(Pozzuoli 1731 – 1803 Naples)
A Modello for the Massacre of the Innocents
Oil on canvas
20 x 16.5 in (50.8 x 41.3 cm)
Private Collection, Turin; Sale, Christie’s, New York, 29 January 2014, lot 35.
European Paintings from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, New York, 1980, p. 449, under no. 239.
From the Christie's Catalogue:
The present painting is a study for Giacinto Diano's mural The Massacre of the Innocents in Santa Maria della Pietà dei Turchini, Naples. In 1780, the church directors decided to complete the large chapel on the left side of the transept with a new marble altar and an elaborate decorative cycle. Archival documents show that between 1780 and 1781, the "virtuoso dipintore" Diano was paid 2,050 ducats to paint an altarpiece of The Deposition and decorate the walls and vaults with scenes from the Infancy of Christ (E. Nappi, "Il Conservatorio e la Chiesa della Pietà dei Turchini", in Ricerche sul '600 Napoletano, Milan, 1993, p. 87, 105; L. Donadio, V. Pacelli, and F. Speranza, Santa Maria della Pietà dei Turchini: chiesa e Real Conservatorio, Naples, 2005, p. 96). The result was one of the most important chapels in late 18th-century Naples, with canvases depicting The Adoration of the Shepherds, The Presentation of Christ at the Temple, The Adoration of the Magi, The Dream of Joseph, and The Rest on the Flight into Egypt. The largest painting was set into the frieze above the altar, and represented The Massacre of the Innocents (fig. 1).
In the present sketch, Diano worked out the poses of the three principal figures on the left side of the composition. Taking inspiration from Guido Reni's 1611 depiction of the same subject painted for the Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna (now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna), Diano represents a muscular soldier menacing a fallen woman, who pulls his hair. A second woman cowers below them, cradling a baby to her breast. The figures are painted in cold, metallic colors intended to contrast with the white and gray architectural setting of the final picture. Fluid brushwork heightens the scene's intensity, and flourishes of dark paint in the spaces surrounding the figures creates a sense of depth while adding to the dynamic effect. At this preliminary stage, Diano was still developing his composition, and several changes are visible in the mural, such as the soldier, who wears a red loincloth and gazes behind him rather than at his victim. Two other preparatory sketches for The Massacre of the Innocents are known: a study in grisaille was recorded in the collection of Edward A. Maser, Chicago, and a more developed study for the entire mural is in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (inv. 66.50).
Born in Pozzuoli, Diano was first recorded in 1752 when he entered the workshop of Francesco de Mura, whose dramatic compositional style and high-keyed palette strongly influenced him. After a brief visit to Rome, Diano returned to Naples, bringing with him a new, modern vision of art, becoming an important transitional figure between the Rococo and Neoclassical styles in late 18th-century Naples.