Orazio Gentileschi, Danaé, 1621, oil on canvas, lot 41, sold for USD 30.5m at Sotheby’s New York, on 28 January 2016 – www.sothebys.com
The legendary princess of Argos, to whom Ovid refers in his Methamorphoses and who was painted by many artists, has risen to her firmament, just like her creator Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639). The masterpiece Danaë by Gentileschi was sold for over 30 million dollars at the Master Paintings Evening Sale on 28 January last – a world auction record for an Italian 17th century painter and over seven times the previous auction record for that artist. The provenance of the painting is easily traceable and well documented; Danaë was exhibited for two years at the Metropolitan of New York, between 2013 and 2015. The sale at Sotheby’s has now firmly anchored the work in a musum, as it is now part of the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles) where it joins Lot and his daughters, a work by the same painter and part of the same ‘commission’. The two paintings are back together now, as they were part of a series of three that Giovanni Antonio Sauli commissioned to Gentileschi, who was of great repute at the time, for his Genoese pallazzos Geneoa, ‘La Superba’, was a rich and prosperous city at that time. Peter Paul Rubens and Guido Reni had already left their marks there. Van Dijk arrived in Rome in the same year as the Italian Orazio Gentileschi, who stayed there until 1624, when he left for France and England, where he was appointed court painter to Charles I in 1626. However, the most accomplished period of Gentileschi’s career was the time when he worked for Sauli, producing a series of three paintings: Danaé, the Penitent Magdalene (private collection, New York) and Lot and his daughters (Getty Museum). Of the three, it is the mythological scene, which presents a sublime Danaë with a pearly skin under a shower of gold coins, which is considered Gentileschi’s masterpiece, remarkable both for its form and content. The artist who never abandoned neither the lyricism nor the sense of color inherited from his Mannerist training, provides a touch of Caravaggio in this work. Gentileschi is indeed considered one of the few artists of his generation who succeeded in blending Caravaggesque naturalism with formal sophistication, and in using light as an instrument to celebrate beauty rather than as a theatrical device. The talent of this innovative artist is tangible in this composition, which opposes a sensual, yet serene Danaë to a virile Cupid who pulls back the green curtain, allowing Jupiter to enter in the guise of a shower of gold coins and spiraling ribbons. The painting, dominated by powerful diagonal lines, is a tribute to love, beautiful materials and the infinite shades of color, transparency and light. This fine masterpiece of Italian Baroque is considered one of the most important Italian Baroque paintings to appear on the market since the Second World War. No wonder it was one of the stars at the auction in early 2016!