oil on canvas
2334 x 1638 in. (60.4 x 41.7 cm.)
Art Market, Rome.
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Lot Essay

This fine, newly discovered canvas is an important addition to Sassoferrato’s corpus. In an oeuvre dominated by sacred compositions, it is exceptionally rare to find a mythological subject such as this Hercules, a picture that sheds new light on the artist’s career and further contributes to our knowledge of his key working practices.
Sassoferrato’s great interest in the Renaissance sustained his career, as he copied and reinterpreted compositions by masters in Italy and beyond. He is known to have been inspired by Annibale Carracci and Guido Reni, and to have painted at least one Madonna after a picture by Joos van Cleve, while a version of his renowned Virgin in Prayer depends on the Madonna and Child by Albrecht Dürer in the Albertina, Vienna (see F. Russell, ‘Sassoferrato and his Sources. A Study of Seicento Allegiance’, The Burlington Magazine, CXIX, October 1977, p. 696).
It was Raphael though who arguably provided his greatest source of inspiration and after whose work some of Sassoferrato’s most celebrated devotional compositions were created. The present canvas takes its source from a figure in one of Raphael’s most renowned commissions, a crowning achievement of the Renaissance, the decoration of the Villa Farnesina, built for Agostino Chigi, in Rome. Raphael’s frescoes, executed with his team of assistants, for the loggia of the villa show the story of Psyche, as told in Apuleius’s Golden Ass.
In one of the spandrels is a representation of Venus and Jupiter, perhaps executed by Giovanni Francesco Penni after Raphael’s design, with Jupiter himself providing the inspiration for the figure shown here. Sassoferrato makes some subtle but key modifications, showing him at a younger age, with dark instead of white hair, and holding a club instead of a thunderbolt. The attribute of the club, and the more youthful appearance of the figure, indicate that this is a representation of Hercules.
Intriguingly, there is mention of a representation of Hercules in the 1788 inventory of the Veronici family, direct descendants of Sassoferrato (F. Macé de Lèpinay (ed.), Il Sassoferrato. La devota bellezza, 2017, p. 289). It is possible that this rediscovered canvas can be identified with the Hercules in the Veronici list, which raises the tantalising possibility that, as the inventory itself indicates, Sassoferrato’s output may have been broader and his range of subject matter more wide-ranging, than had been previously anticipated.

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