Pozzuoli 1731 — 1804 Naples


oil on canvas, mounted on board. 291/2 x 191/4" (75 x 48.5 cm).

private collection, New England, prior to July 8, 1998;
Sale, Studio Paintings (sale# 1858), Skinner Inc., Bolton, MA, July 16, 1998, lot# 265A, as attributed to Corrado Giaquinto;
private collection, New York City.

Born in Pozzuoli in 1731, Giacinto Diano was active in the workshop of the Neapolitan painter Francesco de Mura (1696-1782) by 1752. The blond palette of Diano's pictures, with passages of brilliant local color - pinks, powdery blues, and soft yellows - owe much to de Mura. After a trip to Rome ca. 1760 where he admired the paintings of Pompeo Batoni and met the architect Luigi Vanvitelli, Diano introduced elements of Roman classicism into his works, thereby gaining spatial clarity, grandeur, and a relatively smooth paint surface. He returned to Naples and remained active in the city and its environs, producing oil paintings and frescoes for major churches and palaces. Diano became a professore in the Accademia del Disegno in 1773. He died in 1804, one year before the decline of the House of the Bourbons and at the end of a period known as Naples' Golden Age.

This recently discovered Annunciation had formerly been attributed to Corrado Giaquinto (1690-1765). However, the removal of discolored varnish revealed a degree of finish that is characteristic instead of Diano's mature style, ca. 1760. A bozzetto related to the present painting and correctly attributed to Diano, was recently on the art market. Measuring 60 x 41.3 cm, it is not significantly smaller than the present work but it is considerably less evolved in composition. It was most likely preparatory for still another painting, site-specific, as the arched contours indicate.

In cases where one or more bozzetti for pictures by Diano are known, the artist often made significant compositional changes in the final work. Here the pose of the Virgin, the archangel, and God the Father are notably different from their counterparts in the bozzetto and there are many more angels and seriphs than appear in the oil sketch. Despite his use of oil studies, the artist continued to modify his design at latter stages as several pentimenti in this work demonstrate (the most obvious correction is visible along the upper edges of the archangel's left wing).

A particular hallmark of Diano's style are the warm, ochre tones he employed to render reflected light in areas of semi-shadow. Comparable for style, the use of architectural setting, and the high drama of the scene, are two altarpieces painted ca. 1768 for Sant'Agostino della Zecca in Naples, the Conversion of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose Baptizing St. Augustine.

Judging from the scale and finely rendered details, this Annunciation was probably intended for private devotion rather than an ecclesiastical context. The still life composed of a sewing basket, yarn, scissors, and cloth warrant close scrutiny as does the carved relief of the Virgin's kneeler depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac, an allusion to Christ's fate. In The Annunciation, Diano typically captures a wide range of emotions from the solemnity of the supplicating angel in the foreground to the humility of the Virgin whose tender gestures contrast boldly with the reaming flurry of angels that accompany the Heavenly Host descending from above.

Another version of the Annunciation by Diano which is much more modest in conception hangs in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. Roberto Longhi first ascribed the Borghese painting to Diano in lieu of its previous attribution to Corrado Giaquinto. Indeed, the growing interest in eighteenth-century Neapolitan painting over the years has greatly helped to clarify the field and to distinguish painters like Diano, a leading figure in the city towards the close of the century.

In 1998 this work was conserved at the Strauss Center for Conservation, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA (see conservation report).