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The Education of Achilles
Conca, Sebastiano
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Conca, Sebastiano

Gaeta (Italy), 1680 - Naples (Italy), 1764

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The Education of Achilles

1727. Oil on canvas. On display elsewhere

King Philip V of Spain’s last son, Luis Antonio Jaime, was born on 25 July 1727. To celebrate the occasion, the Piazza di Spagna in Rome was decorated with an artificial boulder of considerable dimensions representing the the moment when Thetis delivered her son, Achilles, to Chiron, the centaur responsible for educating him and sending him to the temple of Glory. This allegory of the education of a Spanish prince was established by association with Achilles and his master, Chiron, who also taught such mythical figures as Acteon, Aesculapius and Jason. The same decoration appears in a work (now in Apsley House Museum, London) by Giovanni Paolo Panini -a habitual chronicler of these kinds of narrative- which also captures the popular celebration that accompanies the event.

The Museo del Prado’s work reproduces the central theme of this ephemeral decoration, and both its subject and author were correctly identified by Jesús Urrea Fernández in 1977, when he related the painting to one that Antonio Ponz, one of the most important eighteenth-century Spanish art critics, saw in the queen’s chamber at the Buen Retiro Palace. Urrea Fernández’s attribution to Conca remains unchallenged, as Ponz knew the artist well enough for us deem his opinion valid.

Surprisingly, in his Voyage to Spain (1772-94), Ponz affirms that the work depicts Fireworks made at the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, which cannot be deduced by merely looking at the painting. Ponz very probably knew the engraving of the same subject by Filippo Vasconi, which describes it as a macchina per fuoco artificiato (fireworks machine), and undoubtedly attributes the original drawing to Conca. This information suggests that the Museo del Prado’s painting was the basis for Vasconi’s engraving and, as Ferdinando Arisi supposed, Panini must have had it in mind when he made the painting now in London. Moreover, the print allows us to confirm what would now seem definitive: its attribution to Conca and the date of 1727. Like the painting in London, the present work must have been commissioned in Rome by Cardinal Bentivoglio. This painting has been extended on all four sides, which not only alters its original dimensions, but also partially hides its meaning by setting the scene on an indeterminate surface that Royal inventories identified as the Amphitrite sea. In the 1734 inventory of the Alcázar in Madrid, it is baselessly attributed to Salvator Rosa (Úbeda de los Cobos, A.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 256).

Technical data

Inventory number
Conca, Sebastiano
The Education of Achilles
Height: 59 cm; Width: 74 cm
Royal Collection (encargado en Roma por el cardenal Bentivoglio, 1727; Alcázar de Madrid, 1734, nº 792; Palacio del Buen Retiro, Madrid, cuarto de los reyes, 1746, nº 792; Palacio Real Nuevo, Madrid, estudio de Andrés de la Calleja, 1772, nº 1002; ¿Palacio Real, Madrid, Casa de Rebeque, 1814-1818, nº 1002?).

Bibliography +

Urrea, Jesús, La pintura italiana del siglo XVIII en España, Secretariado de Publicaciones de la Universidad, Valladolid, 1977, pp. 267.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 159.

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

El Real Sitio de La Granja de San Ildefonso: retrato y escena del rey, Patrimonio Nacional; El Viso, Madrid, 2000, pp. 304.

Aterido Fernández, Ángel; Martínez Cuesta, Juan; Pérez Preciado, José Juan, Colecciones de pinturas de Felipe V e Isabel Farnesio. Inventarios Reales, II, Fundación de Apoyo de la Historia, Madrid, 2004, pp. 387.

Muniain, Sara, Arquitectura efímera y diplomacia. Los acquavivay la imagen celebrativa de la monarquía española ante la Santa Sede (1721-1746), Reales Sitios, 42, 2005, pp. 68.

Maurer, G., Goya: lo bello y lo recóndito. En: La belleza encerrada: de Fra Angelico a Fortuny, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2013, pp. 308.

Mena Marqués, M.; Albarrán, V., La belleza encerrada: de Fra Angelico a Fortuny, folleto, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2013, pp. 38 n.175.

Ubeda de los Cobos, A, Sebastiano Conca 'The education of Achilles' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 256.

Kerber, Peter Björn., Eyewitness views. Making history in eighteenth-century Europe, J. Paul Getty Museum,, 2017, pp. 116 f.139.

Other inventories +

Inv. Felipe V, Buen Retiro, 1747. Núm. 792.

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 1002.
Estudio de don Andres de la Calleja [...] [13292] 1002 / Vn quadro que contiene vna invención de fuegos de vara de largo y mas de tres quartas de ancho original de Conca = Retiro =

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. ¿1002?.
Casa de Rebeque [...] {22047} 1002 / Dos cuartas de largo dos tercias de alto, un juego del Palacio de Farnesio

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 2491.
Escuela italiana / 2491. Un templete sobre una peña oradada circundado del mar anfitrite. / Alto 2 pies, 1 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 2 pies, 8 pulg, 6 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1985. Núm. 2869.

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in white. Front, lower right corner

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
16.09.2021 - 13.02.2022

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
15.04.2021 - 26.07.2021

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
15.10.2020 - 14.03.2021

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
26.09.2019 - 06.01.2020

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
26.04.2019 - 18.08.2019

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
29.11.2018 - 24.03.2019

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
San Sebastián
06.07.2018 - 28.10.2018

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
15.03.2018 - 17.06.2018

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
Palma de Mallorca
22.11.2017 - 18.02.2018

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

Captive Beauty. Fra Angelico to Fortuny
21.05.2013 - 10.11.2013

El Real Sitio de La Granja de San Ildefonso. retrato y escena del rey
La Granja
15.06.2000 - 15.10.2000

Location +

Lérida - CaixaForum Lérida (Temporary Exhibition)

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

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