Dominated by the personification of Folly who has taken over the chariot from the resigned figure of Love, this powerful, monumental work is a moral allegory of the dangerous effects of excess and passion over restrained and pure feelings of love. The drawing was executed by the Neoclassical Florentine painter Giuseppe Bezzuoli as a cartoon, or full-scale design, for a ceiling fresco in Palazzo Gerini, Florence. Commissioned in the Spring of 1848 by Marchese Carlo Gerini, the fresco still adorns the ceiling in the main room of the palazzo’s main floor (fig. 2). The fresco was part of a larger renovation of the Renaissance building entrusted from the 1830s to the famous architect Giuseppe Poggi, who designed the ‘Salone Verde’ and the stucco ornamentation framing Bezzuoli’s ceiling (see R. Manetti, Giuseppe Poggi e Firenze. Disegni di architetture e città, Florence 1990, p. 85).
The subject of the composition is extensively described in an early biography of the artist: ‘In the lavish new apartment of Marchese Gerini in Florence, [Bezzuoli] was commissioned to paint a mythological subject, the most beautiful ornament of this palace: Folly driving the chariot of Love. Riding over the clouds, the woman lashes with her whip, which she brandish with her right arm, four runaway steeds, while she stands full of fury in command of the deranged quadriga. Seated in the chariot, in a voluptuous attitude, young Love is animated with calm sweetness, born from his blind illusion. The poetic minds of Ariosto and Tasso could have imagined this mythological subject in the same way’ (anonymous, Della vita e delle opere del professore Cav. Giuseppe Bezzuoli, Florence 1855, p. 41).
Following a solid Florentine tradition dating back to the Renaissance, Bezzuoli approached the challenging commission of the Gerini ceiling with this large drawing, masterfully executed in charcoal, gray wash and white bodycolor on four large sheets of paper joined vertically. It can be considered both a cartoon and a monumental working drawing, as it records a number of pentimenti, and differs from the final fresco in several details. Notable variations are in the reclining pose of Love, leaning on his bow in the drawing while resting on Folly’s right leg in the fresco, the position of the flying putto’s ring (possibly advertising constancy), the wheel of the chariot, shifted to the left, Folly's hairpiece, and the sequence of the horses’ hooves. While everything was not yet settled on paper, Bezzuoli recorded all these changes in a colored modello in oil on canvas, which he exhibited to public acclaim in September 1848 at the annual Esposizione dell’Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, and which is now at the Palazzo Pitti (fig. 1; C. Sisi, La Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Palazzo Pitti. Storia e collezioni, Florence 2005, p. 86, ill.).
Bezzuoli may have produced a second cartoon incorporating these changes which subsequently was destroyed in the process of transferring the composition to the ceiling’s wet plaster (intonaco), while the present cartoon was evidently preserved and treasured. This accounts for its overall good condition, which does not exhibit the physical signs of transferring methods that were typically adopted to translate designs to walls (indented contours or calco, pricking and pouncing or spolvero). Bezzuoli’s expertise in cartoon design and fresco painting matured throughout his career through prestigious commissions at Palazzo Pitti, Palazzo Pucci, Villa Baldini and the cathedral of Pisa. For the latter commission, he produced in 1847 a cartoon of the Deposition that is similar in technique and size to the present work, and is now the Uffizi (A.M. Petrioli Tofani, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi. Acquisizioni 1944-1974, Florence 1974, no. 86, ill.).
In developing his composition, Bezzuoli, a learned artist, turned to the old masters. Guercino’s Aurora in the Casino of Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi (1621) provided him with an illustrious precedent, on which he based the powerful foreshortening of the chariot as well as the pose of Folly, whose upraised arm almost mimics Aurora’s. Another source of inspiration for the chariot has been identified in an antique relief featuring the Rape of Proserpina from the Medici collections, which Bezzuoli copied on a page of a sketchbook at the Uffizi (V. Frascarolo, ‘Una galleria tascabile: un libro di ricordi di Giuseppe Bezzuoli e altri quaderni di appunti e disegni’, Predella, no. 8, 2013, fig. 13).
Admiration for the drama of Seicento art was the main source of inspiration for Bezzuoli’s style, often defined as standing at the threshold of Italian Purismo and the more progressive trends of French-inspired Romanticism. Bezzuoli himself pointed out that the horses can be compared to the works of Horace Vernet (anonymous, op. cit., p. 41), while modern scholars have drawn parallels with the work to François Gérard and to Ingres, whom Bezzuoli possibly met during the French master’s stay in Florence between 1820 and 1824. But Folly driving the chariot of Love does not need these comparisons to impress, both by its size and its artistry. Executed when the 67-year-old artist was an acclaimed professor at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, this rediscovered cartoon is a masterpiece by an artist at the peak of his career.
We are grateful to Marchese Pietro Paolo Cavalletti for allowing us to illustrate the interior of Palazzo Gerini, as well as for his assistance during research on the present work.
Fig. 1. Giuseppe Bezzuoli, Folly driving the chariot of Love, Gallerie degli Uffizi - Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Palazzo Pitti, Florence © DeAgostini Picture Library/Bardazzi/Bridgeman Images.
Fig. 2. Giuseppe Bezzuoli, Folly driving the chariot of Love, Palazzo Gerini, Florence.