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Sacrifice for a Roman Emperor
Lanfranco, Giovanni di Stefano
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Lanfranco, Giovanni di Stefano

Terenzo, Parma, 1582 - Rome, 1647

Lanfranco, Giovanni di Stefano See author's file

Sacrifice for a Roman Emperor

Ca. 1635. Oil on canvas.
Room 002

This painting belongs to the Neapolitan group of scenes of ancient Roman life that were ordered in the early to mid 1630s by the Viceroy of Naples, the Count of Monterrey, to decorate the Buen Retiro Palace on the outskirts of Madrid.

The painting underscores Lanfranco’s extraordinary powers of inventiveness and productivity during a period in which he was otherwise thoroughly preoccupied with a succession of largescale Neapolitan public commissions. His rival, Domenichino, for example, had only been able to complete one work for this series -Funeral of a Roman Emperor- before needing to return to his major undertaking at the Cappella del Tesoro of Naples Cathedral. Lanfranco, on the other hand, was able to complete all six canvases while working on the cupola and pendentives of the Jesuit church of the Gesù Nuovo (1634-36); an extensive series of frescoes for the Carthusian church of the Certosa di San Martino (1637-39); frescoes and altarpieces for Pozzuoli Cathedral (1638-46); the decoration of almost the entire church of the Theatines at Santi Apostoli (1639-46); and frescoes for the cupola of the Cappella del Tesoro, Naples Cathedral, the last of which he was able to secure following Domenichino’s death in 1641.

A Priest sacrificing for a Roman Emperor, c.1635, has been painted in a deliberately schematic and in places sketchy manner that typifies Lanfranco’s late style. Other artists contributing to the Buen Retiro commission were careful to include painstakingly constructed architectural settings to lend credibility and historical verisimilitude to their scenes. Viviano Codazzi and Domenico Gargiulo’s Perspectival view of a Roman amphitheatre, c.1638, is a particularly prominent example, but other artists, from Aniello Falcone to Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, added comparably elaborate architectural backgrounds to their contributions. Lanfranco, by contrast, deliberately suppressed the background, keeping the composition dark and shallow. This enabled him to fill the canvas with dramatically gesturing monumental figures that seem to loom out of the shadows, almost as if they were an ancient Roman relief sculpture come suddenly to life. It was an approach that grew out of the rapid and economic style that Lanfranco developed during this period in order to maximise productivity and keep up with his many commitments.

The approach is also evident, for example, in the similarly schematic backgrounds and sketchy, almost floating figures that the artist produced for his large altarpieces at Pozzuoli Cathedral and Santi Apostoli.

Lanfranco’s biographer, Giovanni Pietro Bellori, was struck by this aspect of his oeuvre, noting, nor was there anyone in his time who completed large works with more beautiful and more harmonious facility, without a trace of difficulty of invention or hesitation of the brush. This suavely assured and economical style would prove especially influential for the young Luca Giordano in the years that followed. During the mid to late 1650s, Giordano developed a versatile style characterised by extraordinary fluidity and facility that earned him the nickname Luca Fapresto (Luca do it quickly). This was to prove especially helpful to Giordano when he became the first Neapolitan not simply to send his paintings across the sea to Madrid, but to make the trip for himself in order to serve as court painter to Philip IV’s successor, King Charles II, where he went on to produce a vast array of frescoes and canvases from 1692 to 1702, towards the end of a long and prodigiously productive career (Text drawn from M. C.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 198).

Technical data

Inventory number
Lanfranco, Giovanni di Stefano
Sacrifice for a Roman Emperor
Ca. 1635
Height: 181 cm; Width: 362 cm
Historia de Roma Antigua, Palacio del Buen Retiro
Royal Collection (Buen Retiro Palace, Madrid, 1701, no. 114; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "primera pieza-cuarto nuevo de la serenísima infanta", 1772, no. 114; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "pieza de trucos", 1794, no. 114; Royal Palace, Madrid, "pieza de trucos", 1814-1818, no. 114).

Bibliography +

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del S. XVII en España, Universidad Fundación Valdecilla, Madrid, 1965, pp. 155-158.

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, pp. 332.

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

Ponz, Antonio, Viage de España., VI, Madrid, 1972, pp. 225.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 358.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Pintura napolitana: de Caravaggio a Giordano, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 204/lám. 77.

Barghahn, Barbara Von, Philip IV and the Golden House of the Buen Retiro in the Tradition of Caesar, Garland PublishingInc, Nueva York. Londres, 1986, pp. 310/lám. 1162.

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

Bettagno, Alessandro, El Museo del Prado, Fonds MercatorFundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1996, pp. 270.

Borea, Evelina, L'idea del bello: viaggio per Roma nel seicento con Giovan P, Edizioni de Luca, Roma, 2000.

Schleier, Erich, Giovanni Lanfranco: Un Pittore Barroco Tra Parma, Roma e Nap, Electa, Milano, 2001, pp. 298.

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. 206-209.

Marshall, C, Giovanni Lanfranco 'An auger sacrificing for a Roman emperor' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 198.

Marshall, Christopher R., Baroque Naples and the industry of painting, Yale University Press,, 2016, pp. 227-228 f.172.

Portús Pérez, Javier, Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: The Golden Age in the Museo del Prado, The Yomiuri Shimbun: The National Museum of Western Art, Tokio, 2018, pp. n.31.

Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Buen Retiro, 1701-1703. Núm. [114].
[114] Ottra [pintura] de quattro Uaras de largo y dos de alto Con Vn sacrifiçio de los Gentiles de la escuela de Guydo del Caualier lafranqui Con marco tallado y dorado tasado en Zien Doblones ... 6.000

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 114.
Primera Pieza - Quarto de la Serma Infanta [...] {12891-12892} 499-114 / = Retiro = Dos [quadros] iguales el vno de vn sacrificio de gentiles y el otro vna batalla de gladiatores en vnas barcas de quatro varas de largo y dos de caida originales del mismo autor

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. 114.
Pieza de Trucos [...] {21181-21182} 499 y 114 / Quatro varas largo dos y media alto un sacrificio = batalla en un barco = Lanfranco

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 114.
Pieza de Trucos [...] {44} 499 y 114 / Dos [quadros] de quatro varas de largo y dos y media de alto: Un sacrificio el uno, y el otro una Batalla, en un Barco, á veinte y quatro mil reales cada uno. Lanfranco ... 48.000

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1160.
Lanfranco / 1160. Un emperador romano consultando los auspicios en las entrañas de las victimas. / A la izquierda del espectador esta el ara con el fuego sagrado, y a su lado el sacerdote sacrificador haciendo la libación acostumbrada. Al pie del ara se ve a un hombre con un cordero que van a sacrificar, y por la izquierda viene otro trayendo otra res. A la derecha del emperador hay varios patricios. / Alto 6 pies, 6 pulg; ancho 13 pies.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1160.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 284.
284.-Los Auspicios. / Alto 1,81. Ancho 3,62.-Lienzo. / Un emperador romano, seguido de sus oficiales palatinos, consulta las entrañas de las víctimas. Delante del emperador está el ara con el fuego sagrado, y el augur, con la cabeza coronada, hace la libacion de costumbre. Al pié del ara está el cultrario en disposición de inmolar un cordero, y por la izquierda viene otro victimario trayendo otra res. Detras del emperador hay varios patricios, y un mancebo desnudo (strador) que guarda un caballo blanco. / Colec. de Carlos III, Pal. nuevo de Madrid. Cuarto nuevo de la Infanta. Pieza primera.

Inscriptions +

Signed. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

Velázquez and the Golden Age
16.11.2018 - 03.03.2019

Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: the Golden Age in the Museo del Prado
13.06.2018 - 14.10.2018

Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: the Golden Age in the Museo del Prado
24.02.2018 - 27.05.2018

Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: the Golden Age in the Museo del Prado
20.02.2018 - 27.05.2018

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

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

Giovanni Lanfranco
01.09.2001 - 25.11.2001

Location +

Room 002 (On Display)

Update date: 11-04-2022 | Registry created on 02-12-2015

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