A Satyr surprising a sleeping Nymph
(Francesco Fontebasso)


This previously unrecorded painting is characteristic of Fontebasso’s mature work in its rich brushwork, vivid colour and combination of the influences of Sebastiano Ricci and Giambattista Tiepolo. The artist’s monumentality of composition, firmness of modelling and bravura execution are all clearly demonstrated, despite the small size of the canvas. Such subjects provided the artists of Settecento Venice with opportunities to indulge in a light-hearted sensuality which recalls contemporary work in France. Fontebasso may well have known his master Ricci’s Venus and a Satyr, recorded in the latter’s house at the time of his death and now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.[1] The small-scale figures are more reminiscent, however, of paintings by Tiepolo such as the similarly frivolous (and equally small) Danaë and Jupiter of 1736 in the collection of Stockholm University.[2]

The present picture is closely related in subject to the artist’s own Jupiter and Antiope (see Fig. 1) in the Museum of Arts, Budapest; that was executed as an overdoor as part of a decorative cycle of canvases for the Palazzo Bernardi, Venice, datable between 1743 and 1750.[3] A more precise dating around the middle of that decade is suggested, as Dottoressa Marina Magrini has kindly pointed out,[4 by its far closer relationship with Fontebasso’s etching Nine Figures near a Herm of Pan[5] and preparatory drawing for it.[6] The print forms part of the artist’s greatest achievement in the medium, the series of eight strongly Tiepolesque plates published in 1744 as Vani Baccanali et istorie … . The nymph in the painting is strikingly similar to that in the etching, in which she similarly rests her head on her upraised right arm and a piece of drapery extends from her right elbow to between her legs; the only significant differences are in the angle at which she is shown and in the inclusion of her left arm in the print.


[1] J. Daniels, Sebastiano Ricci, Hove, 1976, pp. 21-2, no. 69, fig. 69, where described as ‘one of Ricci’s most voluptuous pictures’.

[2] M. Gemin and F. Pedrocco, Giambattista Tiepolo, I dipinti. Opera Completa, Venice, 1993, p. 313, no. 209, and p. 91, colour pl. 47.

[3] M. Magrini, Francesco Fontebasso, Vicenza, 1988, pp. 127-9, no. 26, fig. 63.

[4] Letter of 30 August 1998.

[5] De Vesme 4.

[6] Sold at Christie’s, London, 9 December 1982, lot 131; M. Magrini, ‘Francesco Fontebasso: I disegni’, Saggi e Memorie di Storia dell’Arte, XXVII, 1990, no. 40, figs. 84-84a.

14 1/8 x 22 3/8in. 36 x 57cm.
Oil on canvas
Where is It?
Acquired by a Collector
Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Italian - Venetian
1999-Collectanea 1700-1800.
Hard back catalogue of the Exhibition held in London and New York, 220 pages fully illustrated with 46 colour plates. £30 or $40 inc. p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
Sold or not available