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Carlo Cignani (Bologna 1628-1719 Forli)
Carlo Cignani (Bologna 1628-1719 Forli)

Hercules and Omphale

Details
Carlo Cignani (Bologna 1628-1719 Forli)
Hercules and Omphale
oil on canvas
55 7/8 x 81¼ in. (141.7 x 206.4 cm.)
Provenance
(Possibly) Joseph Wenzel I, Prince of Liechtenstein (1696-1772), Liechtenstein City Palace, Vienna, and thence by descent to
(Possibly) Johann II, Prince of Liechtenstein (1840-1929), by 1807 in the Liechtenstein Garden Palace, Vienna, by whom consigned
(Possibly) Anonymous sale [Prince of Liechtenstein]; hôtel Drouot, Paris, 4-5 March 1881, lot 50, as Charles Cignani: 'Hercule et Omphale, Bonne et vigoureuse peinture. Toile. Haut., 1 m. 50 cent.; larg., 2 m.'
Literature
(Possibly) V. Fanti, Descrizzione completa di tutto ciò che ritrovasi nella galleria di pittura e scultura si sua Altezza Giuseppe Wenceslao del S. R. I. Principe Regnante della Casa di Liechtenstein, etc., Vienna, 1767, p. 82, no. 412, Room VII, Wall III: 'Ercole ignudo, che fila, e Iole, che siede accanto a lui; due Amorini da un lato, che si sollazzono colla pelle del Leone ucciso, di Carlo Cignani; Altezza: 4 Piedi 8 1/4 Once; Larghezza: 6 Piedi 5 Once'.
(Possibly) J. Dallinger van Dalling, Description des tableaux et des pièces de sculpture que renferme la gallerie de son Altesse François Joseph Chef et Prince Regnant de la Maison de Liechtenstein etc. etc., Vienna, 1780, pp. 166-7, no. 570, Room VIII, Wall I: 'Hercule assis la quenouille, et le fuseau à la main file auprès d'Omphale, qui est assise toute nue à son côté. Elle a un pied plié à terre, tient l'autre posé sur les genoux d'Hercule, et ses mains se sont emparées de la massue de ce Héros dégradé. On voit à leurs pieds la peau de lion dont il est habitué de se couvrir. Un Amour joue avec la queue de cette dépouille, tandis qu'un autre entiérement caché sous cette peau ne fait que montrer la tête pour le surprendre, et pour l'effrayer. Le fond est paysage. Ce tableau est d'une composition très gracieuse, d'un bon dessein, et les carnations y sont fraîches et naturelles. Peint sur toile, haut 4 pieds 8 pouces, sur 6 pieds 3 pouces de largeur'.
(Possibly) J. von Falke, Katalog der Fürstlich Liechtensteinischen Bildergalerie im Gartenpalais der Rossau zu Wien, Vienna, 1873, p. 3, no. 17, First Floor, Room II, Wall I: 'Hercules und Omphale. Hercules sitzt und hält den Rocken, zu seiner Seite sitzt Omphale, nackt, in den Häden die Keule, zu ihrer Seite liegt die Löwenhaut, unter welcher ein Amor sich verbirgt, während ein anderer mit dem Schwanze derselben spielt L. 1.51 - 2.07.'
B. Buscaroli Fabbri, Carlo Cignani, Affreschi, Dipinti, Disegni, Bologna, 1991, under no. 78, as one of two versions mentioned in the Liechtenstein collection in Vincenzo Fanti's 1767 catalogue.

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Alexis Ashot
Alexis Ashot

Lot Essay

Narrated in Apollodorus's Bibliothèkè, the love story between the Greek hero Hercules and Omphale, Queen of Lydia (sometimes also called 'Iole'), was a popular theme in Baroque art. A paragon of physical strength, Hercules successfully undertook the celebrated Twelve Labours, but is here shown spellbound by the beautiful daughter of the River Lardanus. He was so beguiled by love that Omphale was able to force him to dress and act like a girl, which explains the distaff in his left hand. Meanwhile, Hercules's prized trophy, the lion's skin, has become the plaything of two winged cupids, barely visible at the feet of the two lovers, on the left of the canvas.

Carlo Cesare Malvasia (1616-1693) mentions an Ercole e Iole painted by Cignani for the Bolognese physician ('Medico') Martelli. Whether that painting can be identified with this canvas is hard to say, as the dimensions were not given nor was any additional information supplied. However, such an elaborate subject is described in greater detail in more recent inventories. The description and dimensions seem, in fact, to correspond to the painting by Cignani recorded from 1767 to 1873 in the Liechtenstein Collection, Vienna. Most of the collection had been acquired and arranged in the Liechtenstein City Palace by Prince Johann Adam Andreas (1657-1712; fig. 1). An avid collector, he focused mainly on the Bolognese school and employed Marcantonio Franceschini (1648-1729), a pupil of Carlo Cignani, to act as his agent in Italy. It is thus probable that Hercules and Omphale entered the collection under his reign, where a work of this subject was recorded by Vincenzo Fanti as being hung in a room especially devoted to Italian masters. By the late nineteenth century, Prince Johannes II (1840-1929) disposed of a part of the collection; the detailed record of a Hercules and Omphale of almost identical dimensions to this canvas can be found in the 1881 auction catalogue of a sale held at the hôtel Drouot in Paris.

A copy of reduced dimensions, from the Castle of Mannheim, was in the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe (Buscaroli Fabbri, 1991, pp. 206-8, no. 78, illustrated).

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