Giovanni DAVID (Cabella Ligure 1743 - Genoa 1790)

A Nightmare Sold

Pen and grey ink, with grey and brown wash, heightened with white and yellow, over an underdrawing in black chalk.
The composition set within a fictive mount, drawn with a blue wash border and black framing lines.
237 x 306 mm. (9 3/8 x 12 in.)


Although the present sheet cannot be related to any known painting or print by Giovanni David, as Mary Newcome has noted, ‘the drawing is nevertheless characteristic of the technical skill and the powers of imagination of the artist, who was capable of creating visions rich in colourful characters as well as detailed still lifes.’ Here, the scene depicted is the entrance to Hades, the underworld. A bare-breasted woman lights a torch from a brazier held by Death, accompanied by his scythe, while above her hovers a winged demon holding thunderbolts and snakes in his hands. At the upper left sits King Minos, judge of the dead, attended by the three-headed dog Cerberus. At the right are the three Fates. Standing at the right is Clotho, the youngest of the Fates, who holds the staff with the thread of human life that she has spun, while her sister Lachesis reclines on the ground holding the thread of life, which is being cut with shears by Atropos, the eldest Fate.

In mood and macabre subject, this drawing may be likened to a highly finished drawing by David - an allegorical representation of the imagined death of the artist himself during the plague in Venice in 1780 - in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Philadelphia drawing also includes a similar skeletal figure of Death, as well as the three Fates. Among other stylistically similar drawings is An Allegory of the Wool Guild, with Minerva and the Fates and the Durazzo Coat of Arms of c.1777, in a New York private collection, in which the Three Fates are also prominently depicted.

Highy finished drawings such as this are a testament to the creative powers of Giovanni David; an artist who, as has been aptly noted, ‘succeeded in formulating some of the most complex, imaginative scenes to be found in Genoese art in the late eighteenth century.’

Anonymous sale, Milan, Sotheby’s, 8 May 2001, lot 435
Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd., London, in 2002
Private collection.

Adriano Cera, ed., Disegni, acquarelli, tempere di artisti italiani dal 1770 ca. al 1830 ca., Bologna, 2002, Vol.I, unpaginated, David no.7; Mary Newcome Schleier and Giovanni Grasso, Giovanni David: Pittore e incisore della famiglia Durazzo, Turin, 2003, p.52, no.D20; Anne Lafont, ‘Genova alle origini del romanticismo francese: Girodet e Gros in Italia’, in Piero Boccardo, Clario Di Fabio and Philippe Sénéchal, ed., Genova e l’Europa: Opere, artisti, committenti, collezionisti, Cinisello Balsamo, 2003, p.251, fig.11.

Giovanni DAVID

A Nightmare


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