Creation from Destruction : Frieze Masters 2020London
Interior of the Temple of Poseidon at Paestum, ca. 1756–60
Christie’s, London, 28 February 1992, lot 14.
Christie’s, New York, 26 May 2000, lot 18.
Rafael Valls, London;
Mario Manzelli, Antonio Joli: opera pittorica, Venice, 1999, p. 118.
Charles Beddington, “Book Review: Manzelli, Mario: Antonio Joli: opera pittorica. Venice: Studio LT2: 1999” Burlington Magazine 142 (2000), p.640.
Ralph Toledano, Antonio Joli, Turin, 2006, p. 397.
Established as a Greek colony under the name of Poseidonia, Paestum in in southern Italy was eventually conquered by the local Lucanians and later the Romans. The Lucanians renamed it to Paistos and the Romans gave the city its current name. As Paestum, the town became a bishopric, but it was abandoned in the early Middle Ages, when the progressive silting up of the River Salso rendered the area swampy and insalubrious. There is no more information about Paestum until the sixteenth century, when the works of painters and writers such as Pietro Summonte rekindled interest in the city by portraying the state of the ruins. Nevertheless, the true “rediscovery” of the city did not take place until the eighteenth century when Paestum became a significant destination on the Grand Tour. From then on, illustrious visitors, including Goethe, Piranesi, Dos Passos, Shelley, Canova, and others, were attracted by its renowned beauty and spread news of it throughout Europe.
Born in Modena, Antonio Joli went to Rome as a young man and studied under Giovanni Paolo Pannini. After Joli moved to Venice in 1735, Canaletto encouraged his art, and Joli became one of the finest architectural view painters of his day. Joli travelled throughout Italy enjoying a successful career as a painter of vedute and capricci, principally aimed at the English Grand Tourists. The Temple of Poseidon at Paestum exemplifies the mid eighteenth-century taste for ruins reflecting the classical past.
Joli was one of the first artists to paint views of the three remarkably well-preserved Doric temples at Paestum, and a number of paintings of the site, seen from different vantage points, are known. Its popularity as a stop on the Grand Tour was such that Joli found a ready market for his views amongst his English clientele, and the artist is known to have made views of Paestum for Lord Brudenell, Sir Thomas Gray, and Sir William Hamilton. In June 1756, Lord Brudenell visited the temples, possibly accompanied by Joli, and on 15 June, his tutor Henry Lyte referred to the visit in a letter addressed to Lord Cardigan: “We returned yesterday from Pesti, an ancient colony of the Greeks. The Curiosities there are well worth going to see. They consist of three temples of the Doric order, the most ancient that are anywhere to be found so entire…They appear to be built for eternity.”
The grandest, last, and best preserved of the temples at Paestum is the so-called Temple of Poseidon, though it was almost certainly dedicated to Hera. As the most impressive temple, it seems to have been mistakenly assumed in the eighteenth century that it must have been dedicated to the patron god of the city, Poseidon, the god of the sea. This idea is almost certainly wrong as the terracotta votive figurines found in the sanctuary show female types normally identified as Hera, as well as an inscribed silver dish which declares “I am sacred to Hera: strengthen our bows.” The plan of the Temple is almost identical to that of the Great Temple of Zeus at Olympia and scholarly consensus has concluded that the Paestum temple, with its two rows of columns down the cella, was in fact a deliberate copy of the one at Olympia. The temple at Olympia was dedicated in 438 BC, so presumably the temple at Paestum would have been dedicated a few years later. The temple at Olympia was planned by the architect Libon of Elis, and it has been suggested that the same architect was employed at Paestum.
No other versions are known of the present composition by Joli, though it was reproduced as an engraving by Filippo Morghen in 1765 (fig. 1). Another view of the interior of the temple, this time taken from a different viewpoint and at a different angle, is preserved at the Royal Palace of Caserta (fig. 2).
Fig. 1. Filippo Morghen after Antonio Joli, Veduta interiore del tempio esastilo ipetro dalla parte di settentrione, 1765, etching, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.
Fig. 2. Antonio Joli, Interior of the Temple of Poseidon at Paestum, late 1750s, oil on canvas, Caserta, Reggia di Caserta.
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