(c.1685-86 - 1758)
Jason and Medea charming the Sleepless Dragon of the Golden Fleece
Oil on canvas 32 x 39 ins (81.3 x 99.1 cm)
This series of paintings was previously attributed to Claudio Francesco Beaumont (1694-1766) and has recently been recognized as the work of his contemporary Giovanni Battista Crosato. This attribution has been independently confirmed on the basis of photographs by Professor Ugo Ruggeri and Professor Sergio Marinelli. This attribution is additionally supported by the fact that the Rape of Europa in the present series relates closely to a variant of the subject by Crosato in the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford (see R. Palluchini La Pittura nel Veneto – Il Settecento, I, Milan, 1995, p. 137, fig. 199 and Jean K. Cadogan, Wadsworth Atheneum Paintings II Italy and Spain Fourteenth through Nineteenth Centuries, Hartford, 1991, p. 131), and both refer to a third treatment by Crosato, on panel, painted for the winter apartment in the Palazzo Reale in Turin (and now housed in the Civic Museum in the Palazzo Madama, Turin). The latter version of the Rape of Europa was one of twenty mythological ‘zoccoli’ that Crosato produced for the Palazzo Reale in c.1733. The series is discussed and partially illustrated in Nancy Susan Harrison’s 1983 PhD thesis The Paintings of Giovanni Battista Crosato. The ‘zoccoli’ also included scenes entitled Diana, Meleager and the Wild Boar and Medea, Jason and the Dragon. The former of these is illustrated in Harrison’s thesis and bears a striking resemblance to the depiction of Meleager presenting the head of the Calydonian Boar to Atalanta in the present series of mythological paintings. Sadly the version of Medea, Jason and the Dragon that Crosato produced for the Palazzo Reale is not illustrated within Harrison’s thesis and no correlating scene for Bacchus crowning Ariadne with a diadem of stars is listed as being extant within the Palazzo Reale ‘zoccoli’. However, the compositional similarities between the Europa and Meleager scenes, together with the existence of similarly entitled Medea scenes, suggests that the present series of mythological paintings must be related to the Palazzo Reale ‘zoccoli’. Andreina Griseri has suggested a date of about 1733 for the Turin ‘zoccoli’ and the Atheneum’s sketch of Europa and the Bull and it would thus seem likely that our paintings date from this period as well.
The four mythological subjects depicted in the present series of paintings are united by their romantic subtexts and Ovidian interest in magical quests and transformations.
In the myth of the Rape of Europa, Zeus becomes enamoured with Europa and decides to seduce her in the guise of a white bull, which Europa and her companions encounter whilst gathering flowers. Europa is captivated by the bull, caresses him and eventually climbs onto his back. Zeus seizes this opportunity and runs into the sea with Europa and swims to Crete. After arriving in Crete, Zeus reveals his true identity and crowns Europa queen of the island, later recreating the shape of the white bull in the night-sky, forming what is now known as the constellation of Taurus. Crosato’s painting depicts the moment in the narrative when Europa climbs onto the bull, just prior to her abduction.
In the myth of the Calydonian Boar, Artemis sends a boar to ravage the region of Calydon in Aetolia because its king, Oeneus, failed to properly honour her. Oeneus’ son Meleager organizes a hunt in an attempt to rid the land of the boar. Many notable male heroes attend the hunt, together with the female huntress Atalanta (whom Meleager loves). She is the first to wound the boar, though Meleager subsequently kills it. However, Meleager decides to award Atalanta the hunt prize of the boar’s hide as she was the first to draw blood and this is the moment in the narrative that Crosato chose to depict.
In the myth of Bacchus and Ariadne, Ariadne is discovered on the island of Naxos by Bacchus, after having been deserted by her lover Theseus, whom she had helped to destroy the Minotaur. Bacchus marries Ariadne and later takes her bridal diadem and throws it up into the sky, where its jewels become stars and form the constellation of Corona Borealis, granting Ariadne a form of immortality. Crosato depicts the moment in the narrative when Bacchus presents his bride with her starry diadem.
In the myth of Jason and the Quest of the Golden Fleece, King Pelias promises to restore Jason’s rightful kingdom of Iolkos to him if he is able to retrieve the Golden Fleece from a sacred grove in Colchis, where it had been placed by King Aeetes. King Aeetes promises to give the fleece to Jason if he is able to successfully complete three tasks. Jason is assisted with these tasks by Aeestes’ daughter, the enchantress Medea. Jason’s third and final challenge is to overcome the sleepless dragon that guards the fleece. Jason pours a potion prepared by Medea onto the dragon, making it fall asleep, and uses the opportunity to take the fleece and sail away with Medea, whom he later marries. Crosato depicts the moment in the narrative when Jason subdues the dragon with Medea’s assistance.
Crosato’s early work, such as the Flagellation of Christ created for the Scuola del Cristo of S Marcuola, is dark and moody and reveals his debt to seventeenth-century tenebrist artistic trends. However, Crosato belonged to a generation of Venetian painters, including Jacopo Amigoni, Sebastiano Ricci and Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, who were developing a lighter, more colourful and painterly Rococo style. Crosato travelled to Turin in the early 1730s and began a series of frescoes for the hunting palace in Stupinigi, the hunting palace of the Duke of Savoy, in 1733. These frescoes established his reputation and earned him a number of further commissions in Turin, including fresco cycles in the Villa Regina and Palazzo Reale. Crosato returned to Venice in 1736 and was admitted to the Fraglia, the painters’ guild in Venice. He received a number of commissions to decorate Venetian churches and civic buildings including La Consolata and San Marco e Leonardo. Crosato returned to Turin in 1740 and worked on various Turinese commissions between 1740 and 1742. He subsequently returned to Venice and, with the possible exception of a trip to Turin between 1749 and 1750, remained in Venice until his death. He executed numerous commissions in Venice, including ceiling frescoes for the Villa Marcello in Levada depicting Olympic deities, a fresco of the Triumph of Juno for the Palazzo da Mosto and a fresco of the Chariot of Apollo for the ballroom at Ca’ Rezzonico (the reattribution of this work to Crosato, which had for years been erroneously attributed to Jacopo Guarana, has greatly improved Crosato’s artistic reputation). These late Venetian commissions attest to the prevailing contemporary taste for mythological subjects, such as those depicted in the present series. In 1755 Crosato was invited to become a member of the Venetian Academy of Painters and Sculptors and continued to attend its meetings until 1758 when he became fatally ill. In addition to fresco painting, Crosato also created sets for the Royal Theatre in Turin and S. Giovanni Crisostome in Venice and also designed engravings for Pietro Monaco and others. Through his travels, Crosato helped to spread the Venetian rococo style. For example, Bernardino Galiari emulated Crosato’s style in his own set designs for the Royal Theatre, Turin and in his villa decorations in Lombardy.
In a c.1735 Venetian carved and gilded reproduction frame. With rocaille sight moulding, shaped panels between scrolling acanthus leaf and flower corner ornaments on a punched gold ground and a gadroon back moulding.