This picture is an autograph bozzetto or autograph replica of one of Solimena's most important royal commissions of the period, and is one of the very few works intimately related to that commission to survive.
In May 1734, King Philip V of Spain ceded his sovereignty over the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily to his young son Charles. On 6 August of the same year the new King Charles VII, with the help of Prince Charles Edward Stuart of Scotland, defeated an Austrian army at the Siege of Gaeta, thereby cementing his rule over the northern part of the Neapolitan kingdom and thus confirming his position as sovereign. To commemorate this crucial victory, a work was commissioned from the foremost Neapolitan artist of the moment, Francesco Solimena, that was to be symbolically positioned above the throne in the Throne Room of the Palazzo Reale, Caserta (see Urrea, loc. cit.). This was destroyed, but the composition is recorded in an engraving after a drawing by Ferdinando Sanfelice (1675-1748), which shows the picture (in reverse and not drawn in great detail) in its original position in the Palazzo Reale (Relazzione della venuta di Hagi Hussein Effendi, Naples, 1741). The composition is broadly similar to that of the present work and also includes, surrounded by angels - one of whom carries a phial of his blood, kept in the Cathedral of Naples - Saint Januarius, the city's patron saint.
In a letter from Solimena dated 24 September 1735 to the architect Filippo Juvarra in Madrid, he states that he had recently painted 'un quadro grande' for a Sala in the Palazzo Reale (i.e. at Caserta) measuring 24 by 20 palmi, showing King Charles on horseback, in triumph at the Siege of Gaeta. He added that he had also finished 'due quadri con la medesima storia in piccolo di palmi 6 per alto e 5 per largo per il medesimo Re, che non glie li ho ancora consegnati'. In addition, a document in the Naples State Archives reveals that in 1737 Solimena had delivered the large picture to hang in the Sala del Viceré; in addition he had had delivered 'due altri quadri rappresentanti il quadro grande di S.M. messo nella Sala de' signori Viceré' (see Spinosa, 1979-80, loc. cit.).
In 1958, Bologna (loc. cit.) identified a picture now in the Palazzo Reale, Naples, (inv. no. 469) which repeats much of the lower central section of the original composition, as a modello for part of the larger work. Of the 'due quadri...in piccolo', Spinosa (ibid.) suggests that one may be identified with a replica in the Cappelli collection, Aquila; the other he identifies as possibly being the present work. Although, due to the destruction of the Palazzo Reale canvas, it cannot be conclusively proven whether it is the highly finished bozzetto or a reduced autograph replica, this dramatic picture allows one to imagine how the lost 'grande quadro' that used to hang in the Royal Palace must have looked.
Having seen the present picture in the original, Professor Nicola Spinosa has fully endorsed the attribution to Solimena.