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Antonio Joli, View of Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony at the Arch of Trajan in Benevento

Madrid 11/10/2011 - 4/30/2012

View of Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony at the Arch of Trajan in Benevento is an architectural landscape executed in 1759 by the set painter and vedutista Antonio Joli (Modena, 1700 – Naples, 1777). Along with this painting, donated to the museo by the Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado (FAMP), the exhibition includes three paintings by the artist from the Museum's collection as well as various landscapes and views by his predecessors such as Panini and Vanvitelli, a group of etchings, two of them by Piranesi, and a Portrait of Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony by Giuseppe Bonito. Together, these works will enable the visiting public to locate Joli's canvas within the collections of the Prado and to appreciate the distinctive nature of this architectural landscape, which reflects the new intellectual attitude with which Grand Tour travellers of the day approached classical monuments. In addition, the presence in the painting of Queen Maria Amalia and an artist engaged in drawing refers to the importance of patronage for the conservation and dissemination of the art of antiquity.The three paintings by Joli that are exhibited alongside this new work by the artist that has recently entered the Museum reveal the artist's wide-ranging skills as a landscape painter, given that they combine the descriptive and topographical veduta with a description of historical events, in addition to offering lively records of official acts. Also dating from 1759, two of these panoramic landscapes depict the departure for Spain of the King and Queen of Naples and Sicily, Charles of Bourbon and Maria Amalia of Saxony, in order to assume the Spanish throne following the death of Fernando VI. The third view depicts the abdication of Charles of Bourbon, future Charles III of Spain, in favour of his son Fernando, a work that represents Joli's only known interior scene. In addition, a group of views and architectural landscapes will allow visitors to appreciate the way that Joli moved away from his artistic predecessors. They include a descriptive and topographical view of the Bay of Chiaia, Naples, by Juan Ruiz; an ideal landscape with ruins by Joli's master Giovanni Paolo Panini, which is animated by figures in Roman dress; the poetic landscape of The Grotto at Posillipo by Gaspar Vanvitelli, which reflects Grand Tour travellers' literary perception of the Italian landscape as described, for example, by Virgil; and the type of Sublime veduta developed by Giovanni Battista Piranesi and represented here by two prints from the Biblioteca Histórica of the Universidad Complutense, one of which depicts the Arch of Trajan at Benevento. In addition, there are two prints from the prestigious Le antichità di Ercolano esposte (1757-1792), a publication sponsored by Charles of Bourbon that disseminated the archaeological items excavated at Herculaneum and Pompeii across Europe. The exhibition also includes a portrait by Giuseppe Bonito of Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony. Educated at the court of Dresden, known as the 'Florence of the north' due to its brilliant artistic life, the Queen was renowned for her sophisticated taste in classical antiquities.

Sponsored by:
Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado

Exhibition

The work

The work
View of Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony at the Arch of Trajan in Benevento
Antonio Joli
Circa 1759. Oil on canvas, 77.5 x 131 cm.
Museo Nacional del Prado

View of Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony at the Arch of Trajan in Benevento dates from the early Neapolitan period of Antonio Joli (1700-1777), a Modena-born painter of theatrical sets and vedute. Joli studied in Rome with Giovanni Paolo Panini and worked for theatres in Venice, London and Madrid while also painting numerous views for private clients. In 1754 he returned to Venice and in 1756 embarked on a trip to the south of Italy in the company of his new patron, Lord John Brudenell, reaching little visited areas such as Sicily, Ischia and the temples at Paestum that had been rediscovered in 1747. Joli settled in Naples in the spring of 1759 although his first attempts to gain employment at court were hampered by the departure of the monarchs, Charles of Bourbon and Maria Amalia of Saxony, for Madrid on 6 October 1759 to succeed Charles's step-brother, Fernando VI, who had died without heir on 10 August that year. Nonetheless, in 1762 Joli was appointed painter to the Royal San Carlo Theatre, a position that he occupied until his death.

The present work, View of Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony at the Arch of Trajan in Benevento, is a beautiful view set in the Roman city of Benevento in the Campania region of Italy. The manner in which it reflects the innovative intellectual approach to classical monuments characteristic of travellers at this period reveals the evolution of Joli's architectural landscapes during his trip with Lord Brudenell. In addition, the presence of the Queen and an artist drawing some classical reliefs provides a comment on the importance of patronage for the preservation and dissemination of classical art while also constituting a eulogy to royal patronage of the arts.

In this restrained landscape, bathed in mid-morning light and with only a few small-scale but precisely described figures, the most imposing element is the triumphal arch dedicated to Trajan and decorated with large, narrative reliefs that glorify the Emperor's deeds. One of the finest surviving triumphal arches, it was built in 114 AD and stands at the end of the Via Traiana constructed under Trajan's rule to connect Rome to Brindisi, which became the port that gave the Roman Empire access to Greece and the Near East. Here the arch is shown surrounded by the remains of the city's famous Roman theatre while a colonnade on the right may refer to one of the city's Roman temples of Isis and Hercules, which no longer existed but were known through various sculptural elements. Joli's view also includes two reliefs that have survived to the present day. One depicts a scene of Achilles and Penthesilea, although in the eighteenth century it was thought to depict The Rape of the Sabines, a mythological episode associated with the founding of Rome. The other relief has a boar with a heraldic stripe across it, which is part of the coat-of-arms of Benevento and is associated with Diomedes, the mythical founder of the city who had taken part in the famous hunt for the Calydonean Boar and had brought its teeth back to Benevento as a memento.

With the exception of the colonnade, Joli based the monuments and reliefs depicted here on the prints published in 1754 in the Thesaurus Antiquitatum Beneventanarum by Giovanni de Vita. However, he also included an artist drawing the reliefs and instructed by a seemingly informed individual in a scene that reflects the modern archaeological study of antiquity, here sponsored by Maria Amalia of Saxony for whom this canvas may have been intended. The Queen, accompanied by a small retinue and by the Marquis of Tanucci, the Prime Minister and a great connoisseur of antiquity, listens to an explanation of the colonnade, a motif invented by Joli that he used to subtly connect himself to his intended future patron, possibly by alluding to Hercules as the monarchs' mythological ancestor or by linking the Queen and the Egyptian goddess Isis, considered a symbolic model of queenly virtues since the time of the Pharaohs. The Doric colonnade may also suggest the contemporary debate on the relationship between Greek and Roman architectural styles that arose with the rediscovery of the Doric temples at Paestum, which Joli also painted in 1759. These temples were praised by Neo-classical architects for their simplicity and by archaeologists and historians of the day such as Winckelmann who, a few years later, would describe Greek Doric architecture as the origin of all subsequent architectural styles. The presence of Queen Maria Amalia in the painting may also have encouraged Joli to paint the side of the arch that faces towards the city, although his viewpoint is taken from the countryside in order to achieve a sweeping panoramic perspective. The subjects of the reliefs on the side of the arch facing the city refer to peace and prosperity while those on the side facing the countryside are martial episodes. This is the façade reproduced in the etching Veduta dell’Arco di Benevento nel Regno di Napoli of 1773/ 1778 by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, which is exhibited here alongside Joli's painting in an impression loaned from the Biblioteca Histórica of the Universidad Complutense, Madrid.

In the present work Joli emphasised the objective reality that was increasingly in demand for landscapes of this type in the second half of the century. This did not, however, prevent him from using various poetic devices typical of the genre such as fine effects of sunlight, or from taking the type of compositional liberties characteristic of architectural capriccios. Through such devices the artist elevated the status of the science of archaeology and incorporated a eulogy to royal patronage of the arts and their preservation.

Artworks

2

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Etching, 47.5 x 71 cm

Ca. 1773 - 1778

Madrid, Biblioteca Histórica. Universidad Complutense de Madrid

 

3

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Etching, 47 x 71 cm

Ca. 1771

Madrid, Biblioteca Histórica. Universidad Complutense de Madrid

 

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