Giovanni Battista Cipriani (Florence 1727-1785)

CASTOR AND POLLUX

GIOVANNI BATTISTA CIPRIANI (Florence 1727-1785 London)

Signed and Dated CIPRIANI PIN 1783

Oil on Canvas

(108 ¼ x 124 ½ “ / 274.9 x 316.2cm)

A monumental painting both in terms of size and provenance. Further Information below. 

 

Property of a Family Trust

Born in Florence, and trained under Ignazio Hugford, Cipriani was a key figure in shaping the taste of architectural

decoration in England during the 18th century. Shortly before turning thirty, he was persuaded to come to London by Sir

William Chambers and Joseph Wilton in 1756, eleven years before the arrival of Angelica Kauffman. He would remain

here for the rest of his life, providing decorative schemes for buildings by Chambers and Robert Adam, and attracting the

patronage of King George III and Lords Charlemont, Tylney and Anson. He gained a considerable reputation, being

elected a Foundation Member of the Royal Academy in 1768 and being involved in numerous projects in and around the

capital, including Somerset House and Syon House. Cipriani’s influence was further spread by his teaching at the Royal

Academy Schools, his pupils including John Hamilton Mortimer, and by the numerous engravings after his work made by

his close friend Bartolozzi. His fellow Academician and friend Henry Fuseli said of Cipriani, he was ‘equally distinguished

as an artist and as a man: the fertility of his invention, the graces of his composition, and the seductive elegance of his

forms, were only surpassed by the probity of his character, the simplicity of his manners and the benevolence of his

heart.’ (Rev. M. Pilkington, A Dictionary of Painters from the Revival of the Art to the Present Period, revised and

updated by H. Fuseli, London, 1810, p. 117).

Along with Kauffman and Francesco Zuccarelli, he was a key proponent, and populariser, of the neo-classical idiom,

which may have owed some debt to the study of Roman reliefs during his formative years in Italy. He was an assiduous

draughtsman, and a watercolour sketch for the present picture is recorded, though his work was only rarely translated

into large-scale history paintings, despite his contemporaries highly valuing his ability in the discipline; Edward Edwards,

for example, remarked that Francis Hayman ‘was unquestionably the best historical painter in the Kingdom, before the

arrival of Cipriani’ (E. Edwards, Anecdotes of Painters…, London, 1808, p. 51).

This monumental canvas was one of a set of three large, decorative pictures that were commissioned by George Walpole,

3rd Earl of Orford (1730-1791), a significant patron of Cipriani, and nephew of Horace, the great collector and

connoisseur. The two other subjects showed Philoctetes on Lemnos (dated 1781) (fig. 1), and Oedipus on Colonus.

Though it is not clear where they were originally intended to hang, the three pictures remained at Houghton Hall,

Norfolk, until sold in these Rooms on 20 April 1990, as three consecutive lots, 53 to 55. In its ambition and scope, the

series is comparable to that in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, dating to circa 1776, which was commissioned by

William, 2nd Earl of Shelburne for Lansdowne House. The 3rd Earl of Orford also owned two further pictures by

Cipriani of comparable scale, both in vertical format, one showing Dido grieving over the Departure of Aeneas, also sold

in these Rooms in the 1990 sale, lot 56, and one Rape of Oreithyia, sold at the Houghton sale, Christie’s, London, 8

December 1994, lot 137, for £199,500. This grand commission, together with that of another set of three pictures by

Philip Reinagle, was prompted by the sale en bloc, in 1778, of the larger part of the celebrated collection of pictures put

together by the 3rd Earl’s grandfather, Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, to Catherine the Great, Empress of

Russia.

 

Posted on January 25, 2017 and filed under Painting.