Alpheus and Arethusa
According to Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the beautiful nymph Arethusa was surprised and pursued by the river god Alpheus when she bathed in a limpid stream. Diana had pity on her and hid her in a cloud, but succumbing to Alpheus’ persistence, she finally transformed Arethusa into an underground spring which emerged at Ortygia, the little island in the historical center of the city of Syracuse in Sicily.
Born in Rome, Chiari was one of Carlo Maratta’s main students and entered the studio in 1666 at the age of twelve years old. Chiari was trained in classicist circles and became one of the principal representatives of the Roman Academy. He soon was considered Maratta’s official successor and thanks to his patronage, received many important commissions.
Chiari’s figural repertory embodied the official classicist cultural ideals of Rome at the turn of the 17th and 18th centries, and fuses various stylistic characteristics inherited from Guido Reni, Carlo Maratta, Pietro da Cortona, the Carracci, and Correggio. Fully established since 1685 and admitted to the Academy of Saint Luke in 1697, he renewed his master’s manner by softening the official grandiloquence in his painting through more intimate tints, especially in small scale works, and thus marked the transition in taste from the late baroque to the burgeoning rococo.
In 1686, he realized his first public commission for frescoes of the Birth of the Virgin and the Adoration of the Magi for the Marchionni chapel at Santa Maria del Suffragio. In the course of the following years, the artist received commissions from many great Roman patrons of the time, including the Barberini and Colonna families, as well as Pope Clement XI, for whom he executed a Saint Clement in Glory for the eponymous church. Being Maratta’s heir, Chiari’s succes was not limited to his native city. His work was particularly popular with many big English collectors of his period, including Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, known as the “Architect Earl,” and John, 5th Earl of Exeter, who acquired no less than four works by the artist for his collection at Burghley House. Chiari was the Director of the Academy of Saint Luke between 1723 and 1725, and counted the English architect William Kent among his students.
Our painting of Alpheus and Arethusa is unpublished, an addition to Giuseppe CHIARI’s oeuvre, which can be understood as evidence of his collaboration with the master Carlo Maratta. Chiari often employs this type of oval format. The composition was not unknown to him either as Maratta depicted it in his work in about 1655-1670. Several paintings on this theme are due to Maratta and thus, Chiari probably saw them being painted or collaborated on them in the 1670s, the period when Maratta emerged as one of the most promising painters in Rome.
The work is of particular interest in that it seems to be the first in the elaboration of a new composition. Four important pentimenti show up in infrared photographs: a first which follows the entire length of Arethusa’s right leg and ends at the extremity of her foot; the second along the full length of her left leg; a third along the calf and all the way to the tip of Alpheus’ foot and left leg; and a fourth on Alpheus’ right foot. A final more discreet one is also visible on the contour of Diana’s face.
Chiari seems to have been present in Maratta’s studio already in the 1670s. Comparison between our work and Maratta’s picture depicting "Alpheus and Arethusa" (Sale, London, Christie’s, December 4th, 2013, lot 171) is interesting in that several pentimenti are also noticeable; Note another version by Maratta, "Alpheus and Arethusa" (Sale, New York, Christie’s, January 20th, 2000, lot 35). Our picture certainly comes from the last decades before Maratta’s disappearance, that is between 1680 and 1713, the period when Chiari was one of the master’s close collaborators. Stylistically, we would say that our "Alpheus and Arethusa" fits in the period 1670-1690. A drawing by Maratta close than our painting is kept in Paris in a private collection, which is reported us, but without we could obtain the photograph.
Several paintings by Chiari conserved in North American museums or sold by auction houses can be cited in relation to our picture:
- 1) Giuseppe Bartolomeo CHIARI, Susannah and the Elders, c. 1700-1727, oil on canvas, 67.3 x 81.6 cm. (26 1/2 x 32 1/8 in.) Baltimore, Walters Art Museum
- 2) Giuseppe Bartolomeo CHIARI, The Triumph of Galatea, oil on canvas, 67 x 81 cm. (23 x 27½ in.), London, Christie’s, July 7th, 2010, lot 230
- 3) Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari (Lucca or Rome 1654–1727 Rome) Bathsheba in the bath, ca. 1700, Oil on canvas, 135.9 x 97.8 cm
(53 1/2 x 38 1/2 in.), New York, Metropolitan