Carlo Maratta (1625-1713)
Carlo Maratta (1625-1713)

Alpheus and Arethusa

Carlo Maratta (1625-1713)
Alpheus and Arethusa
oil on canvas
30¾ x 37¾in. (78 x 96cm.)
Cardinal Decio Azzolini (1623-1689), Rome, after 1676 and before 1689, during which time lent for an unspecified period to Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), Rome.
Probably Fraula collection, Brussels, by 1722.
Possibly Noel Desenfans; his sale, Christie's, London, 8 April 1786, lot 360 (see below)
Private collection, America, before 1800.
The Estate of Dr. Louis C. Rouse, Poplarville, Mississippi, 1966.
Lenora Blackburn.
Probably J.J. Richardson, An Account of Some of the Statues [...] in Italy, etc., 1722, p. 6.
T. Montanari, 'Il Cardinale Decio Azzolino e le collezioni d'arte di Cristina di Svezia' Studi Settecenteschi, XXXVIII, 1997, pp. 205 and 219 and note 96.

Lot Essay

The earliest records of the present work can be found in the inventory of the collection of Cardinal Decio Azzolini drawn up after his death in 1689 and in a slightly earlier list of his possessions. The picture corresponds precisely to the descriptions of the work recorded there: 'Un quadro di tela largo palmi 3½ e 3 con tre figure, mano di Carlo [Maratti] d'Andrea Sacchi, con cornice alla fiorentina dorata alta palmi ½ in circa', specified in the list as 'Un quadro, di quattro e tre, con cornice dorata, rappresentante la favola d'Alfeo. Di mano di Carlo Maratta' (T. Montanari, op. cit., note 96 and 205).

Azzolino was one of the leading collectors in Rome at this time and had been appointed by Pope Alexander VII to be the guide and advisor to Queen Christina of Sweden, when she arrived in Rome in 1655 following her abdication from the Swedish throne and subsequent conversion to Catholicism. Azzolino supported her initiatives as a collector and patron of the arts and with time became her closest friend. Over a thirty-year period, she assembled one of the most important collections in Rome during the Baroque era. Her residence, the Palazzo Riario on the Via della Lungara (now partly integrated into the Palazzo Corsini), became a veritable private museum, finally displaying about 270 paintings. Among these were Titian's Death of Actaeon (National Gallery, London), six large Allegories by Veronese (National Gallery, London and two in the Frick Collection, New York), Correggio's Leda (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) and several predelle by Raphael (National Gallery, London; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston; and the Metropolitan Museum, New York). After her death in April 1689, her collections -- which had been bequeathed to Azzolino, who himself died only three months later -- were sold to Livio Odescalchi, Duca di Bracciano. About 260 pictures were acquired by Philippe II, Duc d'Orléans, eleven years after Odescalchi's death in 1713.

Montanari has recently examined the relationship between Queen Christina and Cardinal Azzolino and has found in their correspondence an interesting reference to the present work (op. cit., p. 219), where the Cardinal mentions Cristina's appreciation (evidently expressed in her latest missive to him) of a picture by Carlo Maratta, which he had sent to her for viewing: 'Anco a me è paruto bello il quadro del Maratta, e pero ho preso l'ardire di mandarlo a Vostra Maestà' ('I, too, found the painting by Maratta to be beautiful, but I have lost the desire to send it to your Majesty.') Since the work does not appear in the inventory of Azzolino's guradaroba compiled in circa 1675-6 (see Montanari, op. cit., notes 37 and 96), it was presumably acquired by the Cardinal and sent to the Queen for inspection after that date.

The present work is almost certainly that described by Jonathan Richardson and son (J.J. Richardson, loc. cit.) as in the Fraula Collection in Brussels by 1722 ('the best collection here'): 'A Nymph persu'd, whom Diana coveres with a Cloud. An Admirable Picture of Carlo Maratti. The Thought is Delicious'. The presence of the picture in this collection at this time would suggest that it was not among the paintings that were sold from Queen Christina's collection to Livio Odescalchi at her death in 1689 and then on to Philippe II, Duc d'Orléans in 1713 (see above), and that she had thus returned it to Azzolino before she died.

The present picture can be dated on stylistic grounds to the years 1655-7, a time when Maratta was emerging as one of the most promising painters in Rome. If the classical, Niobe-like head of the fleeing Arethusa reveals his interest in certain models of Guido Reni, and the more delicate features of Diana owe something to Pier Francesco Mola's prototypes, the swiftly striding figure of Alpheus, with flowing yet sharply defined drapery, corresponds closely to that of the saint in Maratta's own Saint Andrew being led to his Martyrdom, also executed at this time (Bob Jones University Art Gallery, Greenville, South Carolina). A comparison with the more static figures of the slightly earlier Departure of Tobias (Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London) reveals the artist's elaboration of the tauter, more dynamic narrative syntax that distinguishes his best work of that period from the somewhat sedate compositions of his master, Andrea Sacchi. The present work can then be dated to the beginning of the Baroque phase of the artist's career, although on this basis it cannot have been commissioned by Azzolini but was probably acquired by him from the original, as yet unidentified, owner.

The subject of the work, the story of Alpheus and Arethusa, is recounted in Ovid's Metamorphoses (V, 572-641). The god of the river Alpheus fell in love with the nymph Arethusa while she was bathing in his waters. He gave chase when she fled and just as he was about to catch her, she enveloped herself in a cloud and was transformed into a stream, which then became an underground river. Although the subject is very rare in seventeenth-century painting, especially compared to the much more common theme of Apollo and Daphne, it appears that Maratta may also have reworked the composition in a vertical format for a canvas (now lost) possibly identifiable with that owned by Antoine de La Roque and sold by Gersaint in Paris in 1745 and later by Dr. Newton, Bishop of Bristol, at Christie's on 8 April 1788, lot 350. This may also be the Alpheus and Arethusa sold from the collection of Noel Desenfans, Stanley, London, 8 April 1786, lot 360, as Carlo Maratta and measuring '3ft 4 x 2ft 11.' (It is not inconceivable, however, that these measurements are in fact reversed in the catalogue, and if so, then the painting could instead be identified with the present work). There are various copies, after lost drawings of the reworked composition by the artist, which can be attributed to his student Giacinto Calandrucci (in the Kunstmuseum, Dsseldorf, and the Academia de San Fernando, Madrid).

We are grateful to Dr. Stella Rudolph for her assistance in cataloguing this lot. She will include the painting in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné of works by the artist.


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