Domenico Piola (1627 Gènes - 1703 Gènes)
Pen and brown ink on paper, brown wash on black chalk sketch ; 28.5 x 42 cm
Alliance des Arts (Lugt collection mark 61 at the lower left) ; Charles Molinier (Lugt collection mark 2917 at the lower left).
This relatively large drawing, of an extraordinary vigor, sculptural (the river god) and fluid (the vegetation), is typical of Domenico Piola, who (with his son-in-law Gregorio de Ferrari) dominated the Genoese painting in the second half of the 17th century ; it is also typical of Baroque art by privileging the overall effect, the movement, the contrast.
At first it surprises, then we understand it : it is not, as it was described until then, a simple allegory of a river, but a representation of the origins of Rome. Amulius, the usurper king, gives the order to drown the twins Romulus and Remus in the river, but they survive on its banks. A she-wolf found them, under a fig tree, and nursed them. A woodpecker, according to Plutarch (Livy does not mention it), also watches over them. The artist takes the liberty of transforming it into a goose, foreshadowing the role that this animal will play in the history of Rome by saving the Capitol from an assault by the Gauls.
The scene depicts the moment when the shepherd Faustulus discovers the twins. One of them is still nursing. The other, by a marvelous invention of the artist which turns him into a sort of an embodiment of the spectator, raises his arm to protect himself from the sun and the wind, as well as from the movement that animates the scene and the contrast of light and shadow that structures it. Comparing it to a Bacchanal of Putti in the Accademia ligustica di Belle Arti, in Genoa, this drawing can be dated to circa 1680. There are at least two drawings of the same subject by Piola or in his family workshop, of the same format, but treated differently, and in a less generous style : one in the British Museum, the other in the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart.
Among the previous owners of this drawing, detectable by their collection stamps, we find a prototype, in a way, of the Le Polyptyque collection : the Alliance des Arts, "composed of bibliographers, artists and capitalists (...) whose aim was to improve and facilitate commercial and other transactions, mainly concerning books and paintings (...) by surrounding the sale with moral and artistic guarantees" (Frits Lugt, Marks of collections of drawings and prints, online). Created in 1842, it was headed by Théophile Thoré, the "rediscoverer" of Vermeer. Then, there was Charles Molinier, professor of art history in Toulouse and a great collector, particularly of drawings from the Italian school of the 16th to 18th centuries, who was active from 1875 to 1910.