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Simone Pignoni (Florence 1611-1698)
oil on canvas
29¼ x 24 in. (74.3 x 61 cm.)
with Antichità Santa Lucia, Florence, 2008.
F. Baldassari, Simone Pignoni, Turin, 2008, p. 161-62, no. 105.

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Lot Essay

The story of Proserpine's abduction into the underworld, comes from Ovid's tales of the Loves of the Gods, as recounted in the Metamorphoses (5: 385-424) and the Fasti (4: 417-450). Proserpine was the daughter of the corn-goddess Ceres, and while picking flowers in a meadow she caught the eye of Pluto, the King of the Underworld. Inflamed with passion -- according to Ovid, he had been struck by Cupid's arrow -- Pluto abducted the young beauty, descending with her on his chariot into the gaping chasm that he opened in the earth, toward his subterranean realm. Despite Ceres' long wanderings in search of her daughter, Proserpine would remain in Hell, with Pluto agreeing to allow her to return to earth for three months annually to herald the rebirth of Spring.

Pignoni painted the story of Pluto and Proserpine on several occasions. There are three identical versions of a horizontal composition depicting The Rape of Proserpine (Nancy, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Rome, Private collection; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), in which Proserpine is on the left, garlanded with the meadow flowers she was innocently picking, swinging around in fear to witness the lusty god grabbing her arm to carry her away to Hades; Pluto's face is lit bright red by the fires of Hell that rage just behind him. The present painting isolates the alarmed nymph from that larger composition, discarding Pluto altogether, with the effect of emphasizing instead Proserpine's graceful beauty, luminous ivory skin, and the exquisitely observed flowers that ornament her youthful charms. The painting likely served as an Allegory of Spring.

The execution of the present lot is rapid but precise, and its superior quality indicates that it is fully autograph; on stylistic grounds, Francesca Baldassari dates it to the 1670s. Pignoni seems to have adapted the figure of Proserpine for a picture of Flora (location unknown), which was recorded in the collection of Tommaso Fiaschi, Florence, in 1706.

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