Giovanni Fontana (Genoa 1795 – 1845 Genoa)
Tarquin and Lucretia (recto); Studies of Seated Figures (verso)
Brown wash, heightened with white, over black chalk, 177 x 245 mm (7 x 9.6 inch)
- Originally part of an album of drawings, signed ‘Fontana Giov’ on the inside cover and dated 1837
- Private collection, The Netherlands
Giovanni Fontana was born in Genoa in 1795 and was taught by Carlo Baratta at the Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti in Genoa, where he later became a professor himself.1 His studies were concluded in Rome. Fontana worked in the Neoclassical taste, and decorated several churches in his native Genoa with religious compositions. He was also known for his theatre decorations, such as the decors for the Carlo Felice theatre, representing the Panathena Games and Selenus,2 and for the Modena theatre. He painted a Roman Charity and Patriarch Joseph for King Charles Albert of Sardinia, a fresco in the church of San Martino in Sampierdarena, and two works for the church in Lavagna. He died prematurely at the height of his career in 1845.
Apart from these decorations, independent works either on paper or in oils by Fontana are rare. The present confident and painterly sheet comes from an album of sketches and drawings by the artist, signed and dated 1837.3 The album included architectural drawings, studies after Antique sculpture, landscape views, anatomical studies and drawings after frescos, including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
The story from early Roman history of the rape of Lucretia by Sextus Tarquinius and her subsequent suicide was a popular subject in art of the Renaissance and beyond. Tarquin raped Lucretia after threatening to kill her if she rejected his advances; this is the moment shown here. The next day she exposed him and committed suicide, prompting the Romans to revolt and overthrow Tarquin’s father, Tarquin the Proud, the last King of Rome, and establish the Roman Republic, traditionally dated to the year 509 BC.
1. For the artist, see G. Bolaffi (ed.), Dizionario Enciclopedico dei Pittore e degli Incisori Italiani dall’XI al XX secolo, Turin 1972, vol. V, p. 35 and Saur Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon: die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker, Munich 1992- , vol. 42 (2004), p. 156.
2. Karyl Charna Lynn, Italian Opera Houses and Festivals, Lanham/Toronto/Oxford 2005, p. 28.
3. The album has been dismantled and sheets from it occasionally appear on the art market.