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Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
Fracanzano, Francesco
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Fracanzano, Francesco

Monopoli, Puglia, 1612 - Naples, 1656

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Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Ca. 1647. Grey-brown wash, Red wash, Pencil on dark yellow paper.
Not on display

The attribution of this drawing has long been uncertain as can be judged from the old inscriptions, which variously ascribe it to Salvator Rosa and to an unspecified Bolognese draughtsman. In the modern literature it has been given to the Roman artist Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (about 1610-1662), a pupil of Pietro da Cortona, but its recent publication as an important addition to the slim corpus of drawings by Francesco Fracanzano has met with widespread acceptance.

Fracanzano was born in Monopoli in Puglia, moved to Naples and entered the studio of Jusepe de Ribera. A number of paintings signed and dated between 1634 and 1652 provide useful fixed points in Fracanzano’s career, but reveal little in the way of consistent stylistic development. His natural inclination seems to have been for a rugged naturalism in the manner of his teacher Ribera, with plebeian types often bordering on the grotesque and heavy impasto; but he sometimes tempered this by introducing surprisingly refined figures in the Roman style, with elegantly disposed draperies and classical profiles. These are evident in the present drawing, which lies at the most classical end of Fracanzano’s pictorial spectrum.

This composition falls into two well-balanced halves, separated by a central void. The poised Queen of Sheba, with gracefully outstretched arms, engages eloquently with the enthroned King Solomon. The elegant Queen and the turbaned young woman beside her are the figures most strongly reminiscent of da Cortona. The Queen’s pose finds a close counterpart, in reverse, in Fracanzano’s painting King Tiridates, transformed into a boar, imploring St Gregory to intervene, 1635 (Neapolitan church of San Gregorio Armeno); and Solomon’s pose is echoed by that of King Tiridates in the pendant painting St Gregory lowered into the well.

The supporting cast has a much more indigenously Neapolitan character, featuring clusters of Riberesque heads filling every available space between the main protagonists, a recurrent feature of Fracanzano’s work. The extremely elongated, simian arms of the cringing urn bearers at the Queen of Sheba’s feet are another distinctive hallmark of Fracanzano’s figure style.

Most of the comparisons in support of Fracanzano’s authorship of this drawing are with his paintings, for scarcely a handful of drawings can be reliably attributed to him. Among them, however, is one fragmentary sheet in the Uffizi, Florence, of Alexander the Great and Diogenes, which is both technically and stylistically very close to the Prado drawing - note the finely drawn, densely pleated draperies and the extensive use of neat parallel hatching in the shadows, reinforcing the brown wash. The root of this technique lies in the work of Ribera, who produced several highly worked sheets drawn largely or entirely with the brush; the use of touches of red wash also recalls Ribera. The traditional attribution of the Uffizi drawing to Fracanzano is corroborated by comparison with his altarpiece Death of St Joseph, 1652 (Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, Naples), which features a classically posed figure very similar to Alexander in this drawing, as well as a similar array of philosopher type (A. W.-L.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 150).

Technical data

Inventory number
Fracanzano, Francesco
Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
Ca. 1647
Grey-brown wash; Red wash; Pencil
Dark yellow paper
Height: 267 mm; Width: 434 mm
Bequest of Pedro Fernández Durán y Bernaldo de Quirós, 1931

Bibliography +

Mena Marqués, Manuela, Catalogo de Dibujos.Vol.VI. Dibujos Italianos del Siglo XVII, Ministerio de Cultura, Madrid, 1983, pp. 144.

Finaldi, Gabriele; Weston Lewis, Aidan, Notas sobre dos obras napolitanas en el Prado. I Dos filósofos, un cuadro de Pietro Beato. II Una obra maestra del dibujo de Francesco Francazano, Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXX, 2012, pp. 84-93 (89-93).

Weston-Lewis, A., Francesco Francazano 'Solomon and the Queen of Sheba' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 150.

Filigree +

Motive: Filigrana

Other inventories +

Inv. Legado Pedro Fernández Durán, 1931. Núm. 1670.

Inscriptions +

Carderera le gustó mucho y lo cree boloñés
Inscribed. Back

Salvator Rosa fatto per la Stanza
Inscribed in pen and ink. Back

Exhibitions +

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

El dibujo europeo en tiempos de Valazquez. A propósito del Cardenal Borja en la Academia de San Fernanado
20.12.1999 - 30.01.2000

Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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