Between the end of 1675 and October 1676, Canuti painted the ceiling of one of the ante-chambers at Palazzo Altieri in Rome for Pope Clement X's adopted nephew, Cardinal Paluzzo Paluzzi degli Albertoni, who transformed the palace into one of the grandest Baroque Roman residences after the election of Emilio Altieri to the papacy (S. Stagni, Domenico Maria Canuti. Pittore (1626-1684), Rimini, 1988, pp. 87, 90-1 and 181). This unusually fresh drawing is the most elaborate preparatory study to have survived for this virtuoso quadratura ceiling (fig. 1), his last Roman work before he moved back to his native town of Bologna. Whilse Canuti was at work in the palace, Carlo Maratti was decorating another room in the same building.
The leading German quadraturist artist Enrico Haffner (1640-1702) worked with Canuti on this commission; his is the spectacular architectural framework that surrounds Canuti's painted ceiling. The painter created a very dynamic use of perspective, particularly evident in the da sotto in su effect of a floating crown and several free-standing 24-pointed stars. The stars form part of the design of the coat-of-arms of the Altieri family, and the lion in the lower left corner of the drawing is the heraldic symbol of the Paluzzi degli Albertoni family. The general backdrop to the central composition was an overwhelming quantity of arches, pediments, flying putti and atlantes.
The complex subject depicted on the fresco ceiling was probably dictated by cardinal Paluzzi, although no archival documents have survived. E.A. Safarik has nevertheless suggested that Paluzzi might have associated himself with the figure of Romulus, the founder of Rome, who becomes here his self-personification (E.A. Safarik et al., Roma, Palazzo Altieri: le stanze al piano nobile dei cardinali Giovanni Battista e Paluzzo Altieri, Milan, 1999, p. 122). The Apotheosis of Romulus represented a traditional Baroque answer to ceiling designs with a multitude of figures studied from below.
Canuti chose a vanishing point at right angles to that of the quadratura elements devised by Haffner. As a result, his ceiling could only be seen from one vantage point. In order to achieve visual coherence, Canuti centred his composition on the figure of Venus, placed directly in line with the tip of the highest branch of the main star. On her left is the seated figure of Jupiter riding an eagle and on her right Romulus leaning back in gratitude. Through small dots of black chalk and brown ink Canuti started work on the drawing by defining the radiating lines that allowed him to construct the perspective.
The execution of the painted ceiling was preceded by a group of preparatory drawings. A study for the full composition, with more subsidiary figures, is in the Prado, Madrid (Stagni, op. cit., p.91, fig. 39), while a study for the figure of Jupiter is in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (op. cit., p.91, fig. 40). Another drawing (fig. 2) with the detail of the Apotheosis of Romulus, was sold in these Rooms, 6 July 2004, lot 60.