TEFAF Maastricht 2020
Forge of Vulcan , circa 1640
Framed: 133.5 x 134.8 x 7 cm / 52.5 x 53 x 2.7 in
(plus 2 cm / 0.7 in for the mount)
Rome, Cardinal Spada collection.
E. Schleier, Quelques tableaux inconnus de François Perrier à Rome, in «La revue de l’art», 1972, p. 42; A. L. Clark Jr., François Perrier. Reflections on the Earlier Works from Lanfranco to Vouet. Le premières oeuvres de Lanfranco à Vouet, Paris 2001, pp. 42, 119, ill. 65; A. Brogi, François Perrier e i “bolognesi”, in «Studi di Storia dell’Arte», 29, 2018, pp. 154, 159, 163.
The present painting can be dated to the artist’s second Roman period. It depicts the forge of the Roman god Vulcan (Hephaestus for the Greeks, though there is a subtle difference between the two divine personalities), in which we see the Cyclops, intent on forging magnificent weapons and objects fit for the gods. The work was first published by Erich Schleier in 1972 with an attribution to François Perrier, thanks to a suggestion by Federico Zeri, who knew a photograph of the work in the Gabinetto Fotografico Nazionale (E29943), where it was labeled as “scuola romana del XVII secolo.” Schleier also noted the provenance of the painting in the Spada collection, which in all probability had also been reported to him by Zeri, who knew the collections of Cardinal Spada well. The painting is made up of five central vertical panels with two further horizontal panels set above and below, which suggests that the work was created as a wall decoration, probably enclosed in stucco, for one of the rooms of Palazzo Spada, where Perrier’s activity is documented.
Schleier correctly related the painting to a fresco of Venus in the Forge of Vulcan (fig. 1) in the Palazzo Peretti-Almagià in Rome and to a drawing showing the Siege of Rhodes now in the Louvre. Similar elements appear in both the present panel and the fresco, for example, the vertical architectural element just right of center that separates the forge from the background. Yet while in the fresco the landscape is marked by hills and bushes, in the panel there is instead a steep rock formation, a signature element of the artist. Schleier proposed a date for the work around 1640, a hypothesis that can be confirmed by documented payments to the artist made between 1640 and 1642. In his 2001 monograph on the painter, A. L. Clark created some confusion around the matter, asserting that Perrier was recompensed for the work around 1636. More recently, Alessandro Brogi (2018) clarified and reaffirmed the date originally proposed by Schleier.
Several fixed points in the chronology of Perrier’s vital second Roman period (1635–1645) are known. Between 1635 and 1638, he executed the Death of Cicero for the Giustiniani today at Bad Homburg; in 1639 he painted Olindo and Sofronia for the maréchal d’Estrées (today in Reims, Musée Saint-Denis); around 1640 he created the panel presented here; and between 1644 and 1645 payments were made for frescoes in the Peretti gallery. To the same years we may also date the frescoes of scenes from the life of Saint Dominic in the cloister of the convent of San Biagio in Tivoli, the altarpiece showing the Miracle of the Alms of Santa Galla in Ostra, and the Baptism of Christ later traced in the Trentino. In these works, traces of the artist’s close collaboration with Simon Vouet in Paris are no longer in evidence but have been replaced instead by a mixture of heterogeneous elements, such as the monumental and pictorially rich composition, color effects reminiscent of the Venetians of previous eras, a strong classicism of form enriched by the observation of real antique works, and vibrant luminism—all of these elements can be found in the Forge. The best comparisons for the work are perhaps offered by the Beheading of the Baptist in Kedleston Hall (Derbyshire, fig. 2), the Stoning of Santo Stefano (ex-Chigi collection, now in private collection), and by Polyphemus and Galatea from the Kress collection now in the museum at Bucknell (fig. 3).
Perrier is a figure of great importance within the Parisian and French “Atticist” ambient, yet he nonetheless approached the trend with great independence, “maintaining a sort of foreign, Italian accent, and is thus a unique figure in that fervent context.”
Please note that the price and availability of the above work are subject to change without prior notice.
 One example is the Polyphemus and Galatea in the Kress collection, now at Bucknell University Art Gallery in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, attributed to Annibale and restituted to Perrier by Longhi.
 See A. Brogi, François…cit., p. 154.
 During these years, a number of collections of engravings of important antiquities were produced, inlcuding the Galleria Giustiniana coordinated by Joachim von Sandrart (1636-1637), the Segmenta (1638) and the Icones.