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Francesco Solimena 1657–1747

Charles of Bourbon at the Battle of Gaeta



Francesco Solimena 1657–1747


Charles of Bourbon at the Battle of Gaeta




Oil on canvas


176 x 150 cm (framed)






Not on Display

In the centre of the composition is Charles III of Bourbon, King of Naples, on horseback, victorious over the Austrian army. With this battle the Kingdom of Naples passed from the Austrian Habsburgs to the Spanish Bourbons. Watching from above is San Gennaro (Saint Januarius), Naples’ patron saint, surrounded by angels, one of whom carries a glass ampule of the saint’s liquified blood. This precious relic is today kept in San Gennaro Cathedral in Naples, where crowds of worshippers gather to witness the blood miraculously transform from solid to liquid. According to legend, the failure of the blood to liquefy signals war, disease, or other disaster.

This picture is a sketch, known as bozzetto, or more likely the autograph replica of one of Solimena’s most important royal commissions of the period, and it is one of the very few works intimately related to that commission to survive. In May 1734, King Philip V of Spain ceded his sovereignty over the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily to his young son Charles. On 6th August of the same year the new king Charles defeated the Austrian army at the fortress of Gaeta, definitively decreeing the passage of the two Kingdoms after more than two centuries of viceroyalty from the Habsburgs to the Bourbons. To commemorate this crucial victory, the king commissioned the foremost Neapolitan artist of the moment, Francesco Solimena, to paint a large painting to be placed in the Viceroys’ hall behind the throne in the Royal Palace in Naples. A letter dated 24 September 1735 from Solimena himself to the architect Filippo Juvarra shows that the painter had already completed the large painting, together with two other identical smaller versions, and a ‘life-size’ portrait of His Majesty.

The large painting was probably destroyed in 1799, or in the early nineteenth century, during the French domination over the Neapolitan Kingdom, while this smaller replica was donated by King Charles of Bourbon to the Major Butler and his tutor, Jose Manuel de Benavides y Aragón, a Spanish diplomat and statesman of noble fame. Subsequently, the painting passed by right of descent to the widow of the Duke of Medinaceli and Santisteban, the Duchess of Tarifa and Denia; it was acquired in the early twentieth century by the Marquis of Rafal. In 2002, it passed at a Christie’s auction in London and then was purchased by Peter Moore Foundation, now in Compton Verney.

Francesco Solimena Charles of Bourbon at the Battle of Gaeta 1734–1735 © Compton Verney