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Elephants in a Circus
Lione, Andrea di
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Lione, Andrea di

Naples, 1610 - Naples, 1685

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Elephants in a Circus

Ca. 1640. Oil on canvas. Muguruza P1 Escalera 3

As frequently occurred in the cycle on the History of Ancient Rome commissioned for the decoration of the Buen Retiro Palace, Andrea di Lione drew elements of his painting from the abundant Antiquarian literature that began to be published in the middle of the sixteenth century. Today we can trace this procedure with considerable confidence. The starting point for the present work was Tabula III, a plate included in Antoine Lafréry’s Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae (1575), which shows two camels, a giraffe and five elephants, three of which are reproduced with great precision in a red-chalk drawing by Lione that appeared on the art market in 2003 (Christie’s Paris, 27 March 2003, lot 29). Starting with this, Lione arranged the elephants in two rows and set the scene in a Roman circus, the seats of which are filled with magnificent little figures similar in style to those of Aniello Falcone. In the foreground Lione added four dancers and musicians who closely resemble those in Nicolas Poussin’s bacchic scenes.

Authors discussing these paintings often try to explain them as depictions of concrete historical events, in an effort to establish analogies with the king of Spain. It seems much more likely, however, that the artists sought simply to illustrate public entertainment in ancient Rome. Onofrio Panvinio was a prolific author of works depicting Roman customs that may have served as a model for the Buen Retiro cycle. The most important of his works for the present subject is De Ludis Circensibus (1600), from which Lione may have drawn the idea for this depiction of the sort of parades carried out in circuses as a prelude to the main event. These included the participation of elephants and cavalrymen outfitted for the Pugna equestris. Such riders appear in a painting for the Buen Retiro by Falcone, now at the Museo del Prado.

There are considerable doubts about the chronology of Lione’s works. His biography is far from complete, and overlapping influences persist throughout his extensive oeuvre. After studying with Mannerist painter Belisario Corenzio in Naples, Lione moved to Falcone’s workshop, and the latter may be responsible for his participation in the Buen Retiro series.

Lione’s vibrant colours also very clearly reflect the influence of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, whom he may have met when the latter visited Naples in 1635, and again on a possible trip to Rome in the 1640s. From Castiglione’s prints Lione took certain compositions with people and animals set in wooded landscapes, two magnificent examples of which are now at the Museo del Prado. Castiglione’s persistent influence on Lione, even in his final works, considerably complicates the artist’s chronology. Finally, his relationship to Poussin is clear, especially in his treatment of figures.

All of these influences complicate efforts to date Elephants in a circus, c.1640. Martín Soria was the first to propose a date of 1655 for the work, based on the veristic treatment of the elephants, which he thought, mistakenly, were copied from nature. That date is too late for the present painting. Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez noted this detail and advanced its chronology to the early 1640s (Text drawn from Úbeda de los Cobos, A.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 198).

Technical data

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Inventory number
Lione, Andrea di
Elephants in a Circus
Ca. 1640
Height: 229 cm.; Width: 231 cm.
Historia de Roma Antigua, Palacio del Buen Retiro
Royal Collection (New Royal Palace, Madrid, "antecámara de las señoras infantas-pieza encarnada a la derecha", 1794, no. 977).

Bibliography +

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catalogo de los cuadros, Museo del Prado, 1952, pp. 128.

Soria, Martín, S, Andrea de Leone, a master of the Bucolic Scene', The Art quarterly, 1, 1960, pp. 29-35 [29-30].

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del S. XVII en España, UniversidadFundación Valdecilla, 1965, pp. 26, 401.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Sotheby's. London, 1976, pp. n.26.

Civiltà del Seicento a Napoli, Electa, 1984, pp. 242 n.2.55.

Brejon de Lavergnée, A, 'Nouvelles toiles de Andrea di Lione. Essai de catalogue.' En: Scritti di storia dell' arte in onore di Federico Zeri, II, Electa, Milan, 1984, pp. 656-680 [657,679].

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 369.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Pintura napolitana: de Caravaggio a Giordano, Museo del Prado, 1985, pp. 216 / lám. 83.

Barghahn, Barbara Von, Philip IV and the Golden House of the Buen Retiro in the Tradition of Caesar, I, Garland PublishingInc., 1986, pp. 974 / lám. 250.

Cóndor Orduña, María, Algunas fuentes compositivas para las obras de Andrea de Lione en el Museo del Prado, Boletín del Museo del Prado, VIII, 1987, pp. 19-31.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, 1990.

Úbeda de los Cobos, A., El ciclo de la Historia de Roma antigua, En: El Palacio del Rey Planeta, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2005, pp. 169-189.

Úbeda de los Cobos, A., El Palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2005, pp. 220-223 n.46.

Luna, J. J., Guerra y pintura en las colecciones del Museo del Prado. S. XVI a Goya, Arte en tiempos de guerra Jornadas de Arte (14º.2008.Madrid), 2009.

Ritorno al barocco: da Caravaggio a Vanvitelli, Electa Napoli: Arte'm, 2009, pp. 174-175 n.1.80.

Pierguidi, Stefano, Il ciclo dei costumi dei romani antichi del Buen Retiro di Madrid, Storia dell arte, 125/6, 2010, pp. 90.

Spinosa, Nicola, Pittura del seicento a Napoli, da Caravaggio a Massimo Stanzione, Arte'm, Napoles, 2010, pp. 216-217 n.100.

Ubeda de los Cobos, A, Andrea di Lione 'Elephants in a circus' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 206.

Bril, Damien, 'Andrea di Lione. Éléphants dans un cirque' En:, L' âge d' or de la peinture à Naples, de Ribera à Giordano., LienArt ; Montpellier Méditerraneé métropole, 2015, pp. 176-177 n.43.

Di Penta, Miriam., Andrea de Leone: (Napoli, 1610-1685). Dipinti - disegni, De Luca Editori d'Arte,, 2016, pp. 39-42, 44, 46,47, 71 f.66. 124-125 Q63.

Marshall, Christopher R., Baroque Naples and the industry of painting, Yale University Press,, 2016, pp. 228.

Rice, Louise, Poussin's elephant, Renaissance quarterly., LXX n.2 summer, 2017, pp. 548-593 [576 f.16].

Nappi, Mª Rosario, Ruolo dell' immagine riprodotta nella cultura figurativa a Napoli nell primo seicento, Bolletino d'arte, pp. 96 / lám. 28.

Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Buen Retiro, 1701-1703. Núm. [277].
[277] Ottra [pintura] de Dos Varas y media en quadro Con quattro elefanttes de mano Pedro Pestte Con marco tallado y dorado tasada en Veintte y Cinco doblones ... 1500

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 977.
Antecamara de las Sªs. Ynfantas [...] Pieza encarnada á la Derecha [...] {468} 977 / Tres varas en quadro: Quadro Elefantes con varias gentes que los conducen: en ... 4000

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1135.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1135.
Castiglione. / 1135. Elefantes acompañados de luchadores indios saliendo triunfantes de un anfiteatro despues del combate. / Fondo: espacioso circo con un ovelisco egipcio. Los que guian los elefantes van vestidos a lo oriental. / Alto 8 pies, 2 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 8 pies, 3 pulg, 6 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 104.

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner


Exhibitions +

L'Art à Naples, un siècle d'or
20.06.2015 - 11.10.2015

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Ritorno al Barocco. Da Caravaggio a Luigi Vanvitelli
10.12.2009 - 11.04.2010

El palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro
06.07.2005 - 30.10.2005

Homo Ludens. El juego en las colecciones del Museo del Prado
30.05.2002 - 29.09.2002

Homo Ludens: le jeu dans les collections du Museo del Prado
29.05.2002 - 22.09.2002

Location +

Muguruza P1 Escalera 3 (On Display)

Displayed objects +

Trompet: Trompeta natural metálica de cuerpo curvado, con una vuelta, que termina en campana muy abierta, que porta el personaje montado en elefante a la derecha de la composición. En este caso apenas se ha descrito la embocadura, que es de boquilla, y la vuelta del tubo es muy ovalada y se orienta hacia la boquilla, lo que impediría tocarla de frente. El tubo parece cilíndrico en su mayor parte y se hace cónico en el fragmento final de la campana, por lo que se inscribe en la tipología de la trompeta natural y no de la trompa. El modelo no se corresponde con la figura de las trompetas de la época. Es una invención decorativa, como aparece en otras representaciones de escenas militares de la antigüedad donde se representan instrumentos de viento metal muy torneados y poco reales (Proyecto Iconografía Musical, U.C.M.).

Bell: Campana de grandes dimensiones que pende de un gran collar en el cuello del elefante a la derecha del cuadro (Proyecto Iconografía Musical, U.C.M.).

Cymbals: Platillos o crótalos metálicos de mediano tamaño con los que se acompaña en la danza uno de los personajes a pie en la parte izquierda del cuadro. En la pintura se describen dos crótalos, sujetos en el exterior del platillo metálico por unas asas. En el de la derecha se ha pintado claramente la concavidad del platillo. Los crótalos o platillos representados aluden a la inspiración oriental de la escena (Proyecto Iconografía Musical, U.C.M.).


Update date: 05-01-2021 | Registry created on 02-12-2015

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