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Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini
Alexander Before the Body of Darius

1702-1703

$23,000

About

Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (Venice, 1675 – 1741) Alexander Before the Body of Darius Oil on paper, laid down on canvas 11 ½ x 15 ⅝ inches (29.2 x 39.7 cm) Provenance: Bartolo Bracaglia, New York, by 1961 with P & D Colnaghi, London, December 1971; where acquired by: Private Collection, USA Exhibited: “Venetian Paintings of the Eighteenth Century,” New York, Finch College Museum of Art, 1 October – 16 December 1961, no. 31. Detroit Institute of Arts, November 1964. Literature: A Loan Exhibition of Venetian Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1961, cat. no. 31. Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini was Venetian by birth, but an international artist in life. His extensive travels not only shaped his own artistic development, but through his extremely influential work, provided an essential connection between paintings of the Venetian tradition and the Rococo style throughout Europe. At an early age he followed his first master Paolo Pagani to Austria, remaining there for six years. He returned to Italy in 1696 and traveled to Rome in 1700 before returning to Venice two years later. He remained in Venice and the Veneto until 1708, when Charles Montagu (later Duke of Manchester) invited him to England. His later career took him to Germany, France, Flanders, and Austria. Although the present work was previously considered to be by Giovanni Battista Pittoni, Robert L. Manning and later Federico Zeri properly recognized Pellegrini’s authorship of this oil sketch. Our bozzetto relates directly to a large canvas by Pellegrini now in Soissons (Fig. 1). Once thought to represent Achilles viewing the body of Patroclus, the painting rather depicts Alexander the Great with the body of the defeated Persian King Darius. According to Plutarch (33:43), Darius was pursued by the victorious Alexander, but was slain by his own men. Before dying, the Persian King, lying wounded on his chariot, thanked Alexander for caring for his wife and children, who had earlier been captured. In Pellegrini’s treatment, the body of Darius, dramatically posed on his back with his head inverted, is revealed before the shocked but still exquisitely composed Alexander. A pendant of the Soissons painting depicts Alexander before the family of Darius. The twin subjects extol the moral probity of Alexander as both king and military leader and serve as emblems of generosity and honor for any ruler. The essence of the final composition is present in our oil sketch, brilliantly executed in a kind of bravura shorthand. Elements are conveyed in abbreviated and at times abstract forms, with details indicated by jittery, expressive brushwork, particularly notable in the rendering of drapery. The handling of the paint is rapid and thin, as befits an oil sketch, and the palette is thus more muted than in the final composition. George Knox has dated the Soissons paintings to 1702–1703, just after Pellegrini’s return from Rome. Our bozzetto would thus be of a similar date. Pellegrini later treated the subject in a large canvas now in the collection of the Casa di Risparmio in Padua, for which two preliminary drawings are known. An earlier Pellegrini drawing in Düsseldorf may illustrate a first idea for our composition (Fig. 2).

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