Mahoney dates both versions of the composition to the second half of 1663. While sharing many motifs, the two works vary somewhat in composition. In the painting, the River God, in contrast to his previous imperious gesture, seems quietly to address the sleeping Aeneas, his pose very close to that seen in the Barnet drawing. In another change, the painted figure of Aeneas rests his head on the rock between the two figures – a much more convincing pillow than the shield that he uses in the print. It is therefore clear that Rosa thought rather carefully about his composition as he adapted it from one medium to the other.
The Barnet drawing was unknown to Mahoney when he was preparing his fundamental doctoral thesis, with its catalogue raisonné of the drawings of Salvator Rosa, but it is clearly the closest study by the artist for the corresponding figure in the Metropolitan Museum’s painting. Mahoney did, though, publish another handsome compositional study, in the Louvre, which is otherwise the nearest to the finished painting. Both Luigi Salerno and Michael Mahoney observed that Rosa had used elements from the Louvre drawing, for both the painting and the etching.3 Other related studies are also known, all preliminary ideas, mostly relating to the figure of Aeneas.4 The Barnet drawing, sharing the vivacity and quickness of execution of the study in the Louvre, appears to be a further elaboration of the figure of the Tiber, the abundant use of brown wash suggesting – even more strongly than in the final painting – the shadowy overall effect of this semi-nocturnal scene, lit by moonlight.
Rosa had always been obsessed by a desire to be acknowledged as a painter of large figural compositions portraying themes from history, classical mythology or the Bible, although he never ceased to paint landscapes, which seemed rather easily to win him general recognition. The Dream of Aeneas is a wonderful example of an ambitious, late painting by Rosa. Yet although the painting is both majestic and skilfully painted with a thick impasto, Rosa seems to express his vitality and imagination more convincingly in the liveliness of his preliminary studies, such as this beautifully drawn personification of the Tiber.
1 New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. n. 65.118
2 L. Salerno, L'opera completa di Salvator Rosa, Milan 1975, no. 183; M. Mahoney, The Drawings of Salvator Rosa, 2 vols, New York/London 1977, vol. I, p. 641
3 Paris, Louvre, inv. no. 9741; M. Mahoney, op.cit., vol. I, no. 74.1, reproduced vol. II, 74.1
4 Ibid, vol. I, nos. 74.2 - 74.7, reproduced vol. II, 74.2 - 74.7
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