An Allegory of the Arts: The Spanish Monarchy dispensing the gift of painting, witnessed by the Arts and History
(Corrado Giaquinto)


The Neapolitan artist Corrado Giaquinto had the greatest impact of any foreign artist working in Spain in the eighteenth century. He had left Italy for Madrid in 1753, traveling via Zaragoza where his pupil, Gonzalez Velazquez, who hd studied under him while in Rome was working in the basilica of El Pilar. During his short stay there he had an enormous influence on the local painters, particularly Francisco and Ramon Bayeu and the young Goya. He had been summoned to Madrid to paint fresco ceilings for the Royal Palace in Madrid, as there was no Spanish painter capable of carrying out commissions of such importantance at the time, completing three major works in the chapel, above the main staircase and in the Salon de Columnas. He was given the title of First Painter of the King and Director of the Royal Academy of San Fernando in 1753, and his preemininece in Madrid may be compared to that of Charles le Brun at the court of Louis XIV at Versailles.

This important work is a modello for a fresco in the Palaçio Real depicting an Allegory of the Spanish Monarchy dispensing gifts, wherein Ferdinand VI is depicted as Apollo the Sun God either remunerating the Arts or bestowing the gifts of the Arts to his country.  The work probably dates to around or just after 1753, and was painted around the same time as a similar modello depicting an Allegory of Peace and Justice,  now in the Indianapolis Museum of Art (see Matthiesen and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, Paintings, London and New York 1996, no. 9, pp. 38-40. The frescoes were begun shortly after the artist assumed his duties as First Painter to the King were part of a grand redecoration sceme for the New Royal Palace. Encapsulated in these elegant complex compositions, are the most salient themes of Ferdinand VI’s monarchy whose reign as a just and peaceful king presiding over a prosperous realm fostered a ‘renaissance’ of the arts. This idea of Ferdinand as the architect of prosperity within his kingdom was emphasised throughout the complex iconographical program for the New Royal Palace, which was written in 1748 by Father Martin Sarmiento. In this erudite treatise, the theme is reinforced by linking Ferdinand VI both in 1713 to the Peace of Utrecht, and by the symbolic identification of Philip V and Ferdinand VI with King David and his son Solomon.

Though highly traditional, Sarmiento’s use of the biblical story of Old Testament kings was consciously adjusted to the specific propagandist necessities of the Bourbons, who promoted the New Royal Palace as the symbol of the ‘New Spain’ that they had resurrected from the bankrupt nation inherited from the Habsburgs. Like Solomon, Ferdinand VI has also reigned over a peaceful kingdom that had been secured by the bloody military campaigns carried out by his father. With the peace came prosperity and the building of the Royal Palace which, like Solomon’s temple, was meant to stand as a monument to the stable nation established by the king’s father. This specific iconographical allusion was the key to Bourbon propaganda for it threw the painful War of Succession, where they had lost half the empire, into a more flattering light. This could only be done in favor of its positive aftermath when the Spain of Ferdinand VI enjoyed a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. The essence of this complex Bourbon apologia, where peace, prosperity, and the arts rise from ashes of war is eloquently expressed in Giaquinto’s oil sketch.

No obvious myth or allegory emerges for this canvas, but the figures are somewhat identifiable. Seated by a stone block at the lower left-hand corner of the painting, a female figure holds a mallet and chisel. In the distance behind her is a carved statue. This woman, her attributes identifying her as Sculpture, looks towards another figure that is also draped in billowing fabric. The latter holds in her hand what looks to be an instrument of measurement, perhaps a symbol of architecture as there is a pyramid and circular classical temple visible behind her. She is in shadow, but to her right, brightly illuminated, stands another graceful female figure. What looks to be a mask hangs from her neck and a putto, standing beneath her outstretched hand, holds a painter’s palette, suggesting that she represents Painting. Elizabeth McGrath has kindly added that Cesare Ripa, in his Iconologia, describes Pittura with a mask. It signifies imitatio, and hangs from a chain around her neck. Behind Painting is a figure clutching a scroll, who could embody Disegno. These four female figures would then correspond to the craft Arts.

The figure of Painting holds out a hand to receive a chain from a palely painted figure of a luminous young man. He stands on a cloud, wrapped in eye-catching red drapery, with a quiver of arrows slung across his back and is clearly the focus of the composition. An eagle, with out-stretched wings, and a young woman holding a charger piled with gold ornaments accompanies the boy. He hands the figure of Painting a chain, while reaching for another from the proffered dish. Both the eagle and young woman look to the pair of putti below her. This pair must surely represent Eros and his twin Anteros, in Greek mythology the duel aspects of love – sacred and profane. A winged female figure, at bottom right, looks towards the dawning sun, while she writes in a great tome, another volume at her feet. A delicate foot projects beneath her robe onto a stone plinth, like those of the figures of Sculpture and Painting. A winged figure writing but also holding a lyre usually connotes Poetry; however, since the figures lacks a musical instrument, she must here allude to History. History is often winged to indicate its inextricability from Time.


The two figures upon the cloud prove the most puzzling. The eagle is particularly associated with two mythological characters – a Trojan prince, Ganymede, and the Goddess Hebe. According to the ancients, Zeus, in the form of an eagle, abducted Ganymede, a young and strikingly beautiful Trojan prince, in the only instance where the god fell in love with a young man. The figure of Ganymede was later used to represent the soul and his abduction from earth to the heavens, its transcendence. The eagle could likewise indicate that the figure is Hebe, the immortal daughter of Hera and Zeus, who here bears the gold charger. She was cupbearer to the Gods until Ganymede replaced her; allegorically she personifies Youth and Beauty. As such, Hebe could be the companion of Apollo, the god most usually associated with the Arts, Poetry and intellectual inquiry. Apollo was also a god of light, responsible for the ‘illumination’ of the mind, known as ‘Phoebus’ and identified with Helios, the sun. Indeed, Giaquinto’s figure appears to radiate the very meaning of ‘Phoebus’, the one who leads the sun through the clouds, the realm of the divine, to shine upon the mortal earth, where it illuminates the soul of mankind. The group of figures seated below, gazing up at him, include the personification of History (or possibly Poetry, being placed so near Eros and Anteros) who records the products of this divine inspiration.

As is so often the case in autograph works by Giaquinto, the work reflects the authoritative high baroque models of Luca Giordano and Pietro da Cortona, with the creamy consistency of the paint, loose brushstrokes and the masterfully poised composition which unites all the component elements into one sweeping and elegant ensemble. While maintaining all the gravitas of the Italian Grand style, these elements have been delicately transformed by Giaquinto’s coloristic refinement and deft brushwork. The artist’s absolute mastery of subtle color combination is displayed throughout in his use of honeyed gold, pistachio green and strawberry pink, hues which are brilliantly juxtaposed with the warm melon tone of the billowing clouds.

16 1/8 x 27 3/8 inches. 40.9 x 69.7 cm.
Oil on canvas

Private Collection, Spain.


The Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty Matthiesen, European Paintings-Baroque, Rococo, Romanticism, Realism,Futurism. Spring 2001, exhibition catalogue, pp.64-68, colour (the subject matter is incorrectly identified).




Zaragoza, Museo de Zaragoza, Goya and Italy, 1 June – 15 September 2008, p. 154, cat. no. 220, colour illus.

Where is It?
Matthiesen Gallery
Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Italian - Neapolitan
2001-European Paintings-From 1600-1917.
Baroque, Rococo, Romanticism, Realism, Futurism.

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