This sketch is known in Italian as a modello and is a design for a larger canvas, also in Compton Verney’s collection (CVCSC:0243.S). It was common practice for artists to make preparatory oil sketches such as this to work out their composition and to show to patrons for approval before starting the final work.
The scene is taken from Virgil's Aeneid. Aeneas, wounded by a stray arrow during a battle was cured by Iapis, the Trojans' physician, and assisted by his son Ascanius. Healing herbs were brought by Aeneas’s mother, Venus, from Mount Olympus, who is seen descending from above. Faithful to the story, Solimena paints the battle in the background, and a shield, armour, and broken column in the lower right-hand corner.
The larger canvas of Venus with lapis tending the Wounded Aeneas is in Compton Verney’s collection together with the sketch of its pendant, Priam, King of Troy, begging Achilles for the Body of Hector (CVCSC:0270.2.S). However, there are no traces of the larger version of the latter composition.
A replica of the large canvas with Venus, possibly partly executed by his workshop, is at the Galerie Saint Germain in Montecarlo, while a replica, probably autographed, of the sketch with the same subject is in a private Neapolitan collection.
Two other copies made by Solimena’s workshop are known, in the collections of the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, and the Museo Nazionale in Matera, Italy.
Francesco Solimena Venus with Iapis tending the Wounded Aeneas 1690–1692 © Compton Verney