohemia and Spain. His patrons included Bishop Clemens August, Elector of Cologne, the Empress Amalia Wilhelmina of Austria, Field-Marshall Mathias von der Schulenberg, Frederick Augustus I, Elector of Saxony (King Augustus II of Poland) and his son Frederick Augustus II (King Augustus III of Poland), and King Philip V of Spain. It is a curious fact that no foreign travels by Pittoni in connection with any of his foreign commissions are recorded.

1 L. Planiczig and H. Voss, Handzeichnungen alter Meister aus der Sammlung Dr. Benno Geiger, Vienna 1920, no. 86. Geiger acquired the drawing from the Gottschewsky collection in Hamburg.
2 Zava Boccazzi 1979, p. 215, no. D.55, reproduced fig. 165; see also Binion 1983, p. 31, reproduced fig. 254.
3 Zava Boccazzi 1979, p. 211, no. D.25, reproduced fig. 163; see also Binion 1983, pp. 41, 45 nos 30.051 and 30.164, reproduced figs 113 and 115, though she does not connect either drawing to the present picture.