Livio Pestilli. Paolo De Matteis: Neapolitan Painting and Cultural History in Baroque Europe

By Straussman-Pflanzer, Eve | Seventeenth-Century News, Fall-Winter 2015 | Go to article overview

Livio Pestilli. Paolo De Matteis: Neapolitan Painting and Cultural History in Baroque Europe


Straussman-Pflanzer, Eve, Seventeenth-Century News


Livio Pestilli. Paolo de Matteis: Neapolitan Painting and Cultural History in Baroque Europe. Farnham, Surrey and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013. 502pp. + 108 color and 112 b & w illus. $119.95. Review by EVE STRAUSSMAN-PFLANZER, DAVIS MUSEUM, WELLESLEY COLLEGE.

Livio Pestilli has succeeded in producing an important, albeit voluminous, recuperative monograph on the Neapolitan artist Paolo de Matteis (1662-1728). Born on February 9, 1662, in Piano del Cilento (modern day Piano Vetrale) to Decio and Lucrezia Orico, he went to Naples at an early age to learn the rudiments of art. The book, which contains an impressive number of illustrations, begins with an introduction and is divided into three parts. Part I "Framing the Artist" consists of two chapters; Part II "Paintings" is composed of ten chapters; Part III "Drawings" is comprised of one chapter. The book ends with an epilogue, bibliography, two appendices of documents, and an index. In the acknowledgments, Pestilli thanks the editor at Ashgate (Erika Gaffney) for her "foresight and belief in a book that falls outside current publishing trends" (xvii--xviii). At this moment in art history, one must draw attention to the rarity of the monographic treatment of an early modern artist.

In the introduction, Pestilli explains that Paolo de Matteis was the "most acclaimed artist" (1) in Naples at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Scholars most often accord this position to Luca Giordano (1634-1705) or Francesca Solimena (1657-1747). He finds it "an astounding reality that, in spite of recent interest in his work, no monograph has been devoted to this important Neapolitan artist" (1). But he dutifully pays homage to the scholars who have worked to shed new light on de Matteis in published studies, including those working in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Canada. Notable is the absence of American scholarship on de Matteis specifically and seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Neapolitan art more broadly--even though his work features in significant collections in the United States such as the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Pestilli inserts the present study into this academic trajectory by proposing to contribute "to these [past] efforts by focusing on the cultural, historical, and iconographic significance" (2) of de Matteis's oeuvre. While certainly hampered by a dearth of extant archival documents pertaining to the artist, one can find much matter to chew over in Bernardo De Dominici's Vite de' pittori, scultori, ed architetti napoletani (1742-1745). It is, however, littered with prejudicial statements and regional pride, much like Vasari's better known Vite from the sixteenth century. Pestilli proposes to provide a "typological" (2) approach to de Matteis. One wonders whether typological is the correct terminology. Although the chapters do cover specific categories, the logic for their selection is not revealed.

Pestilli offers a biographical sketch--taken from De Dominici--of Paolo de' Matteis in the introduction. In brief, after his well-to-do father brings him to Naples, he studies with an unnamed painter of no great merit before independently seeking to draw from masterpieces in Neapolitan churches. His father decides that young Paolo would be better served with a formal education in the liberal arts. Aided by several noblemen, de Matteis is eventually apprenticed to Luca Giordano, who recognizes his latent talent. Don Filippo Macedonio, who introduces Paolo to Giordano, moves to Rome and takes Paolo with him. In Rome, like in Naples, de Matteis copies works by the great masters until he is discovered by Don Gaspar de Haro y Guzman, Marquis of Carpio. The Marquis provides for the artist and places him under the instruction of the Roman painter Giovanni Maria Morandi (1622-1717), a prominent member of the Accademia di S. Luca. When the Marquis is made Viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples (1683-1687), he takes Paolo back to Naples, where he again works under Giordano. …

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