Very beautiful oil on canvas representing the ruins of a Roman temple invaded by vegetation. An oblique light, which cuts the scene in two, illuminates the architectural details, such as the arcades or the pilasters which are sculpted.
The work may seem like a simple architectural caprice, but a silent face-off between two men at the bottom left tells a different story.
It is about a poorly dressed old man lying on the ground asking a young centurion of the Roman Empire for alms.
This scene illustrates the life of general Flavius Belisarius, known as Belisarius*, who after a brilliant career in Justinian's army, was deposed after having conspired against the emperor. Legend has it that he ended his life begging in the ruins, blind, in accordance with the punishment reserved for conspirators. The moment represented is when a young centurion, who was probably formerly under his command, gives him alms.
Wood and gilded stucco frame decorated with palmettes and pearls, early 19th century.
Good condition, posterior frame and lining.
French work, circa 1730-1740, attributed to Jean-Nicolas Servandoni for the architectural view, and perhaps François Lemoyne or François Boucher for the figures.
Frame ; Height : 113 cm ; Width : 90 cm
Painting ; Height : 97 cm ; Width : 74 cm
Guillaume Glorieux, Jean-Nicolas Servandoni and architectural painting in the 18th century.
Our view :
The work we present is probably one of the very first paintings of ruins done in France at the beginning of the 18th century, by Jean-Nicolas Servandoni*.
If this painter is nowadays very well known as an architect and decorator, he was at the time a great specialist of representations of ruined monuments, which he exhibited at the Salon between 1730 and 1765.
Diderot will not cease to praise the talent of the one who will also delight the most important Parisian collectors of his time, of which the cardinal of Auvergne, the count of Choiseul, the Live of Jully, or Blondel de Gagny.
The archives tell us that he entirely realized the architectural part of his paintings, while he left the realization of the figures to painters such as Lemoyne or Boucher, which is probably the case on our painting.
He is the one who will make this new taste known in France, and will be the link between his master, Giovanni Paolo Panini and his student, Pierre-Antoine Demachy.
It is interesting to note that Servandoni collaborated with Panini on projects to celebrate the birth of the dauphin, beginning in 1729. This period corresponds to the period when the Italian master painted his version of Alms to Belisarius in the Ruins, now in the Louvre (inv. MNR 304).
It is also amusing to compare our work with one of Demachy's first canvases, painted around 1755 (musée du Louvre, inv. 6409), which presents a very similar composition of a ruined temple with the same oblique light.
The decorative side of our work attracts the eye of the spectator by its intense light and the meticulousness of its architectural details, but it is indeed a philosophical message that is delivered to us.
The painter chooses the shadow and the light to symbolize the greatness and the decadence; Greatness of the Roman monuments, and decadence of its ruins; Greatness of the career of the General Belisarius, and decadence of the end of his life.
Our painting is in a way a memento mori, and even a Sic transit gloria mundi, ("Thus passes the glory of the world") which reminds us of the ephemeral nature of life, despite all the wealth and power accumulated.
Jean-Nicolas Servandoni (1695-1766)*
Born in Florence of a French father, Jean-Nicolas Servandoni had an exceptional career, as much for the variety and extent of his talents as for the diversity of the places where they were exercised. A student in Rome of Panini for painting and Rossi for architecture and decoration, he became known in Lisbon for his sets for the Italian opera. But it was in Paris, where he settled in 1724, that he achieved great success as a decorator, then as an architect and, "by the extent of his lights", deserved the unreserved admiration of J. F. Blondel. He was also in charge of designing sets for the Opera, conceiving machines and pivoting painted canvases.
In 1728, he became the first painter-decorator and director of the machines of the Royal Academy of Music and kept this function until 1742.
In 1729, Servandoni participated with Panini in the design of the decorations celebrating the birth of the Dauphin.
In 1731, he was admitted to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture as a painter of ancient ruins. The latter appears as a great representative of a rigorous classicism turned to the antique.
General Belisarius (500-565)*
Justinian I made him the first general of the Empire. He defeated the Persians in 530, during the sedition in 532, and saved Justinian's throne. He reconquered Africa from the Vandals (533) and occupied Sicily (535), Naples and Rome, but under king Vitiges, the Ostrogoths besieged him in Rome, which he defended heroically for a year (537-538).
Rome delivered, Belisarius seized Ravenna. His successes aroused the jealousy of the court and then of the emperor, who recalled him ; in 541 and 542, Belisarius stopped the Persians of king Khosrô Ier who tried to occupy Asia Minor, but, without sufficient forces, he failed in 544 in the defense of Rome against the Ostrogoths of Totila.
Discouraged, he asked for his recall and commanded the imperial guard in Constantinople. By a last exploit, he saved Constantinople from the attack of the Huns in 559. But he was, in 562, implicated in a conspiracy and disgraced for some time. The legend of the blind and beggar Belisarius has no historical reality.
Price : on request