Francesco Solimena: The Master of Neapolitan Baroque Painting
Brilliantly synthesizing the elements of exuberant Baroque style of Luca Giordano and the classical tendencies of Roman decorator Pietro da Cortona, and incorporating the dramatic lighting and tenebrism of earlier Naples based painters, the Italian Baroque era painter, Francesco Solimena, is acclaimed as one of the most successful Old Masters of the Neapolitan School of Painting during the first half of the 18th century.
One of the most influential artists in Europe, Solimena was born on September 4, 1657, in Canale di Serino, near Naples. Initially Solimena learned about painting in the provincial workshop of his father Angelo Solimena, where he absorbed the naturalism of the Neapolitan tradition- begun by Caravaggio, and was strongly influenced by Francesco Guarino.
Arriving in Naples in 1674, Solimena first joined the workshop of Francesco di Maria and then Giacomo del Po, and was greatly inspired by the oil paintings of Giovanni Lanfranco and Mattia Preti. In 1675-77, he worked with his father on the fresco of “Paradise” in the cupola of the Chapel of the Rosary in Nocera Cathedral. During this period, he met influential Pietro Francesco Orsini- later Cardinal and ultimately Pope Benedict XIII- who encouraged him to became a full-time painter.
Solimena reached his maturity in the frescoes of 1680 in S. Giorgio, Salerno, with “Stories of the Saints Tecla” and “Archelas and Susanna”. Solimena's solid forms and firm constructions offer an alternative to the animated compositions and the dissolving light and tones of Giordano. He also adopts some compositional devices from Cortona. The lost picture from Montecassino and the frescoes for S. Giorgio ai Mannesi were in this style.
During the 1680s, Solimena found his own style of Baroque painting and developed a delicate academic formula which perfectly matched the courtly taste in lofty classicism. The brownish shadows that are such an identifiable element of his style are indebted to Giovanni Lanfranco and Mattai Preti. Flickering patterning of light and shade, clarity of line, and theatricality are characteristics of Solimena's art. Despite a first impression of a Baroque compositional free-for-all, with people in all manners of activities and poses, his figure style was very conventional. His figures often derived from classicising masters of the past such as Annibale Carracci, Domenichino, and Raphael.
Despite working his whole life in Naples, Solimena became one of the great international artists, sought after by several European courts. He acquired great wealth, lived in a palace, became a baron, and was in constant demand by royal patrons, including Prince Eugene of Savoy and Louis XIV of France. Solimena established his own academy, which became the center of Neapolitan artistic life, and trained innumerable young painters, including Sabastiano Conca.
Dominating the artistic life of Naples after a long and extremely productive career, Francesco Solimena died at Barra, near Naples, on May 3, 1747.