Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Sacrifice of Polyxena

Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (Italian, Viterbo ca. 1610–1662 Viterbo)
Oil on canvas
77 3/4 x 88 in. (197.5 x 223.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1954
Accession Number:
Not on view
Polyxena was the youngest daughter of Priam, King of Troy. According to a Greek tragedy by Euripides (ca. 480–406 B.C.), she was sacrificed on an altar over the grave of Achilles, whose death she had caused. Romanelli was a prominent painter in Rome and one of the most successful pupils of Pietro da Cortona. This painting is part of a series of classically inspired canvases depicting Ulysses, Cleopatra, Venus, and Polyxena. They were created for Lorenzo Chigi, Marquess of Montoro. The other pictures from the group are now in the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia; the Cassa di Risparmio, Viterbo; and the Palazzo Patrizi, Rome.
Lorenzo Chigi Montoro, Viterbo (until d. 1697; inv., 1697); Giovanni Chigi Montoro, Palazzo Chigi, Rome (until d. 1771); his widow, Virginia Patrizi, or his daughter, Porzia Patrizi Naro Montoro, Rome (1771–at least 1776; inv., 1776); [Marcus-Galerie LePeletier, Paris, until 1953; as "The Sacrifice of Iphigenia"; sold for $229 to Kleinberger]; [Kleinberger, New York, 1953–54; sold to MMA]
Inventory of the collection of Lorenzo Chigi Montoro. June 14–22, 1697, f. 717 v. [Archivio di Stato Vaticano, Archivio Patrizi-Montoro, armadio A, tomo 46 (bis) pos. 600 e ss.; see Pedrocchi 2000 and Dorotheum 2011; Getty no. I-891, as in the Archivio di Stato, Rome], lists "quattro quadri di nove e otto con cornice intagliata e dorata con istorie diverse del Romanelli, sc. 800".

Lione Pascoli. Vite de' pittori, scultori, ed architetti moderni. Vol. 1, Rome, 1730, p. 95, states that Romanelli painted four pictures for Lorenzo Chigi, representing Ulysses, Cleopatra, Venus, and Polyxena.

Serie degli uomini i piu' illustri in pittura, scultura, e architettura. Vol. 11, Florence, 1775, p. 103, states that Romanelli made four paintings for Lorenzo Chigi depicting Venus, Polyxena, Ulysses, and Cleopatra.

Inventario dej Quadri che si trovano nel Palazzo Chigi. August 8, 1776, c. 12r [Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Archivio Patrizi Montoro, B78, cc. 11–14; see Dorotheum 2011; Getty no. I-3687], lists "quattro quadri, in misura di 7 e 9 per traverso rappresentanti quattro Storie diverse: cioè due Istorie Sagre e due Profane, con sue cornici Indorate et intagliate all'antica= Dipinti da Francesco Romanelli".

Filippo Baldinucci. Notizie dei professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua. Ed. F. Ranalli. Vol. 5, Florence, 1847, p. 422 [first ed., 1681–1728], states that Romanelli made four paintings ("quadri da sala") for Lorenzo Chigi: Venus, Polyxena, Ulysses, and Cleopatra.

Federico Zeri and Elizabeth E. Gardner. Unpublished manuscript. [ca. 1970–80], ascribe this picture to the late 1650s, "surely after the artist's return to Viterbo in 1658," and believe it belongs to the series of four pictures by Romanelli executed for Lorenzo Chigi [see Refs. Pascoli 1730 and Baldinucci 1847]; identify the patron as Lorenzo di Lorenzo, Marquess of Montoro, a member of the secondary branch of the Chigi family that settled in Viterbo; note that one of the set, "Ulysses Recognizing Achilles among the Daughters of Lycomedes" (Chrysler Museum, Norfolk), was with the MMA picture until the late 1940s when they were both for sale on the art markets of Paris and New York; mention a third picture, identical in style and close in size to these, representing "The Death of Cleopatra" (Patrizi-Montoro collection, Rome, the direct descendants of Lorenzo Chigi), and note that the fourth work with Venus is missing; comment that a label from the MMA picture, which cannot be later than mid-eighteenth century, attributes the picture to Romanelli, but creates confusion by stating that it belonged to a series with two profane and two religious scenes.

James Thompson. Unpublished manuscript. 1971–72, unpaginated, dates it 1635–40 and links it with Romanelli's "Achilles Surprised Among the Daughters of Lycomedes" in the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk; entertains the possibility that these works are the "profane half" of the group of four picures, two Sacred and two Profane, mentioned in the inscription originally on the reverse of the MMA painting [see Notes]; as an alternative, hypothesizes that the MMA picture and the one in Norfolk were part of a series, including a Venus, Polyxena, Ulysses [featured in the Norfolk picture], and Cleopatra, executed by Romanelli for the Chigi family, and mentioned by both Pascoli and Baldinucci [see Refs. 1730 and 1847]; suggests, furthermore, that a "Cleopatra" in the Patrizi collection [Rome] may have been part of the same group, as it is comparable in size and style.

Federico Zeri. Letter to James Thompson. March 31, 1972, notes that he recently visited the Palazzo Patrizi in Rome and was unable to locate an "Acis and Galatea" by Romanelli, but was able to securely identify a "Death of Cleopatra" by him, similar in measurements and style to the MMA and Chrysler pictures [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1970–80].

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 176, 478, 609, call it the Sacrifice of Iphigenia.

Bernhard Kerber. "Beiträge zu Giovanni Francesco Romanelli." Giessener Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte 3 (1975), pp. 195, 198–99, ill., compares it to a study for this picture in the Albertina, Vienna, noting that the composition of the painting is more expansive.

Bernhard Kerber. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. 1975, cites a Triumph of Venus in the Cassa di Risparmio, Viterbo (Italo Faldi, "Restauri e acqusizioni al patrimonio artistico di Viterbo," Palazzo dei Priori, June 10, 1972, no. 16, 228 x 255 cm); notes that in his entry Faldi identifies it with the Venus from Romanelli's series mentioned by Pascoli [Ref. 1730] and states that it came from the Palazzo Chigi-Albani delle Rovere at Urbino.

Sylvia Hochfield. "Conservation: The Need is Urgent." Art News 75 (February 1976), p. 28, comments that the picture's state of preservation causes an imbalance in the colors.

Bernhard Kerber. "Addenda zu Giovanni Francesco Romanelli." Giessener Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte 4 (1979), pp. 6, 13–14 n. 45, identifies the four Romanelli paintings mentioned by Pascoli and Baldinucci [Refs. 1730 and 1847] as the MMA's "Sacrifice of Polyxena," "Achilles among the Daughters of Lycomedes" (Chysler Museum, Norfolk), "Death of Cleopatra" (Palazzo Patrizi, Rome), and "Venus" (Cassa di Risparmio, Viterbo); accepts Faldi's dating of the series to the last quarter of the 1640s or the beginning of the 1650s.

Donald Posner. "Pietro da Cortona, Pittoni, and the Plight of Polyxena." Art Bulletin 73 (1991), p. 406, ill., dates it "probably in the 1650s" and believes the subject matter "depends on Cortona," comparing it to his "Sacrifice of Polyxena" in the Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome; notes that Romanelli's Polyxena (like Cortona's) "remains the passive victim".

Anna Maria Pedrocchi. Le Stanze del Tesoriere: la Quadreria Patrizi, cultura senese nella storia del collezionismo romano del Seicento. Milan, 2000, p. 272, catalogues Romanelli's "Death of Cleopatra" in the Patrizi collection, Rome; notes that the Lorenzo Chigi Montoro inventory of 1697 lists four different histories ("istorie diverse") by Romanelli and that the Chigi Montoro inventory of 1776 lists four different histories, two sacred and two profane, by the artist; believes that the "Death of Cleopatra" and the MMA "Polyxena"—due to the label on its back and its measurements—formed the pair of "profane histories" mentioned in the later inventory, pointing out, however, that the two "sacred histories" cannot be traced; dates the Cleopatra soon after 1642.

Alte Meister. Dorotheum, Vienna. April 13, 2011, pp. 116, 118, ill., under no. 450, dates the series to the late 1630s or early 1640s, noting that the Chigi family made payments to Romanelli during that time and comparing the composition of "The Death of Cleopatra" to the painter's "Arion and the Dolphin" of 1642; cites a Chigi inventory of 1681 [probably an error for 1697] listing four paintings of various stories by Romanelli.

Stephan Wolohojian. "Le Brun en Amérique: l'entrée de deux nouvelles toiles au Metropolitan Museum of Art / Le Brun in America: Two New Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Aux origines d'un goût: la peinture baroque aux États-Unis / Creating the Taste for Baroque Painting in America. Paris, 2015, p. 82 n. 12, p. 87 n. 12.

The frame is from northern Germany and dates to about 1870 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–3). This thoughtfully executed replica is made of pine with hollow construction. The applied ornament at the corners and centers is cast in plaster on metal armature and the whole is water gilded on an orange colored bole over gesso. An ogee shaped sight edge is within a narrow sand frieze. A narrow band of strapwork and husks within the crosshatched ogee curved molding is duplicated in larger scale at the back edge. The half round top edge supports animated pierced acanthus leaf caliculi with floral garlands which flank rocaille encircled leafy bosses at the corners and floral bosses at the centers. The style of frame is based on French Régence and Roman patterns from the early eighteenth century. Though slightly reduced in width the frame was undoubtedly made for the painting.

[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2016; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
Polyxena was the daughter of Priam, the king of Troy. Achilles, on the opposing side in the Trojan war, fell in love with her, but she betrayed him and was later executed at his tomb by his son Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus).

This is one of a series of four paintings made by Romanelli for Lorenzo Chigi Montoro. The other three are Achilles among the Daughters of Lycomedes (Chysler Museum, Norfolk), Death of Cleopatra (formerly Patrizi collection, Rome; sold, Dorotheum, Vienna, April 13, 2011, no. 450), and Triumph of Venus (Cassa di Risparmio, Viterbo).

An inscription originally on the back of this painting, which probably dates no later than the early eighteenth century, reads: Quattro quadri, in misura di 7 e 9:p / Traverso, rapp.ti quattro Storie diver= / se, Cioè due Istorie Sagre, e due / Profane, con Sue Cornici Indorate / ed Intagliate all'antica, dipinti da / Francesco Romanelli
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