Guido Reni's Ariadne
The adventure story of one of Guido Reni's final masterpieces, the Marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne, long thought to have been destroyed in a fire in 1650 and of which a large fragment depicting Ariadne has recently been found.
A large fragment of the "Marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne" by Guido Reni (Bologna 1575 - Bologna 1642) will be presented to the press and public for the first time.
This famous composition by the Bolognese master was long believed to have been completely destroyed.
The fragment, depicting Ariadne, consists of a majestic canvas measuring two metres twenty in height and a metre and a half in width.
It is currently part of a private collection and has been restored thanks to Sir Denis Mahon and Andrea Emiliani.
The main protagonists of the picture's long and complex history are Queen Henrietta Maria of Bourbon, wife of the King of England Charles I, and Cardinal Francesco Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII.
In 1637, the French Catholic Henrietta expressed a wish to have a painting with a mythological theme for the ceiling of her bedchamber in the Queen's House in Greenwich.
It was Cardinal Barberini who acted as go-between in the work's creation: the commission took on notable importance seeing as it was at the centre of diplomatic relations between Rome and London, and formed part of the Vatican's attempt to bring the "heretic" England back into the bosom of the Catholic church.
The picture, painted by Guido Reni in Bologna between 1638 and 1640 was immediately sent to Rome in order to then reach its final destination in England, but remained stuck in Italy due to the worsening of the situation in England, then caught up in a civil war.
Queen Henrietta herself fled to France in 1644, while Charles I would be beheaded shortly afterwards.
Finally, in 1647, the canvas was sent to Henrietta in France but a year later the Queen was forced to sell it to alleviate her economic difficulties.
The work then became part of the collection of Michel Particelli d'Hémery, an art collector and minister of finance in the Kingdom of France.
According to the most trustworthy sources of the period, after his death his widow ordered that the picture be destroyed by her servants, as she was scandalised by the female nudes in it.
The precision with which the figure of Ariadne - on display as from today - was delineated leads us to believe that in reality the "destruction" of the picture was in fact a careful operation of segmentation: it is not impossible that other fragments of the original are yet to be discovered.
Visitors who come to discover Reni's Ariadne at the Capitoline Museums will be able to compare it with the other works of the Bolognese master in the Capitoline Picture Gallery, examples of Guido's so-called ultima maniera which continues to excite critical debate.
The exhibition will then travel to the National Picture Gallery in Bologna from November 9th 2002 until January 12th 2003.