Naples 1634 – 1705
Luca Giordano, a prolific painter and draughtsman, worked in Italy and Spain and is widely regarded as the father of high Neapolitan Baroque art. He possessed extraordinary talents, having the protean ability to freely appropriate the styles of other masters and to do so at exceptional speeds, prompting the moniker ‘Luca Fa Presto’ (‘Luca paints quickly’). Giordano approached all subjects, whether religious or profane in both oil or fresco with the same ease and inventiveness, leaving behind an exceptionally large œuvre that stands as a testament to his virtuosity. Giordano said of himself that he had a gold, a silver and bronze brush, an admission that his works range from the brilliant to the mediocre depending on the attention he gave to them. Giordano’s personal style defined the work of the next generation of Neapolitan painters, especially that of Francesco Solimena (1657–1747).
Giordano started his career in the workshop of his father Antonio (ca. 1597–1683). His early work reflects the impact of Jusepe de Ribera who probably took him on as an apprentice. Giordano was the most effective of all the many artists who copied Ribera’s compositions and his Caravaggesque style, as can be seen in his Apollo and Marsyas (1657), which is a mirror image of Ribera’s eponymous work from 1637. Giordano painted a series of Philosophers and Senses in Ribera’s style, mostly, but not all, early in his career. In 1657, he completed a Madonna of the Rosary which foreshadows the lasting influence of the brighter palette of the Venetian masters, Titian (1487–1576) and Paolo Veronese (1528–88). This shift is partly related to his 1653 encounter with Mattia Preti (1613–99), whose hybrid style of the Roman Baroque of Giovanni Lanfranco (1582–1647) and the Venetian School had a great impact on the young artist. On his travels to Rome and Venice, Giordano was also affected by his encounter with Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) and the luminous classicising baroque of Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669). His mature style shows the superb effect of these combined influences, for example in his great Perseus turning Phineas and his Followers to Stone (1670), where a Rubensian battle scene with great tonal richness is set in front of a quasi-Venetian stage-like architectural backdrop.
From 1665 to 1692, Giordano worked predominantly in Naples but also produced works in Venice and, famously, in Florence where he decorated the gallery of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi with a fresco cycle, the Apotheosis of the Medici ,a famous work whose color, airiness and movement succeeds in doing everything required of a major fresco painted for a prince. This period also saw Giordano paint some sensual mythological scenes such as Bacchus and Ariadne (ca. 1680/90) which displays his ongoing experimentation with Titian’s aesthetic language. In 1694, Giordano was appointed the court painter to Charles II in Madrid, for whom he produced a significant body of work, including the imperial staircase vault of the Escorial (1692-94), and the ceiling of the sacristy of the Toledo Cathedral (ca. 1698). After the death of Charles II, Giordano returned to Naples in 1702 where he produced one of his last masterpieces, six paintings for a chapel of the Church of the Girolamini depicting the Life of St Charles Borromeo and St. Philip Neri (1702/04).
Top Auction Results for Luca Giordano
The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew
Sold for £962,500 ($1,648,398)
London, Christie’s, 8 July 2014, Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale, lot 38
Hercules and Omphale
Sold for $937,000
New York, Sotheby’s, 24 January 2008, Important Old Master Paintings Including European Work of Art, lot 103
Il ratto delle Sabine
Sold for €432,750 ($519,386)
Milan, Sotheby’s, 8 June 2010, Important Old Master Paintings, lot 69