Painted in the 1690s, the picture must have served as an altarpiece in a church in Naples. In the foreground the infant Virgin Mary is shown to nurses and her adoring father, while in the distance, enveloped in a heavenly radiance, is the child’s mother, Anna, lying in bed, attended by servants. Solimena became the leading painter of Naples, training a generation of artists. However, in this painting, with its dark shadows and vigorous figures, he has notably recalled the work of his celebrated predecessor, Luca Giordano, who in 1692 had moved to Madrid to work for King Charles III.
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Title:The Birth of the Virgin
Artist:Francesco Solimena (Italian, Canale di Serino 1657–1747 Barra)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:80 1/2 x 67 1/4 in. (204.5 x 170.8 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1906
Miss Williams (possibly became Mrs. Cocks within year of sale), London (until 1906; sold to The Met)
San Francisco. M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. "Man, Glory, Jest, and Riddle," November 10, 1964–January 3, 1965, no. 127 (as "Birth of Saint John the Baptist").
Huntington, N.Y. Heckscher Museum. "The Last Flowering of Religious Art," February 17–March 31, 1968, no. 15 (as "Birth of the Virgin").
New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery. "A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America, 1650–1750," September 9–November 29, 1987, no. 20.
Sarasota, Fla. John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. "A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America, 1650–1750," January 13–March 13, 1988, no. 20.
Kansas City, Mo. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. "A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America, 1650–1750," April 30–June 12, 1988, no. 20.
"Principal Accessions." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (April 1906), p. 72, lists this picture as by Luca Giordano and calls it both "Adoration" and "The Presentation in the Temple".
Hans Posse. Letter. May 26, 1932, questions the attribution to Giordano and suggests that it belongs to the School of Solimena; notes its similarity to the work of Sebastiano Conca.
Hermann Voss. Letter. December 1935, describes it as a "very characteristic work of the earlier period of Francesco Solimena, when the artist was strongly under the influence of his master Luca Giordano," concluding that "there seems to be no doubt about this attribution, because the Solimenesque features are easily recognizable even under the predominant influence of Giordano".
Arthur McComb. Letter to Margaret D. Sloane. September 17, 1935, as definitely by Giordano; points out that the "treatment of the drapery as well as of the blonde hair in the woman at the lower left seems to me most typical" of the artist.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 266–67, ill., dates it to Solimena's early period; calls it "The Birth of Saint John the Baptist"; describes it as close in style to the work of Luca Giordano but harder in modeling and sharper in color.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 91.
Ferdinando Bologna. Francesco Solimena. Naples, 1958, pp. 75–76, 131 n. 65, p. 271, ill., calls it the "Birth of the Virgin"; suggests that the strong Giordanesque quality of the work has caused scholars to oscillate between attributions to Giordano and to Solimena.
Tony Ellis. Letter. December 30, 1963, considers it closely related to a bozzetto in the Bowes Museum (Barnard Castle, Co. Durham, England), from the last period of Solimena's career.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Unpublished manuscript for catalogue of Neapolitan paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [ca. 1970], date it to Solimena's early period, about 1690; consider the "interpretation of space, as well as the rhythm and the background . . . utterly Giordanesque," while the "modeling of the forms, the brushwork and the colours, along with the types of the female figures foretell the final formation of Solimena's mature style".
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 190, 300, 605, question the identification of the subject as the birth of the Virgin.
Nicola Spinosa. "More Unpublished Works by Francesco Solimena." Burlington Magazine 121 (April 1979), p. 212.
Nicola Spinosa. La pittura napoletana del '600. Milan, 1984, fig. 757, as the "Nativity of Mary".
John Pope-Hennessy. "Roger Fry and The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Oxford, China, and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on his Eightieth Birthday. Ed. Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie. London, 1984, p. 233, identifies the subject as the Birth of Saint John.
George Hersey and Carmen Bambach Cappel inA Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America, 1650–1750. Exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery. New Haven, 1987, pp. 186–89, no. 20, ill. (color), attribute it to Solimena, about 1690, and describe it as in "Giordano's manner"; note that comparisons of this work to Giordano's depictions of the subject (SS. Apostoli, Naples, about 1690–92, and Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasedena, 1696–98, or earlier) reveal "how closely both artists followed each other's styles in the late eighties to early nineties"; characterize the composition as "disciplined," noting that it "omits many of the excesses in genre that are usually connected with pictures of this subject".
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 141, ill.
Keith Christiansen. "Going for Baroque: Bringing 17th-Century Masters to the Met." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 62 (Winter 2005), p. 9, fig. 6 (color).
Old Master & 19th Century Paintings, Drawings & Watercolors: Part II. Christie's, New York. January 27, 2010, p. 199, under no. 286, dates it about 1689–90.
Nicola Spinosa. Pittura del Seicento a Napoli. Vol. 2, Da Mattia Preti a Luca Giordano: Natura in Posa. [Naples], 2011, pp. 227, 229.
Simona Carotenuto. Francesco Solimena: Dall'attività giovanile agli anni della maturità (1674–1710). Rome, 2015, p. 72, fig. 4.18 (color).
Andrea Bayer. "Better Late than Never: Collecting Baroque Painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Buying Baroque: Italian Seventeenth-Century Paintings Come to America. Ed. Edgar Peters Bowron. University Park, Pa., 2017, pp. 131, 152 n. 13.
Nicola Spinosa. Francesco Solimena (1657–1747) e le arti a Napoli. Rome, 2018 [vol. 1], pp. 64, 238, 253, 268–69, no. 91, ill. p. 268, fig. 46 (color), dates it 1687–90.
A small modello for this painting was in the collection of Luciana Ottone, Naples, in 1999.
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