A Daniele da Volterra redisplayed at the Louvre

1. David and Goliath on display in the
Grande Galerie du Louvre
Photo : D. Rykner

2/12/2007 — Hanging — Paris, Musée du Louvre — In the last few days, the Louvre has put up for display in the Grande Galerie the David and Goliath painted by Daniele da Volterra, a Tuscan artist of the sixteenth century, close friend and follower of Michelangelo. After a long restoration, the painting has returned to the museum, but instead of hanging on a wall, has been placed at the very center of the gallery (ill. 1). The reason is that it is a rare case of a picture painted on both sides, representing the same composition from two different angles (ill. 2 and 3). The work is thus an illustration of the famous paragone, an intellectual debate in which painting and sculpture each claimed to represent reality. To better present his case, Da Volterra opted for this unusual format which allowed him to show more volumes than on only one surface.

2. Daniele da Volterra (1509-1566)
David et Goliath, front
Oil on slate - 133 x 172 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Another unconventional characteristic of the painting is its support. Instead using an ordinary canvas, the artist chose a piece of slate of surprising proportions. Slate, like some other supports such as copper, gives the painting a shinier aspect but it tends to crumble causing conservation problems, heightened by its large size, hence the long and delicate restoration of the last few years. The very weight of the slate required a customized mounting and frame, quite beautiful at that.

3. Daniele da Volterra (1509-1566)
David et Goliath, back
Oil on slate - 133 x 172 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Daniele da Volterra is mostly known for his pudic repaintings of the nude figures in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, which earned him the nickname of Braghettone...A few exhibitions and publications have fortunately rendered his place in the art world more important, and the David and Goliath in the Louvre demonstrates his talented assimilation of the Michelangelesque manner. With a pronounced, but decidedly personal, inspiration taken from the master’s treatment of the same subject in a pendentive of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Daniel da Volterra emphasizes the violence of the scene and the contrasting effects among the protagonists. Included in Vasari’s Vite, the painter received the commission around 1550-1551 from Monsignor Giovanni della Casa, a man of letters and church official of Florentine origins whose career was spent mostly in Rome. A protégé of Alexandre Farnèse, and author of a work on courtly life, Della Casa’s portrait was painted by Pontormo (Washington, National Gallery of Art). The David and Goliath remained in Italy until 1715, year in which Louis XIV received it as a diplomatic present. It was only in 1811 that the work entered the Louvre, and more precisely the Galerie d’Apollon, before being sent to Fontainebleau in 1939 where it was displayed in the chapel. It is indeed fortunate that this painting from the royal collections, which really had no link to Fontainebleau, has found its way back to the beautiful setting it now enjoys in the Italian picture gallery.

In concluding, let us remind our readers that the Louvre also owns a Portrait of Michelangelo, in bronze, by the artist, as well as a group of drawings. Among these, there are some preliminary studies for Daniele’s masterpiece, the Descent from the Cross at the Church of the Trinita dei Monti in Rome, also recently restored.

Version française

Benjamin Couilleaux, dimanche 2 décembre 2007

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