Death of Messalina

Object Details

Title:

Death of Messalina

Artist/Maker:

Francesco Solimena (Italian, 1657 - 1747)

Culture:

Italian

Date:

about 1704/1712

Medium:

Oil on canvas

Object Number:

72.PA.24

Dimensions:

174 × 230.2 cm (68 1/2 × 90 5/8 in.)

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Solimena here represents the murder of Messalina, third wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius, who had a reputation for promiscuity. Though the emperor forgave Messalina’s adultery, others saw this as a weakness, and a Roman officer ordered her assassination. The dynamic composition illustrates the moment in which a soldier thrusts a sword toward the frightened empress, who grasps his arm in a helpless attempt to fend off the attack.

This may be the only painted representation of the death of Messalina, a story from the Annals  of Tacitus. The subject provided Solimena with an opportunity to engage with a dramatic narrative, whose intensity he heightened by illuminating the figures in the darkness with stark, white light and painting them on a monumental scale. According to his eighteenth-century biographer, Bernardo de' Dominici (1683–1759), Solimena painted this subject for a series of five canvases of historical and mythological subjects for the Procurator Canale in Venice.

Provenance
about 1704/12 - still in 1742

Probably Gerolamo Canale, procuratore di San Marco (Venice, Italy), commissioned from the artist, about 1704/12.

by 1753 -

Private Collection (Saxony, Germany)

- 1971

Frieda Hinze (Berlin, Germany), sold to Heim Gallery and Artibus in half shares, 1971.
Source: Getty Research Institute, Heim Gallery Records

1971 - 1972

Heim Gallery (London) (London, England)

-

and Artibus (London, England), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1972.

Bibliography

De Dominici, Bernardo. Vite de' pittori, scultori, ed architetti napoletani. 3 vols. (Naples: Nella stamperia del Ricciardi, 1742-1743), vol. 3, p. 594.

De Dominici, Bernardo. Vite dei pittori, scultori ed architetti napoletani. 4 vols. (Naples: Tipografia Trani, 1840-1846), vol. 4 (1846), p. 428.

Ceci, G. "Solimena, Francesco." In Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. Hans Vollmer, ed. (Leipzig: Veb E. A. Seemann Verlag, 1937), vol. 31, p. 244.

Bologna, Ferdinando. Francesco Solimena(Naples: L'Arte Tipografica, 1958), p. 189.

Clifford, Timothy. Letter in The Burlington Magazine 116, no. 855 (June 1974), p. 335.

Fredericksen, Burton B., et al. Guidebook: The J. Paul Getty Museum. 3rd ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1976), p. 67.

Ewald, Gerhard. Das Jahrhundert Tiepolos: Italienische Gemälde des 18. Jahrhunderts aus dem Besitz der Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, exh. cat. (Stuttgart: Staatsgalerie, 1977), pp. 108-9, under no. 52.

Spinosa, Nicola. Pittura napoletana del Settecento dal Barocco al Rococò (Naples: Electa, 1986), pp. 107, 194, fig. 31.

Hersey, George, et al. A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America, 1650-1750, exh. cat. (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1987), p. 197, under nos. 23-24, entry by Carmen Bambach Cappel, George Hersey, and Sheila O'Connell.

Cappel Bambach, Carmen. "Francesco Solimena, 1657-1747." In A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America, 1650-1750, exh. cat. (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1987), pp. 181-82, fig. 78.

Barock in Neapel: Kunst zur Zeit der österreichischen Vizekönige, exh. cat. (Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum, 1993), pp. 210, 212, 214, under nos. 39, 40, 41, entries by Wolfgang Prohaska; p. 216, under no. 42, entry by Nicola Spinosa.

Hersey, George L. "Francesco Solimena e il procuratore Gerolamo Canale." In Angelo e Francesco Solimena: due culture a confronto. Vega de Martini and Antonio Braca, eds. (Naples: Casa editrice Fausto Fiorentino, 1994), pp. 129, 130, 133, 136, ill.

Pavone, Mario Alberto. "Francesco Solimena." In The Dictionary of Art. Jane Turner, ed. (New York: Grove, 1996), vol. 29, p. 40.

Jaffé, David. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), p. 118, ill.

Weber, Gregor J. M. "Juno und Sophonisbe: Francesco Solimenas donne famose in der Galerie." Dresdener Kunstblätter 46, no. 3 (2002), pp. 89, 91-92, ill.

Pisani, Salvatore. "'Ce peintre étant un peu délicat...': Zur europäischen Erfolgsgeschichte von Francesco Solimena." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 65, no. 1 (2002), p. 51.

De Dominici, Bernardo. Vite de' pittori, scultori ed architetti napoletani. Fiorella Sricchia Santoro and Andrea Zezza, eds. 3 vols. (Naples: Paparo Edizioni, 2003), vol. 3, p. 1136.

Marx, Harald, ed. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden. 2 vols. (Cologne: Walther König, 2005), vol. 1, p. 207, entry by Andreas Henning; vol. 2, p. 512.

Pavone, Mario Alberto. Pittori napoletani della prima metà del Settecento: Dal documento all'opera (Naples: Liguori, 2008), p. 138.

Hojer, Annette. Francesco Solimena, 1657-1747: Malerfürst und Unternehmer (Munich: Hirmer, 2011), p. 38n148.

Marty de Cambiaire, Laurie. Dessins napolitains, 1550-1800 (Paris: Marty de Cambiaire Fine Art, 2014), p. 50, under no. 18, fig. 1.