The «nobil magia di bellissime tinte»of Francesco Solimena at the service of Vittorio Amedeo II

On the 13th of November 1723, King Vittorio Amedeo II, signing himself simply as “Amodeo”, wrote a letter to Francesco Solimena in Naples from his residence in Venaria Reale, showing “la satisfaction, avec la quelle nous avons deja remarque dans vos deux premieres tableaux cette habilité, qui vous destingue, nous prepare à etre de même entièrement contents de celui d'Eliodore, que nous espérons de recevoir au premier iour”. The painting of The Expulsion of Heliodorus, the third in a series of four commissioned to Solimena for the “Yellow Cabinet of His Majesty the King” on the second floor of Rivoli Castle, actually arrived in Turin quite soon, as recorded by the payment dated 11 December 1723. Francesco Solimena, head of the Neapolitan school, had been contacted from as early as 1720 and the Savoy ambassador to the court of Naples had been asked to exercise caution: “ce peintre étant un peu délicat, il agréera qui vous alliez le voir quelquefois et que vous lui fassiez même quelque civilité pour l'animer à s'appliquer à la perfection de son travail”. The result of this diplomatic operation, which involved encouraging and rewarding Solimena, must have satisfied his client's wishes considering that, after the first two paintings, David, victor of the Amalekites, and Solomon welcomes the Queen of Sheba, painted between 1720 and 1721, the painter was commissioned to paint The Expulsion of Heliodorus and The Prophetess Deborah, which arrived at Rivoli in 1724.

Turin's appreciation of Solimena must have been well known to his contemporaries. Bernardo De Dominici, in particular, recalls the praise expressed by “that prince who testified in one of his letters that, every time it was convenient for him to pass through that room where his paintings were placed, he could not help but stop, forced by their beauty, to look at them again”. The four canvases by the Neapolitan painter became the central pivot of the rearrangement commissioned by Carlo Emanuele III, son of Vittorio Amedeo II who became king in 1730, of the “Solimena Room” in the Winter Apartment in the Royal Palace in Turin, with the commission of four other works by artists of the Roman, Venetian and Bolognese schools, with the intention of composing an anthology of the main stylistic trends in contemporary painting, while sending out a moral message to exalt the virtues of the sovereign thanks to an educated iconographic selection.

Filippo Juvarra, the man behind the artistic choices of the Savoy court, must in fact have contributed to the intuition behind commissioning Solimena to create a figurative project for Turin, implemented in the Yellow Cabinet of Rivoli in an unprecedented comparison between the two leading exponents of the Venetian and Neapolitan schools, Sebastiano Ricci and Francesco Solimena. A comparison between the best of contemporary painting, which involved and extended to the churches of the city, with the commissioning of Solimena to create the surprising altarpiece featuring “San Filippo Neri assigning the City of Turin to the care of the Baby Jesus held in the arms of the Virgin Mary with a great procession of angels” for the church of San Filippo Neri, in front of the altar with the Martyrdom of San Lorenzo, created by Francesco Trevisani from Rome.

The quintessence of artistic relations between Naples and Turin is therefore contained in the painting of The Expulsion of Heliodorus, formerly at Rivoli Castle, then at the Royal Palace and now at the Savoy Gallery of the Royal Museums in Turin. Solimena chose to send King Vittorio Amedeo II a proof of the theme - adapted according to a different arrangement and a new symmetry - on which he had been working since 1722, the last and magnificent version of which is the famous Expulsion for the counter-façade of the Gesù Nuovo in Naples, completed in 1725. Both the subject and the model of the layout used evoke memories of Raphael in the Vatican Rooms, mediated by Solimena through the “vague and harmonious” colouristic and compositional mastery of Luca Giordano and “with terrible drawing, and strength of chiaroscuro in imitation” of Mattia Preti. The result was a manner of “admirable study, and beauty in the painting, of supreme grace in the faces, admirable, indeed marvellous, in the variation of the physiognomies in the great compositions” and, above all, it succeeded “in the union of a very strong, and perfect, chiaroscuro, with an incomparable tenderness”, found in the study of nature: a “noble magic of beautiful colours”.

Cecilia Veronese

Cecilia Veronese Cecilia Veronese