Domenico Morelli ( Naples 1823 – 1901 ), Paolo and Francesca
Oil on canvas cm 26 x 21 signed lower left.
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The rediscovery of the medieval chivalrous ideal was one of the inspirational principles of Romanticism, a literary movement that in the 19th century found inspiration in the episodes of courteous love narrated by great writers of the past, stories that often impressed the imagination of painters.
Among the most celebrated love tales told by the palette of many artists active in romantic cultural climate, surely a prominent place is occupied by the story of Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Polenta, the two unlucky lovers met by Dante in the Hell, within the Comedy. The chronicles tell that the two lovers, surprised in flagrant adultery, were killed by Giovanni Malatesta, husband of her and brother of him.
In the painting presented here, Domenico Morelli is fully inserted within the great iconographic tradition associated with the Dante episode, choosing, in part detaching himself from similarly theme paintings depicted by his co-workers, just the moment in which the murderer is about to commit the fierce crime. Indeed, the true protagonist of the composition designed by the great Neapolitan master is Giovanni Malatesta, portrait in the foreground, wrapped in the shade, the gaze animated by an uncontrollable beast, in the process of extracting the dagger from the sheath, placed behind the curtain introducing a scene of much more tenure: the silhouettes of the two young lovers are in fact absorbed in a glow of light, refuge in reading in a porch animated by painted glass windows that give the scene a neo-gothic flavor.
The painting is part of the artistic production that can be traced back to the period of Morelli’s formation, between 1844 and 1855, characterized by the study, mediated by Villari, student of the liberal school of De Sanctis, of the literary sources of the past, and in particular of Dante’s work: in 1844, indeed, Morelli won the first prize in the painting contest organized by the Real Institute of Fine Arts of Naples with a Dante’s subject, “Virgilio commands Dante to kneel just as he knew the angel who was riding the ship with Purgatory’s souls” (Naples, Prefecture), exhibited at the Biennial of Bourbon in 1845.
In all probability, the work presented here is a study for a similar subject, now in a private collection (already in Barone Chiarandà collection), showed in the list of works published in the related catalog, on display within the last great exhibition dedicated to the great Neapolitan master, “Domenico Morelli and his time 1823-1901. From Romanticism to Symbolism”, curated by Luisa Martorelli in 2015.