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Paolo de Matteis

(1662—1728)


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(1662–1728). Italian painter who was born at Salerno and trained at Naples under Giordano. His art represents a calculated movement away from the dramatic bravura of Giordano's Baroque style towards a more delicate and also a more classicizing manner influenced by Maratti and the Roman classical Baroque tradition initiated by Annibale Carracci. Before 1683 De Matteis had moved to Rome and his earliest known work, the Allegory of Divine Wisdom Crowning Painting as the Sovereign of the Arts (Los Angeles, Getty Mus.), probably dates from this period, and reflects his stylistic synthesis of classical and Baroque impulses. In Rome he attracted the attention of the Spanish ambassador, the Marquis of El Carpio, who was appointed viceroy of Naples in 1683. De Matteis followed him there and received numerous commissions from Spanish patrons. Such was the artist's success and growing international reputation that he was invited to Paris in 1705–14, on the initiative of Victor-Marie, Count d'Estrées. And following the Wars of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) he was patronized by the new Austrian governors of Naples. However de Matteis's most fruitful engagement was with the English Whig intellectual Lord Shaftesbury, who commissioned him to paint Hercules at the Crossroads between Vice and Virtue (1711; Oxford, Ashmolean) in a rigorous classical style and following a careful programme. Lord Shaftesbury was violently opposed to Baroque art and architecture and wrote to the artist advising him to reject any sensual or painterly effects: ‘the merely natural must pay homage to the historical or moral… nothing is more fatal, either to painting, architecture or the other arts, than this false relish, which is governed by what immediately strikes the sense, than by what consequentially and by reflection pleases the mind and satisfies the thought and reason’ (A Notion of the Historical Draught or Tablature of the Judgement of Hercules, 1713). Or, as he wrote more provocatively in his Characteristiks of Men, Manners, Opinions and Times (1711; 1714 edn., vol. 2): ‘the beautifying not the beautified is really beautiful.’ This remarkable commission clearly appealed to de Matteis, who painted several other works at this time with literary themes or emblematic allusions, notably the Self-Portrait in the Act of Painting, an Allegory of the Peace of Utrecht and the Peace of Rastadt (c. 1714; fragment Naples, Capodimonte). Yet he continued to decorate the churches of Naples with both frescoes and oil paintings in a delicate, almost Rococo manner.

From The Oxford Companion to Western Art in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.


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