In their sixth annual exhibition of Italian Old Masters at the New York gallery, Moretti Fine Art will unveil two rediscovered Venetian masterpieces at 24 East 80th Street from 7 May to 7 June 2013: a life-size marble Endymion by Antonio Corradini and The Victory of David over Goliath, a major painting by Sebastiano Ricci. In a bold statement, reflecting the significance of these works, each will be displayed alone in a gallery – with no other works to distract visitors – and each will have its own publication.
Few artists have enjoyed such acclaim in their lifetime as Antonio Corradini (1668-1752), whose best-loved works are veiled figures, a conceit that he invented. Born eight years after the death of the supreme artist of the Italian Baroque, Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), he was one of the few Venetian sculptors to gain recognition throughout Europe. His beguiling marbles were found in all the major courts from Rome and Naples to Vienna, Prague and Dresden, where he worked for Augustus the Strong, and in St Petersburg, where his statues decorated the gardens of Peter the Great. Endymion, circa 1725, is a hitherto unknown masterpiece and one of Corradini’s most refined and important works, and may have been made for the Tsar’s Summer Garden. Count Raguzinsky, who lived in Venice and conducted trade deals for Peter the Great, praised Corradini’s ‘most astonishing craftsmanship’ and called him ‘the glorious sculptor’.
In Italy in the 1720s, the myth of Endymion was very much in fashion. In 1721 the young poet Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782) had composed a serenata dedicated to the young hero, a text later set to music many times by Johann Christian Bach, and others. In classical mythology Selene, the goddess of the Moon, was in love with the mortal Endymion. She asked Zeus to put him into an eternal slumber, a sleep charged with eroticism.
The discovery of this Endymion is highly important historically, and also in terms of art history. Its existence is attested to by Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), the great philosopher and one of the most learned and sensitive connoisseurs of his day. An entry in his travel notes on a visit to Venice in 1728 reads ‘There is a sculptor now, in Venice, named Corradino, a Venetian who made an Adonis, which is one of the most beautiful works that you could see: you would swear that the marble is made of flesh; one of his arms falls carelessly, as if supported by nothing’. Research indicates that Montesquieu was probably referring to this sculpture. Firstly, his description corresponds exactly, referring to the naturalistic softness which characterises its glossy, polished marble and the carelessly fallen arm – the first thing that the viewer notices. Secondly, it is easy to confuse Endymion and Adonis as the iconography of the two youths is virtually identical: both are hunters and therefore depicted with a bow and arrow and a dog in a natural setting. Thirdly, there is no known figure of Adonis by Antonio Corradini.
If the Endymion commissioned by Peter the Great remained in the artist’s studio in Venice, where in all probability it was seen by Montesquieu in 1728, it may be that the death of the Tsar in 1725 explains why the work was never sent to Russia. While only a hypothesis, it is supported by a series of clues and coincidences. For example, Antonio Canova (1757-1822), the supreme neoclassical sculptor, must have been familiar with the work as it undoubtedly influenced his Sleeping Endymion, executed between 1819 and 1822 for William Cavendish, sixth Duke of Devonshire. Corradini’s Endymion, both seductive and transcendent, thus joins together two great stages in the history of European art, forming a bridge between Bernini and Canova. Despite its fame and influence, its whereabouts were unknown until this recent discovery.
The Victory of David over Goliath is a rediscovered masterpiece by Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734), a leading decorative painter of the late Baroque school in Venice. This well-known Bible story is used here to symbolise the victory of the ideal over the real, of life over death. In this previously unpublished work, the finely chiselled sword is placed diagonally to draw the viewer’s gaze and shines in all its splendour, emphasising the grandeur of the object that proved useless in the face of the intelligence, cunning, courage and faith of the young shepherd of Bethlehem.
Born in the Veneto, Ricci went to Venice at the age of fifteen but hastily left in 1681, having impregnated two women and tried to poison a fellow artist. He then led a peripatetic life, working in numerous Italian cities as well as Flanders, France, and Germany. At the end of 1711 he moved to London. While little of his decorative work there survives, except the Resurrection in the apse of the chapel at the Royal Hospital (Chelsea) and some large canvases on the staircase at Burlington House (now home to the Royal Academy), he is well represented in the Royal Collection. He returned to settle permanently in Venice in 1717.
These two newly-discovered masterpieces are accompanied by separate scholarly publications: the essays for the Corradini catalogue are written by the art historian Tomaso Montanari and Sergey Androsov, the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg; whilst the Ricci catalogue is by Francesca Baldassari, an independent scholar and author in Florence. The Endymion exhibition is the third in a series of collaborations with Andrew Butterfield Fine Arts, following the highly successful Body and Soul and Agnesius exhibitions, and is the latest in a series of major rediscoveries they have presented.
Fabrizio Moretti opened his gallery in Florence in 1999 with the inaugural exhibition From Bernardo Daddi to Giorgio Vasari and soon established a respected reputation in the field of Italian Old Masters. The gallery works closely with the most notable scholars and public institutions and is known for its dedication to research and for handling works of the highest quality as well as for making this particular area more accessible to private collectors. In 2005 Moretti opened his first gallery space in London and in 2007 he opened a gallery in New York just steps away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This Upper East Side gallery offers a glorious space in which to present the finest of Italian Old Masters. In December 2011, Moretti Fine Art moved its London headquarters to 2a Ryder Street in St James’s, SW1. Moretti Fine Art takes part in the annual Master Paintings Week in London as well as being a regular exhibitor at the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris and the Biennale Internazionale dell’Antiquariato di Firenze. Fabrizio Moretti chairs TEFAF’s Young Dealers Committee, established in July 2012, which aims to encourage and reach out to the next generation of collectors, curators, dealers and enthusiasts. In October 2012, the gallery exhibited at the first Frieze Masters, for which Fabrizio Moretti is a member of the Selection Committee.