Giovanni Battista Langetti


Giovanni Battista Langetti
( Gênes, 1635 - Venise, 1676 )

Oil on canvas 67x163 cm

France, private collection.

Baroque Paintings, New York, Piero Corsini Inc., 9 October -16 November 1992; Genua Tempu Fà, Monaco (Monte-Carlo), Maison d’Art, 24 October - 24 November 1997; La Pittura Eloquente, Monte-Carlo, Maison d’Art, 16 June – 16 July 2010, n.17.

M. Stefani Mantovanelli, “Giovanni Battista Langetti”, in Saggi e Memorie di Storia dell’Arte, 17, Florence 1990, p. 63, fig. 33; Baroque Paintings, exh. cat., New York 1992, pp. 40-41, no. 15, illus.; M. Bartoletti, in T. Zennaro, ed., Genua Tempu Fà, exh. cat., Monaco (Monte Carlo) 1997, pp. 105-108, no. 21, illus.; T. Zennaro in La Pittura Eloquente, exh. cat., Maison d’Art, Monte-Carlo 2010, n.17, pp. 91 - 95, illus. p. 93.

The biblical figure of Samson fascinated Langetti and his clients, appearing in a number of canvases of mostly horizontal format. These show the half-naked figure reclining on the ground after having slain the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, as recounted in the Book of Judges (15: 15-20) :

And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith. And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men. And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramath-lehi. And he was sore athirst, and called on the Lord, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? But God clave a hollow place that was in the jaw, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore he called the name thereof En-hakkore, which is in Lehi unto this day.

Samson’s shoulders are covered by a lion’s pelt, taken from the beast he had killed with his bare hands – a detail drawn from the iconography of Hercules that was sometimes applied to the biblical hero whose identity was left unresolved by Marina Stefani Mantovanelli (“Giovanni Battista Langetti”, in Saggi e Memorie di Storia dell’Arte, 17, Florence 1990, p. 63, fig. 33).

When she published it in an extensive monographic essay, the scholar compared the canvas presented here with the signed Samson in the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg (Stefani Mantovanelli, op. cit., 1990, pp. 62-63, fig. 32). She dated both paintings to the artist’s youth, considering the present work as “typical of Langetti, for both the anatomy, described with warm flesh tones, and the tonal range of the red drapery, which contrasts with the silky whites and accentuates the limbs” (Stefani Mantovanelli, op. cit., 1990, p. 63).

Compared with the canvas in the Hermitage, where Samson is presented more completely, we see a greater emphasis on the foreground here, and a tightening of space. This results in a sense of restrained, compressed energy, lending the figure even greater power and vitality. The position of the arms, the torsion of the bust and the turn of the head resemble those of the Samson in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nîmes (Stefani Mantovanelli, op. cit., 1990, p. 63, fig. 38), which has a slightly less horizontal extension.

The dating of this painting by Stefani Mantovanelli – as well as that of those mentioned as comparative works – to the artist’s early period (around 1660, soon after his arrival in Venice) was accepted by Massimo Bartoletti (in T. Zennaro, ed., Genua Tempu Fà, exh. cat., Monaco - Monte Carlo 1997, pp. 105-108, no. 21, illus.). At this point Langetti, though only twenty-five and only recently residing in Venice, was already well known and established enough in the city to merit the attention of Marco Boschini (La carta del navegar pittoresco, Venice 1660, p. 539): “L’opera con bon’arte, e colpi franchi / l’osserva el natural con gran giudicio / in l’atirar l’atende el bon officio, / che i movimenti fia vivi, e no’ stanchi.”.

These words apply perfectly to the canvas presented here, and are not only pregnant with meaning but remarkable because they allow us to understand how a cultivated contemporary who was also an expert on painting could appreciate the power and vital energy that lay behind Langetti’s brushwork. Thus Boschini’s words about the painter’s interest in the nude (“L’inclina al nudo”) and freshness of approach (“fresco muodo”), and his being “pronto, presto, veloce e tuto ardente” (“prompt, prepared, swift and keen”), offer additional and valuable notes on Langetti to further define this vigorous Samson.

One should underline that Langetti’s Genoese cultural roots are clearly in evidence here, and particularly the influence of Gioacchino Assereto, a true precursor of the tenebrosi who provided his younger colleague with a felicitous example of how to marry naturalism (of the Caravaggesque kind, with special reference to Ribera) and freedom of handling, together with a broad stimulus from the art of the neo-Venetians and Pietro da Cortona (T. Zennaro, Gioacchino Assereto e la sua scuola, forthcoming publication, Edizioni dei Soncino, Soncino, Cremona). The coiled pose of Samson and the sense of horror vacui that constrains him within the limits of the canvas recall the figures of classical divinities painted by Gioacchino Assereto during the mid-1640s in the lunette decoration of Palazzo Ayrolo at Genoa (now Ayrolo-Negrone), and in paintings such as The Dream of Jacob, a work of similar format recently with the Galerie Canesso in Paris (V. Damian, Portrait de jeune homme de Michael Sweerts et acquisition récents, Paris 2006, pp. 58-59, ill.).

The brushstrokes, strong contrasts of luminosity – allowing the flesh passages to emerge from the shadows – and the artificial lighting of a nocturnal setting, are also elements of that Genoese inheritance. To this Langetti added his Venetian study of Tintoretto, inspired by the heroic, Michelangelesque forms, painterly freedom, and nocturnal effects brought to life by that great sixteenth-century master.

Tiziana Zennaro