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The Death of Niobe's Children
Cambiaso, Luca
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Cambiaso, Luca

Moneglia, Liguria, 1527 - El Escorial, Madrid, 1585

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The Death of Niobe's Children

1570 - 1580. Wash, Pencil, Grey-brown ink on brown paper.
Not on display

As related in the Homeric story, Queen Niobe, the wife of Amphion, King of Thebes, was the mother of six sons and six daughters, of whom she was greatly proud. She deemed herself superior to Latona, who had given birth to only two -Apollo and Artemis- both sired by Jupiter, to whom Latona was married before Juno. Indignant at Niobe´s presumptuousness, Apollo and Artemis slew all of her children with arrows. In the drawing, Apollo and Artemis are seen in clouds at the top of the composition, with Apollo aiming at Niobe´s male offspring as they flee. For nine days the bodies of the children lay unburied since Jupiter had changed the inhabitants of Thebes into stones, but on the tenth day the gods themselves buried them.

This appears to be a preparatory study for the central scene in a cycle of five representing episodes from the Story of Niobe, painted by Luca Cambiaso on the ceiling of a small room in the Palazzo Lercari-Parodi, Genoa (Suida Manning and Suida, 1958, fig. 293) with notable variants, especially in the treatment of the background and in the poses of Apollo and the horseman on the right. Cambiaso was employed by the Lercari family in c. 1570-1580 to decorate the ceiling of the salone on the piano nobile, in which he painted the fresco of Megallo Lercari Constructing his Palace in the center of the ceiling, and portraits of distinguished members of the Lercari family in the surrounding spaces. Unlike the artist´s frescoes in the salone, his decoration of the room with scenes from the Story of Niobe is not mentioned in the early sources; but there can be no question that they are not by him, since drawings for other compositions in the cycle survive (Suida Manning and Suida, 1958, p. 91). Presumably Cambiaso painted the smaller decoration at about the same time as his work in the salone.

Unlike two drawings (D2986 and D2990) datable from the beginning of his career, showing Cambiaso´s enthusiastic adoption of the fluent, almost calligraphic outlines that he had inherited from Perino del Vaga, The Death of Niobe´s Children illustrates instead the "cubist" phase of Cambiaso´s draftsmanship, above all in the cloud-borne figures of Apollo and Artemis. Curiously, in the corresponding Palazzo Lercari Parodi fresco, their painted counterparts are well-rounded, if not rather modest little figures, with none of the powerful angularity of form seen here. The Suidas record another drawing by Cambiaso for the composition of The Death of Niobe´s Children in the Uffizi, Florence (inv. no. 6956; Suida Manning and Suida, 1958, p. 91) (Text drawn from Turner, N.: From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci. A century of Italian drawings from the Prado, Art Services International-Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p. 108).

Technical data

Inventory number
Cambiaso, Luca
The Death of Niobe's Children
1570 - 1580
Wash; Pencil; Grey-brown ink
Brown paper
Height: 202 mm; Width: 242 mm
Bequest of Pedro Fernández Durán y Bernaldo de Quirós, 1931

Bibliography +

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de dibujos. Dibujos italianos del siglo XVI (por Nicholas Turner, con la colaboración de José Manuel Matilla), V, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2004, pp. 108, 227.

Turner, Nicholas, From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci. A century of Italian drawings from the Prado, Art Services International, Chicago, 2008, pp. 108,225,227.

Other inventories +

Inv. Legado Pedro Fernández Durán, 1931. Núm. 1901.

Exhibitions +

De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci. Un siglo de Dibujos Italianos en el Museo del Prado
25.10.2008 - 26.07.2009

Un siglo de dibujos italianos en el Museo del Prado. De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci
23.11.2004 - 13.02.2005

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

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