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Roman Athletes
Falcone, Aniello
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Falcone, Aniello

Naples (Italy), 1607 - Naples, 1656

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Roman Athletes

Ca. 1640. Oil on canvas.
Not on display

This work belongs to a group from the History of Rome series for the Buen Retiro Palace. Dedicated to depictions of Roman public pastimes, the group includes athletes, gladiators, chariots, animal fights, mock sea battles and so on. Following initial doubts, the Buen Retiro Palace was conceived as a place of leisure, where it would be possible to forget the worries associated with running the monarchy. This group of paintings probably sought a simple association of the palace’s leisure activities and those of Antiquity.

In these works, the painters show considerable knowledge of the literature on Antiquity produced in Italy in the previous seventy years, and the general idea presented in this group reflects considerable reading. The two authors most influential in its constitution were Onofrio Panvinio and Justo Lipsio, although one can easily imagine that Jerónimo Mercurialis, Antoine Lafréry, Giacomo Lauro and Serlio were also consulted. Panvinio wrote a considerable number of texts about Roman customs, especially De ludis circensibus (1600), from which the painters drew general aspects of the series, such as parades in the circuses as a prelude to the feasts, with elephants (P91) or soldiers on horseback (P93) in preparation for the pugna equestris (equestrian battles). The same group of works also presents the ceremonies held before events, such as the athlete’s offerings (athletica) visible in the present work.

Besides gladiatorial scenes, it is possible to detect the origin of the athletes’ scenes in Panivinio and other authors such as Jerónimo Mercurialis, whose De arte gymnastica was published in 1573 and includes a great variety of prints with athletic exercises similar to those depicted by Francanzano (P142) or Falcone in his Roman Athletes.

There are no contemporaneous descriptions of the location of these works, so Charles II’s will and the palace plans are the only sources that allow us to speculate as to how they may have been presented at the Buen Retiro Palace. In 1701, these paintings were distributed among four parts of the grand plaza, although we may suppose that they were originally intended to form a more unified group. The scarce indications in Charles II’s will suggest certain rhythms that may correspond to the artists’ original intentions. Thus, Falcone’s Roman Soldiers at the Circus (P93) is mentioned as a work designed to hang over a door. That may explain its exceptional size. His Roman Athletes is mentioned as intended to hang over a window, and it is possible that all of the nearly square works in this series were conceived for similar locations.

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; 178-180).

Technical data

Inventory number
Falcone, Aniello
Roman Athletes
Ca. 1640
Height: 186 cm; Width: 183 cm
Historia de Roma Antigua, Palacio del Buen Retiro
Royal Collection (New Royal Palace, Madrid, "paso del cuarto del infante don Luis", 1772, no. 474; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "pieza de trucos", 1794, no. 474; Royal Palace, Madrid, "pieza de trucos", 1814-1818, no. 474).

Bibliography +

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catalogo de los cuadros, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1952, pp. 201.

Soria, Martin S, Some paintings by Aniello Falcone, The Art quarterly, XVII, 1954, pp. 3-15 [9,10].

Longhi, Roberto, Viviano Codazzi e l' invenzione della veduta realistica, Paragone, 71, 1955, pp. 40-47.

Vitzhum, W, Le dessin baroque à Naples, L'Oeil, 97, 1963, pp. 40-51 [42].

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del S. XVII en España, Universidad Fundación Valdecilla, Madrid, 1965, pp. 388-389.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972, pp. 207.

Civiltà del Seicento a Napoli, Electa, Nápoles, 1984, pp. 262 n.2.75.

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 [679 n.19].

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 217-218.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Pintura napolitana: de Caravaggio a Giordano, Museo del Prado, 1985, pp. 122 / lám. 34.

Barghahn, Barbara Von, Philip IV and the Golden House of the Buen Retiro in the Tradition of Caesar, I, Garland PublishingInc., 1986, pp. 305 / lám. 1144.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. 437.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Velázquez, Rubens, Lorrain: Malerei am Hof Philipps IV, Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deu, Bonn, 1999, pp. 188.

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. 178-180.

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.

Spinosa, Nicola, Pittura del seicento a Napoli, da Caravaggio a Massimo Stanzione, Arte'm, Napoles, 2010, pp. 247 n.152.

Bril, Damien, 'Aniello Falcone. Les gladiateurs ou Athlètes romains' En:, L' âge d' or de la peinture à Naples, de Ribera à Giordano., LienArt ; Montpellier Méditerraneé métropole, 2015, pp. 174-175 n.42.

Marshall, Christopher R., Baroque Naples and the industry of painting, Yale University Press,, 2016, pp. 72 f.56.

Nappi, Mª Rosario, Ruolo dell' immagine riprodotta nella cultura figurativa a Napoli nell primo seicento, Bolletino d'arte, pp. 94 / lám. 26.

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 105.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1630.
Castiglione / 1630. Gladiadores romanos. / Reunidos en un grupo se disponen a entrar a combatir en el circo. / Alto 6 pies, 8 pulg; ancho 6 pies, 6 pulg, 6 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1630.

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 474.
Paso del quarto del señor Infante don Luis [...] {13198} 474 / Retiro = Otro [quadro] de varias figuras gladiatores disponiendose para la lucha de dos varas y quarta en quadro original de Juan Ludovico Castillon

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. 474.
Pieza de Trucos [...] {21188} 474 / Dos varas y quarta de largo dos escasas ancho, unos gladiadores antes del combate = Castilloni

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 474.
Pieza de Trucos [...] {48} 474 / Dos varas y quarto de alto y dos escasas de ancho: Unos Gladiadores antes del Combate. Castilloni: en ... 20.000

Inscriptions +

zo / na / 2
Inscribed. Frame, back, left side bar

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in white. Front, lower right corner

2 / 2
Inscribed. Stretcher

Inscribed with chalk. Frame, back, right side bar

Inscribed. Frame, back, right side bar

es hoy que lope
Inscribed. Frame, back, upper bar

Scrap of paper. Frame, back, upper bar

Scrap of paper. Frame, back, upper bar

No / 474
Scrap of paper. Frame, back, upper bar

Grupo 2 / Sala 91
Inscribed. Stretcher

M.N.Prado / 00092
On metallic tablet. Stretcher

Scrap of paper. Frame, back, upper bar

Nº 92
Inscribed in red color. Stretcher

Nº 92
Scrap of paper. Stretcher

CIVILTÀ DEL SEICENTO / A NAPOLI / octubre-aprile 1984-85 / Napoli Museo e Gallerie / Nazionali di Capodimonte
Scrap of paper. Frame, back, left side bar

CIVILTÀ DEL SEICENTO / A NAPOLI / octubre-aprile 1984-85 / Napoli Museo e Gallerie / Nazionali di Capodimonte
Scrap of paper. Stretcher

Exhibitions +

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

Goya in Madrid
28.11.2014 - 03.05.2015

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

Velázquez, Rubens, Claudio de Lorena y la pintura en la corte de Felipe IV
07.10.1999 - 23.01.2000

Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 02-12-2015

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