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Susanna and the Elders by Luca Giordano (1634-1705, Italy)

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Luca Giordano

Luca Giordano (18 October 1634 – 3 January 1705) was an Italian late Baroque  painter and printmaker in etching. Fluent and decorative, he worked successfully in  Naples and Rome, Florence and Venice, before spending a decade in Spain.

Early life and training:

Born in Naples, Giordano was the son of Antonio Giordano, an undistinguished  painter. At a precocious age, Giordano was apprenticed to Ribera on the  recommendation of the viceroy of Naples. He supposedly later worked under Pietro da  Cortona. He acquired the nickname of Luca Fà-presto (Luke Work-fast). This nickname  was apt since he showed an astounding celerity in handling the brush, but it is  said to have been given to him by his father who, poverty-stricken and greedy of  gain, was perpetually urging his boy to exertion with the phrase, "Luca, fà  presto". The youth obeyed his parent to the letter, and would actually not so much  as pause to snatch a hasty meal, but received into his mouth, while he still worked  on, the food which his father's hand supplied. His speed, in design as well as  handiwork, and his versatility, which enabled him to imitate other painters  deceptively, earned for him two other epithets, "The Thunderbolt" (Fulmine) and  "The Proteus" of painting.

Giordano acquired a style fusing Venetian and Roman styles. He combines the  ornamental pomp of Paul Veronese with the lively complex schemes, the "grand  manner" of Pietro da Cortona. He was noted also for lively and showy colour, and  between 1682-83 he painted various fresco series in Florence, including in the dome  of Corsini Chapel of the Chiesa del Carmine. In the large block occupied by the  former Medici palace, he painted the ceiling of the Biblioteca Riccardiana  (Allegory of Divine Wisdom) and the long gallery of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi.  The vast frescoes of the latter are contained in the 1670s gallery addition,  overlooking the gardens. The planning was overseen by Alessandro Segni and  commissioned by Francesco Riccardi. They include the prototypic hagiographic  celebration of the Medici family in the center, surrounded by a series of  interlocking narratives: allegorical figures (the Cardinal Virtues, the Elements of  Nature) and mythological episodes (Neptune and Amphitrita, the Rape of Proserpine,  the Triumphal procession of Bacchus, the Death of Adonis, Ceres and Triptolemus)

Court painter in Spain (1692-1702):

Charles II of Spain towards 1687 invited him over to Madrid, where he remained for  10 years (1692-1702). In Spain, he produced works for the Royal Alcazar of Madrid,  Buen Retiro Palace, El Escorial monastery, the cathedral of Toledo, and other  sites. Giordano was popular at the Spanish court, and the king granted him the  title of a "caballero". One anecdote of Giordano's speed at painting is that, he  was once asked by the Queen of Spain what his wife looked like. On the spot, he  painted his wife into the picture before him for the Queen.

In Spain he executed numerous works, continuing in the Escorial the series started  by Cambiasi, and painting frescoes of the Triumphs of the Church, the Genealogy and  Life of the Madonna, the stories of Moses, Gideon, David, Sisera and the Celebrated  Women of Scripture, all works of large dimensions. His Dream of Solomon (1693, now  at Prado) dates from this period. His pupils, Aniello Rossi and Matteo Pacelli,  assisted him in Spain. In Madrid he worked more in oil-colour, a Nativity there  being one of his best productions.

Late masterpieces in Naples:

Soon after the death of Charles in 1700, Giordano, now wealthy, returned to Naples.  He spent large sums in acts of munificence, and was particularly liberal to his  poorer brother artists. One of his maxims was that the good painter is the one whom  the public like, and that the public are attracted more by colour than by design.

Giordano had an astonishing facility, which often lead to an impression of  superficiality of his works. He left many works in Rome, and far more in Naples. Of  the latter, his Christ expelling the Traders from the Temple in the church of the  Padri Girolamini, a colossal work, full of expressive "lazzaroni"; also the  frescoes of the Triumph of Judith at San Martino, and those in the Tesoro della  Certosa, including the subject of Moses and the Brazen Serpent; and the cupola  paintings in the Church of Santa Brigida, which contains the artist's own tomb.  Other superior examples are the Judgment of Paris in the Berlin Museum, and Christ  with the Doctors in the Temple, in the Corsini Gallery of Rome. In later years, he  painted influential frescoes for the Cappella Corsini, the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi  and other works.

As a young man he engraved works with considerable skill some of his own paintings,  such as the Slaughter of the Priests of Baal. He also painted much on the crystal  borderings of looking-glasses, cabinets and others seen in many Italian palaces,  and was, in this form of art, the master of Pietro Garofalo.

His best pupil in painting was Paolo de Matteis. However, his influence, like his  travels and career, were broad and prolific. For example, he is said to have  influenced in Venice, Giovan Battista Langetti, Giovanni Coli, and Filippo  Gherardi. Other pupils included Juan Antonio Boujas, Nunzio Ferraiuoli (Nunzio  degli Afflitti), Ansel Fiammingo (il Franceschitto), Giovanni Battista Lama, Andrea  Miglionico, Giuseppe Simonelli, Andrea Vicenti, Andrea Viso, Ferrante Amendola,  Pedro de Calabria, Matteo Paccelli, Francisco Tramulles, Nicolo Maria Rossi, and  Anniello Rossi.

Luca Giordano died in Naples in 1705.

Critical assessment and legacy:

Giordano has been criticized as being a prolific trader of all styles, and master  of none. Michael Levey remarks of him "Giordano was the ideal rococo painter,  speedy, prolific, dazzling in colour, assured in draughtsmanship, ever-talented and  never touching the fringe of genius." He has been viewed as a proto-Tiepolo,  reanimating that grand manner of Cortona in a style that would brighten with  Tiepolo.

Giordano has paintings in several British Collections including The National  Gallery, The Herberrt Museum in Coventry, Derby Art Gallery and several in Glasgow.

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