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Funeral Rites for a Roman Emperor
Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri)
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Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri)

Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, 1581 - Naples, Campania, 1641

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Funeral Rites for a Roman Emperor

1634 - 1635. Oil on canvas.
Not on display

This is the best-documented painting in the entire History of Rome cycle. It is also one of the works that raises the most questions about aspects as important as its authorship and its subject matter. Giambattista Passeri narrated how Domenichino was contracted by the Count of Monterrey, who became Spain’s Viceroy to Naples in 1634, and how Monterrey protected this painter when he was threatened by local artists who resented outside competitors. According to Passeri, Monterrey also had to personally intercede with authorities from the Cathedral’s Reale Capella del Tesoro, with whom Domenichino had an exclusive contract, to obtain permission for him to work on the commission for Philip IV at the same time. The Neapolitan artists’ threats finally proved so effective that in autumn, 1634, Domenichino fled to Rome, where he began work on this painting. He completed it in Naples, after his return in spring, 1635. It is thus the only painting from this cycle whose dates are supported by historical testimony. Bellori follows a similar line, but he also offers a meticulous description of the work. The question of its authorship stems from the inferior quality of some of its figures, which are considerably beneath Domenichino’s customary level. Its attribution to Domenichino is supported by the allegation that it was a royal commission, by the testimony of Passeri, who lived with the artist in Frascati in summer, 1634, and by the presence of assistants, as well as the existence of numerous related drawings by that artist’s hand. The quality gap is further explained by this painting’s delicate state of conservation, with widespread damage to its pictorial surface and crude repainting of the mourning figures at the lower right, which detract from its quality. Those who defend the idea that it was largely painted by his workshop point to the deficient anatomy of both the human figures and the horses. With all the prudence required when analyzing a painting in such a delicate state of conservation, we should add that its recent cleaning seems to confirm the second idea. This painting was traditionally though to depict a Roman emperor’s funeral rites, but in 1982 Spear suggested that it represents a later ceremony, that is, the emperor’s consecration. Here, however, we have opted to maintain the traditional title because all of the prints that Domenichino may have used as models refer to funeral rites, rather than consecration. Indeed, there seems to have been little awareness in the 17th century of the latter rite’s existence. Moreover, the ceremony that occupies the foreground of Domenichino’s work, with races and fights, the decursio equitum, corresponds to death ceremonies, rather than to the consecration of a deceased emperor ascending ad sidera to be received by the gods some time after the events presented in this painting, which barely marks the beginning of the crematio.

In recent decades, efforts have been made to establish the existence of a series of paintings related to the History of Rome -including the present work- that Philip IV’s representatives would have commissioned in that city and in Naples around 1634 for the Buen Retiro Palace. Today, twenty-eight extant works can be related to this project (most in the Museo del Prado or Patrimonio Nacional), along with another six mentioned in Charles II’s will but now lost or destroyed. This total of thirty-four paintings constitutes the largest group from the Retiro, including the Hall of Realms. The only larger group consists of mythological scenes that the king’s brother, Cardinal-Infante don Fernando, commissioned Rubens to paint for the Torre de la Parada. The size of the Roman group is the first indication of its importance in the new palace (Text drawn from Úbeda de los Cobos, A. in: El Palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2005, pp. 169-170; 200-201).


Technical data

Inventory number
Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri)
Funeral Rites for a Roman Emperor
1634 - 1635
Height: 227 cm; Width: 363 cm
Historia de Roma Antigua, Palacio del Buen Retiro
Royal Collection (Buen Retiro Palace, Madrid, 1772, no. 103).

Bibliography +

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del S. XVII en España, Universidad Fundación Valdecilla, Madrid, 1965, pp. 251.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del siglo XVII: exposición conmemorativa del ciento cincuenta aniversario de la fundación del Museo del Prado, Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Madrid, 1970.

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

Spear, Richard E., Domenichino, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1982, pp. 303.

Burke, Marcus B., Private Collections of Italian Art in Seventeenth Century Spain, University Microfilm International, Nueva York, 1984, pp. 63.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 185.

Barghahn, Barbara Von, Philip IV and the Golden House of the Buen Retiro in the Tradition of Caesar, Garland PublishingInc., Nueva York, 1986, pp. lám.712.

Brown, Jonathan, Velázquez: pintor y cortesano, Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 1986, pp. 91.

Orso, Steven N., Art and death at the spanish Habsburg Court : the royal exeq..., University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1989, pp. 135/ lám.7.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 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. 200-201.

Santos Márquez, A.J, Exequias y túmulo de la Emperatriz Dª Isabel de Portugal en la Catedral de Sevilla, Reales Sitios, XLVI, 2009, pp. 28-41.

Simal López, Mercedes, Nuevas noticias sobre las pinturas para el Real Palacio del Buen Retiro realizadas en Italia (1633-1642), Archivo español de arte, LXXXIV Julio Septiembre, 2011, pp. 245-260.

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1142.
Camassei (Escuela de Dominiquino) / 1142. Exequias de un emperador romano. / En el centro de una espaciosa plaza se eleva la pira sobre la cual esta el cadaver del emperador revestido con la purpura, y al pie se ven las luchas de los gladiadores. Los sacerdotes pegan fuego a la pira, volviendo la cabeza, segun era costumbre entre los romanos. En torno de la plaza se elevan varias fabricas, y en primer termino a la derecha hay un grupo de luctuosas. / Alto 8 pies, 1 pulg, 6 lin; Ancho 13 pies.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1142.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 71.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1972. Núm. 2926.

Inv. Carlos III, Buen Retiro, 1772. Núm. 103.
Pinturas que fueron del destino de este Real Sitio del Retiro y estuvieron entregadas en el Palacio en donde se les descargo y corriente y habiendo vuelto a esta sin nuevo cargo al conserge tuvo este el cuidado para distinguirlas señalarlas con la letra P y su antiguo numero blanco [...][15203] 103 / Otro [quadro] que expresa una pira o exequias de vn emperador con muchedumbre de figuras unas luchando a pie otras a caballo de quatro varas de largo y tres escasas de caida

Exhibitions +

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

Update date: 07-06-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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