Catherine Puglisi, op. cit., 1991, was the first to argue that this previously lost work can be identified as one of a series of the Four Elements which were recorded by Malvasia as having been commissioned by the comte de Carrouges (Felsina pittrice. Vite de'pittori bolognesi, Bologna, 1678, II, pp. 156 and 162). That the artist knew his French patron personally is certain since the latter stood as godfather to the painter's second son (recorded in the baptismal act in Bologna; C.R. Puglisi, op. cit., 1999, p. 20). The artist agreed to execute four large paintings on copper depicting the deities of the four realms of heaven, earth, sea, and the underworld. Malvasia went on to say that Albani never painted the fourth subject, because the count was critical of Albani's male nudes (ibid., p. 176). The inventory of 1653 of the comte de Carrouge's estate indeed lists only three paintings in the Gallery: 'Un tableau de Franois Albany des quatre saisons avec sa cornige dore' (Realm of Earth); 'Un tableau de Neptune de Franois Albany de Neptune' (Maritime Realm); and 'Un tableau de l'assemble des dieux du seigneur Franois Albany avec sa cornige dore (Realm of Heaven) (see G. Despierres, 'Le chteau de Carrouges', Runion des Socits des Beaux-Arts des dpartements, 1893, p. 258). Two of the pictures, the Realm of Heaven (fig. 1) and the Realm of Earth (fig. 2) passed as a pair into Andr Le Ntre's possession who gave them to King Louis XIV of France in 1693, and they are now at Fontainebleau (C.R. Puglisi, loc. cit., 1983, op. cit., 1999, nos. 75.i and 75.ii). Like the pair at Fontainebleau, the present Maritime Realm is painted on copper and its measurements are exactly the same. This, in addition to its pertinent content and the same scale of the figures in all three pictures, supports Puglisi's hypothesis that the present picture is the missing one from the series.
Carlo Volpe discerned stylistic parallels in Raphaelesque composition and the lightened palette of the cycle of The Four Elements (ibid., no. 60) from 1625-28 and the two pictures at Fontainebleau and suggested a contemporary dating (C. Volpe, L'ideale classico, Bologna, 1962, nos. 47 and 48). However, Van Schaak finds stylistic similarities with Albani's work from the 1630s (see E. van Schaack, Francesco Albani, Ph. D. Diss. Columbia University, New York, 1969, nos. 82 and 83). Catherine Puglisi supports this dating and points out that Le Veneur only acquired the rights to the chteau of Carrouges in 1635 and that it is possible that this event occasioned the commission.
The Maritime Realm combines and reinterprets motifs from two of Albani's frescoes in the Giustiniani Gallery and the Turin Element of Water (C. Puglisi, op. cit., 1999, nos. 36.iii, 36.iv and 60.iii). Of course the composition recalls Raphael's Galatea, yet it also demonstrates the profound influence of Annibale Carracci's classicism, and in particular the Farnese ceiling, on the artist's style. However, this picture shows a personal interpretation of the classical ideal and it was, in its own turn, of influence on the imagery of maritime deities. The most important example of this is Poussin's Maritime Venus (Museum of Fine Arts, Philadelphia) which suggests a knowledge of Albani's painting (C. Puglisi, op. cit., 1999, p. 166). A later example is Natoire's Triumph of Amphitrite (location unknown): in this picture the swimming Nymph who is seen from the back, and whose lower body can still be distinguished in the water, reoccurs (illustrated in C. Bailey, The Loves of the Gods, Grand Palais, Paris, 1991, p. 369, fig. 1).
This important commission, of which hitherto only the two pictures in Fontainebleau were known still to exist, resulted in a series which Catherine Puglisi describes as 'among Albani's finest cabinet pictures'. Judging from a photograph she believes The Maritime Realm to be of 'equally high quality' (letter 31 August 1999). We are also grateful to Dr. Erich Schleier for independently confirming the attribution on the basis of a photograph (letter 23 July 1999).
The reason for the present picture being separated from its pendants is unknown. However, by the mid-eighteenth century, it had passed into the collection of the marquis de Thugny. That collection was originated by de Thugny's uncle, Pierre Crozat (1661-1740), who had bequeathed his 244 pictures to his nephew. De Thugny himself, who by 1719 had become prsident au parlement de Paris, mitre des requtes, and lecteur du cabinet du roi, continued in his vein, building one of the great assemblages of pictures, statues, drawings, prints and engravings. The picture collection numbered over four hundred works. On his death, de Thugny's collection passed to his brother, the marquis du Chatel et de Moy, who ordered the drawings, prints and engravings to be sold for the benefit of the poor of Paris; the collection of engravings was bought en bloc by the duc d'Orlans. Much of de Thugny's collection is known from three publications: La Chau and Le Blond's Description de principales pierres graves du cabinet de S.A.S. Mgr. le duc d'Orlans (Paris, 1780-84, 2 vols.); Mariette's Description sommaire des dessins des grands maitres d'Italie, des Pays-Bas et de France, du cabinet de feu M. Crozat, avec des rflexions sur la manire de dessiner des principaux peintres (Paris, 1741); and Mariette's Recueil d'Estampes d'aprs les plus beaux tableaux et d'aprs les plus beaux dessins qui sont en France, dans le cabinet du Roi, dans celui de Mgr. le duc d'Orlans, et dans d'autres cabinets; divis suivant les diffrentes coles, avec un abrg de la vie des peintres, et une description historique de chaque tableau (Paris, 2 vols., 1729 and 1742).
After de Thugny's death, the picture passed to the famous collector Pierre-Louis-Paul Randon de Boisset. Randon de Boisset had followed his father in the lucrative post of receveur gnral des finances of the Gnralit of Lyon, and used his fortune to build a famous collection of works of art. Associated with Robert and Greuze (who painted his portrait, now in Budapest), he travelled to the Netherlands with Boucher in 1766. The majority of Randon's 237 paintings were purchased at auction in Paris. The sale of his estate attracted many of the most important collectors around the world, including Catherine II of Russia, who purchased, also through Lebrun, Wouwerman's Departure for the Hunt (Hermitage, St. Petersburg). Other works from his collection include Watteau's Venetian Festival (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), Rembrandt's Supper at Emmaus (Louvre, Paris), Boucher's School of Love (Wallace Collection, London), Steen's Skittle Players outside an Inn (National Gallery, London). Greuze's The Broken Mirror (Wallace Collection, London) and Murillo's The Flower Girl (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London).
After Randon's sale, the picture passed through M. Dutartre to an even more historic collection, that of Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Canino. The brother of Napoleon I, Lucien formed a collection of Old Masters and modern paintings that was one of the most famous of the nineteenth century. Unlike his uncle, Cardinal Fesch, whom he accused of 'picture mania', Lucien limited the number of paintings in his collection, and chose them with care. Amongst pictures formerly in his collection are such works as Velazquez's Lady with a Fan (Wallace Collection, London), Titian's Allegory of Prudence, Lotto's Family Group, Honthorst's Christ before the High Priest (all National Gallery, London), Bronzino's Portrait of a Young Man (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Luini's Mary Magdalene (National Gallery, Washington, D.C.) and David's Belisarius begging Alms (Louvre, Paris). In 1815 a part of his collection was brought to England and offered privately by the dealer William Buchanan. The following year, his continuing need for funds forced Lucien to put these up for sale by public auction. At the subsequent 1816 sale, the present picture was purchased by the art dealer Perry.
In 1823, Lambert Jean Nieuwenhuys (1777-1862), an international art dealer sent the future King William II of the Netherlands a list of twenty-three pictures that the Prince acquired en bloc in April of that year, together with other pictures from Nieuwenhuys' stock, including the present picture. Although it is not known how the picture came into Nieuwenhuys' possession, it is interesting to note that Gonzales Coques' Le Repos champtre (London, Wallace Collection), was also bought at Lucien's sale by Perry, and was later sold to William by Nieuwenhuys, who related that it had in the been bought by Perry for a M. Gasson, a relative of Bonaparte's.
William II was a passionate collector. The bulk of his first collection was destroyed by fire in 1820. By the end of 1823, however, he had accumulated 49 major paintings, including works by Bellini and Perugino, as well as the present picture. He owned del Piombo's Lamentation (Hermitage, St. Petersburg) and del Sarto's Madonna and Child (Wllace Collection, London). Perhaps his most remarkable acquisition was a set of two portfolios containing over 500 drawings by Fra Bartolommeo (Boijmans-van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam). Northern works included Rembrandt's Man in Oriental Costume (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Rubens's Christ's Charge to Peter (Wallace Collection, London), van Eyck's Annunciation (National Gallery, Washington, D.C.), and his Lucca Madonna (Stdelisches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt-am-Main), and van der Weyden's Miraflores Triptych (Gemldegalerie, Berlin). After his death it emerged that, less than a year previously, William II had borrowed one million guilders from his brother-in-law, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, with the paintings as security. It was decided to auction the collection in order to repay the loan.