San Benedetto, San Gennaro e Santto Stefano

Solimena Francesco
San Benedetto, San Gennaro e Santto Stefano
layer & technique: 

oil on paper laid on canvas


71 x 52 cm

ca 1733

 Certificate by Dott. Nicola Spinosa

Francesco Solimena

( Canale di Serino 1657- Barra di Napoli 1747 )

San Benedetto, Santa Scolastica e San Gaudioso

olio su tela, cm. 71 x 52

This painting is the "model" or "bozzetto" for the left part of the big altarpiece signed and dated 1733, that Francesco Solimena painted for the head altar of the of the Napolitan convent of the  Benediktiner monks, entitled to San Gaudioso, and realised after the design of tha architect Ferdinando Sanfelice, who himself was a student of Solimena. The painting is recorded in the "life of the painter Solimena" written by N.Pio in 1733 (manuscript in the "Biblioteca Vaticana) and in the "Vite de 'Pittori, Scultori e Architetti Napoletani" written by Bernardo De Dominici( Napoli 1742-1745, IV , p.447) and was destroyed  during the revolution of 1799. N.Pio wrote:" Mr. Ferdinando Sanfelice did become that Mr. Solimena will paint with his famous brush the painting for the high altar, which will become one of the most famous altarpieces.

There are some drawings and preoaratory drawings known, which can be found in the collections of the "Cabinet of drawings and prints of the Museo di Capodimonte. 

Also important to the study of the final painting is a bozzetto preserved in The Grimaldi collection in Naples, identified by Sergio Ortolani, and mentioned in the "Catalogo della mostra dei bozzetti napoletani del '600 e '700" Napoli 1947. This "Bozzetto" has been published again by Ferdinand Bologna in his monograph on Solimena, Napoli 1958 ( p.266 fig. 202), who reported also a replica of this bozzetto  by the workshop of Solimena, preserved in the Museo di Capodimonte.

Thanks to the painting in the Grimaldi collection we discoveredf that the canvas here in question is a partial sketch of the left part of the great altarpiece which has been destroyed.

It is known that, also in other cases, Francesco Solimena made multiple drawings and "sketches" of different parts of what would have been the final composition. This was done also on request of the customer, who ordered usually a small size replica, espessially when the painting was a considerable success, as in this case.

The painting for the San Gaudioso church as well as the Bozzetti for this altarpiece are of particular intrest to the activity of Solimena who was at that time at the top of his international career. His studies on Classicist composure  made him famous in the first and second decade of the eighteenth century. Examples of which are the frescoes dating from 1720 in the "Church of Gesù Nuovo" . Consequently, Solimena worked for imperial collections, examples of which are: 1728 Belvedere palace in Vienna of Prince Eugene of Sacoy; 1720-1730 for the collection of the viceroy of Naples, count von Harrach;1728-1732 for the Naepolitan Church of Padri Girolamini, Chapel of St Philip Neri, 1728-1730.

However, as has already been remarked by Ferdinando Bologna, Solimena who at the time he made the San Gaudioso altarpiece, was in advanced age, shows the first signs of a slow and progressive distancing from Classicism, towards renewed solutions in neo-Baroque monumentality. Originally painting with pictorial drafts marked by intense "tenebrismo", in the years immediately after 1690, Solimena evolves towards painting "a macchia", which is especially characteristic of his later paintings since 1735.

The "bozetto" in question still has drawing clarity in the definition of forms and drafts as well as lightened and bright coloring as in Solimena's earlier Classicistic period. But it should be noted that it is precisely paintings like this which exercised considerable influence on the initial activity of Francesco De Mura, who studied under Solimena in his old age, and who was his stylistic heir. This is documented by his early interventions, between 1728 and 1730, in the works in the Napolitan churches, San Nicola alla Carità, Santa Restituta, Santa Maria Donnaromita, and San Francesco Saverio alla Nunziatella.Moreover, it is clear that the works mentioned above are only a few examples of the works of De Mura in the yeras surrounding 1730.

The painting in question is original and is presented in excellent condition.

Napoli, 7 luglio 2012.

Nicola Spinosa.


sources / external links: 

il dipinto di cui mi ha inviato la foto non è di Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, ma studio o modello preparatorio della parte sinistra di un dipinto di Francesco Solimena realizzato nel 1733 per la chiesa di San Gaudioso a Napoli e raffigurante la Madonna col bambino in gloria e santi: la tela andò distrutta, ma Ferdinando Bologna nella monografia su Solimena del 1958 pubblicò il bozzetto dell'opera intera che era allora nella collezione Grimaldi a Napoli: pp. 118 e 266, fig. 202. Il bozzetto della parte sinistra della grande tela (Solimena era solito realizzare disegni e bozzetti sia del dipinto nel suo insieme, sia dei vari particolari) raffgura evidentemente San Benedetto, San Gennaro e Santto Stefano in primo piano.

high res photos: