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FRANCESCO SOLIMENA (CANALE DI SERINO 1657-1747 BARRA DI NAPOLI)
FRANCESCO SOLIMENA (CANALE DI SERINO 1657-1747 BARRA DI NAPOLI)
FRANCESCO SOLIMENA (CANALE DI SERINO 1657-1747 BARRA DI NAPOLI)
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FRANCESCO SOLIMENA (CANALE DI SERINO 1657-1747 BARRA DI NAPOLI)
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FRANCESCO SOLIMENA (CANALE DI SERINO 1657-1747 BARRA DI NAPOLI)

Christ descending into Limbo

Details
FRANCESCO SOLIMENA (CANALE DI SERINO 1657-1747 BARRA DI NAPOLI)
Christ descending into Limbo
oil on canvas
50 ¼ x 39 7/8 in. (127.6 x 101.4 cm.)
Provenance
Collection Carignani, Naples.
with Giacometti Old Masters, Rome and Naples, from whom acquired at Paris Tableau in 2015 by the present owner.
Literature
N. Spinosa, Francesco Solimena (1657-1747) e le Arti a Napoli, Rome, 2018, II, p. 401, no. 167.
Special notice

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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

In the early years of the eighteenth century, Francesco Solimena, at that time the unequalled leader of Neapolitan painting, was transitioning from a style firmly rooted in the Baroque towards a slightly more restrained academic approach. The present painting retains a dramatic handling of light and the artist’s characteristic brownish shadows, whilst looking forward to the more studied compositions of his later works; the seemingly crowded scene is in fact carefully organised around the central figure of Christ. By these elements combined with Solimena’s refined rendering of the figures, Spinosa dates the painting to circa 1710 (op. cit.).
The subject of the Descent into Limbo, also known as the Harrowing of Hell, is not directly drawn from any Biblical source but was immensely popular within the Church by the fifteenth century. It became an established part of Christian dogma that after His Crucifixion and before His Resurrection, Christ descended into Limbo, the realm on the edge of Hell, to free the souls of the righteous, including the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs who died unbaptised. The story was recounted in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, and later adapted in popular devotional texts like Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda aurea (The Golden Legend), which was widely disseminated in fifteenth and sixteenth-century Europe.
Nicola Spinosa posits that the subject, with its somewhat rarefied cast of figures taken directly from the Gospel of Nicodemus, would have been dictated not by the artist but by his as-yet unidentified patron, who may have commissioned the work for a private oratory or chapel. Unlike other depictions, the composition focuses on the figures present at the event as it was written by Nicodemus, rather than on Hell itself. To Christ’s right is Mary Magdalene, and below her the so-called Penitent or Good Thief who was crucified beside Christ, named as Dismas by Nicodemus and described as accompanying Him on His descent. Dismas kneels before Christ, looking down at the cross upon which he himself was crucified, and to his right is King David with his harp, who died unbaptised and was therefore trapped in Limbo until Christ came to liberate him.

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