The Three Graces, 1604 - 1659
Oil on oval canvas
81.5 x 65 cm / 32.1 x 25.6 in
Framed 102 x 85 cm
Italy, Private Collection
Francesca Baldassari, La collezione Piero ed Elena Bigongiari.Il Seicento fiorentino tra favola e dramma, Milan 2004, pp.44, 46, ill. n. 34.
Rome, Palazzo Braschi, Artemisia Gentileschi e il suo Tempo, 30 November 2016 – 07 May 2017.
Three young women depicted half-length, one from behind, the other frontally and the last one on the right side, harmoniously fit the oval shaped canvas. The attractive faces and bodies, covered by thin veils, reveal the girls antique supernatural and divine origins. The image, borrowed from classical mythology through cinquecento and seicento (Cartari, Ripa) iconographic repertoires, portrays the three Graces, the lovely daughters of Venus and Bacchus; the two gods who provide the humans graceful and pleasant things. This subject is the only one found in Giovanni Martinelli’s production and is consistent with his style and poetics. The painter is not absolutely faithful to the canonical iconography, but he amplifies the ethical meaning of this easily recognizable matter. In fact, he hides the girl’s attributes: a rose, a dice, and myrtle and other identifying elements such as garlands of flowers and fruits. Martinelli’s conceptual transposition aims toward the allegory of liberality, embodied by the three Graces. In the conjunction of their hands flows the benefit of Seneca’s lesson of doing, recieving and giving back, as Vincenzo Cartari claims “The habit of helping your next has to be shared from person to person, so that anyone can benefit from the other. It is in this way that the (grateful) bond of friendship keeps men together”  (C. Volpi, Le immagini degli dèi di Vincenzo Cartari , Roma 1996, p. 609). The ideal state of mind of someone who does and receives the benefit of perfect liberality, bares ethical metaphorical elements: youth, virginity, cheerfulness, gaiety, smoothness of the garments and a pure, sincere and transparent soul.
The painting, which evokes the refined and precious structure of an ancient cameo with the ivory-like elegant figures emerging from the dark background, could have been a gift showing the double liberality of both addressee and donor.
As in other ethic subject works, Martinelli matches the figurative matter with a perfectly calibrated mimic, through gestures and expressions suitable to the context. The glances of the three girls outline the interplay of giving and receiving, synchronized by the movements of their hands.
This work belongs with no doubt to the extended oeuvre of Giovanni Martinelli: the typologies of the feminine faces, and both the painting and the colours confirm this assertion. Furthermore, the date of execution, a problematic question due to the few references and to the poor sources and documents reliability, could be around the first years of the 1650s. Through Martinelli’s dated paintings we can place chronologically the Three Graces between the altarpiece of the Madonna and Saints in Biforco (Arezzo) from 1647 (see L. Fornasari, in Il Seicento in Casentino. Dalla Controriforma al Tardo Barocco, Firenze 2001, pp. 292-293) and the Convito di Baldassarre in the Uffizi from 1653. The pictorial and poetic similarity of the three Graces statuary female busts with the works by Cesare Dandini, belongs to the maturity of Giovanni Martinelli’s production: according to a similar inclination of Lorenzo Lippi, he regains his first naturalism, but with a more idealistic vision. The classicistic vein is certainly lead by the topic, but also by significant influences as Giacinto Gimignani’s, who returned to Florence in 1652, after a two-year stay in Rome.
The nudity of the bodies dominates the composition; a diagonal light alters the shadows, smoothing and deepening the image. The chromatic brightness of the orange cloth, enveloped round the arm of the model on the right-hand side, stands out, outlining her elegant gesture.
The Maddalena in meditazione in the Cassa Risparmi e Depositi di Prato collection (C. d’Afflitto, in Palazzo degli Alberti. Le collezioni d’arte della Cariprato, Milano 2004, pp. 97, 98) wares a shawl which is very similar for the silky texture, the colour and the appealing purpose of winding it round the bare hips of the saint.
 The original Italian text reads “l’ordine del fare bene altrui passi di man in mano, e ritorni pur’anche ad utile di chi lo fece prima, et in questo modo il grato nodo dell’amicitia tiene gli uomini insieme
The artwork described above is subject to changes in availability and price without prior notice.
Where applicable ARR will be added.