MICHELANGELO MAESTRI (fl.1802-1812)
THREE DESIGNS INSPIRED BY THE HERCULAENEAUM & POMPEIIAN FRIEZES
Gouache and watercolour
Each 41 x 31 cm
Collection of Sir Jack & Lady Baer, Kensington
Michelangelo Maestri was renowned in his day for his distinctive chiaroscuresque gouache paintings based on the (then only recently discovered) frescos in the archaeological excavations at Pompeii. Besides the classical, the artist also drew inspiration from the frescos of Giulio Romano and Raphael in Rome.
Numerous versions of all three of the present subjects are known, some executed by Maestri and others by studio hands, as Maestri repeated his subjects regularly, usually with slight variations between each. The first of these pictures (from the left) shows Ceres, the Goddess of Fertility, holding a basket of produce above her head, while a monkey clutches an olive branch beneath, with the caduceus - the staff of Hermes the messenger God - to his right. This painting’s composition is taken from the series of Seasons, based on the frescoes in the triclinium of the Villa of Cicero in Pompeii, which were discovered on 25th May 1748 (and which are now in the Archaeological Museum of Naples, inv. 9295).
The second of the trio shows two pipers and a female figure, possibly a Dionysian procession, or perhaps a celebration of a Roman deity. The original has not been traced, though it does not appear to relate to any of the works by Raphael or Giulio Romano, and is instead likely based on a fresco in Pompeii. The animals to the lower quadrant of this work include a swan and a gryphon – symbolically unrelated, and likely intended merely as fantastical decorative devices.
The final subject is from Maestri’s own series of The Hours of the Day & Night, one of his most popular sets of works. It depicts a bacchante wearing a hooded shawl and holding a box in her left hand – adapted from a Herculaneum frieze, and once thought to have been based on a lost Raphael. Beneath the Bacchante are two snow leopards, with one tugging at a garland of grapes.