Giovanni Luigi Rocco (Actif 1701- 1759)
The Battle of Bitonto
Oils on canvas
74.5 x 128 cm
Inscription, lower left on the first canvas ‘Battaglia de Spagnoli e Alemanni a Bitonto’
Giovanni Luigi Rocco was active in the first half of the 18th century. His paintings are rare and several elements are missing in his biography and career. The recent appearing on the art market of a group of canvases painted by him helped to indentify Rocco as one of the most important battle painter of the beginning of the 18th century.
In the context of the war of Polish succession, king Philip V of Spain made an alliance with France in order to take possession of the South of Italy against the Austrians and to pass it to his son Charles of Bourbon. The Spanish expeditionary force sent to Italy was led by José Carillo de Albornoz, count of Montemar (1671-1747). In the pair of canvases we here present Rocco immortalizes the battle of Bitonto, near Bari, that took place on the 25th of May 1734, and which was one of the main episodes of the conquering campaign that allowed between 1734 and 1735 to control of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. For this victory, Charles of Bourbon after the famous captain-general had been titled duke of Montemar made him duke of Bitonto.
The first canvas stages the beginning of the battle of Bitonto. The Spanish army is well arranged and the violence of the battle that will follow is only announced by the clouds of dust here and there. At the centre of the composition Montemar holds a baton of command and guides the troops towards the city of Bitonto that stands at the background. The second canvas represents a different moment of the same battle, the city of Bitonto is still depicted at the background, but from another point of view. In this canvas the artist has outlined the numbers from 1 to 12, those are likely to be references of a book describing the battle.
The Museo del Ejercito in Toledo houses another version of the first canvas. Despite some variations, the main elements of the composition can easily be recognized. The presence of some pentimenti on our canvas, especially around the hill, proves that it is an original work.
The discovery of this pair of paintings is an important addition to Rocco’s catalogue. Not only they allow to better seize his style, but they also are important historical documents.