Giovanni Battista Langetti



Giovanni Battista Langetti
( Genoa, 1635-Venice, 1676 )


Oil on canvas 67×163 cm


France, private collection.


Baroque Paintings, NewYork, Piero Corsini Inc., 9 October-16 November 1992; Genua Tempu Fà,Monaco (Monte-Carlo), Maison d’Art, 24 October-24 November 1997; La Pittura Eloquente, Monte-Carlo, Maison d’Art, 16 June–16 July 2010, n.17.


M. Stefani Mantovanelli, “Giovanni Battista Langetti”, in Saggi e Memorie di Storia dell’Arte, 17,Florence 1990, p. 63, fig. 33; Baroque Paintings, exh. cat., New York 1992, pp. 40-41, no. 15, illus.; M.Bartoletti, in T. Zennaro, ed., Genua Tempu Fà, exh. cat., Monaco (Monte Carlo)1997, pp. 105-108,no. 21, illus.; T. Zennaro in La Pittura Eloquente, exh. cat., Maison d’Art, Monte-Carlo 2010, n.17, pp.91-95, illus. p. 93.The biblical figure of Samson fascinated Langetti and his clients, appearing in a number of canvasesof mostly horizontal format. These show the half-naked figure reclining on the ground after havingslain the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, as recounted in the Book of Judges (15: 15-20) :And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, andtook it, and slew a thousand mentherewith. And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an asshave I slain a thousand men. And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he castaway the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramath-lehi. And he was sore athirst, andcalled on the Lord, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: andnow shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? But Godclave a hollow placethat was in the jaw, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again,and he revived: wherefore he called the name thereof En-hakkore, which is in Lehi unto this day.Samson’s shoulders are covered by a lion’s pelt, taken from the beast he had killed with his barehands–a detail drawn from the iconography of Hercules that was sometimes applied to the biblicalhero whose identity was left unresolved by Marina Stefani Mantovanelli (“Giovanni Battista Langetti”,in Saggi e Memorie di Storia dell’Arte, 17, Florence 1990, p. 63, fig. 33).

When she published it in an extensive monographic essay, the scholar compared the canvaspresented here with the signed Samson in the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg (Stefani Mantovanelli, op.cit., 1990, pp. 62-63, fig. 32). She dated both paintings to the artist’s youth, considering the presentwork as “typical of Langetti, for both the anatomy, described with warm flesh tones, and the tonalrange of the red drapery, which contrasts with the silky whites and accentuates the limbs” (StefaniMantovanelli, op. cit., 1990, p. 63).Compared with the canvas in the Hermitage, where Samson is presented more completely, we see agreater emphasis on the foreground here, and a tightening of space. This results in a sense ofrestrained, compressed energy, lending the figure even greater power and vitality. The position ofthe arms, the torsion of the bust and the turn of the head resemble those of the Samson in the Muséedes Beaux-Arts in Nîmes(Stefani Mantovanelli, op. cit., 1990, p. 63, fig. 38), which has a slightly lesshorizontal extension.The dating of this painting by Stefani Mantovanelli–as well as that of those mentioned ascomparative works–to the artist’s early period (around 1660, soon after his arrival in Venice) wasaccepted by Massimo Bartoletti (in T. Zennaro, ed., Genua Tempu Fà, exh. cat., Monaco-Monte Carlo1997, pp. 105-108, no. 21, illus.). At this point Langetti, though only twenty-five and only recentlyresiding inVenice, was already well known and established enough in the city to merit the attentionof Marco Boschini (La carta del navegar pittoresco, Venice 1660, p. 539): “L’opera con bon’arte, ecolpi franchi / l’osserva el natural con gran giudicio / in l’atirarl’atende el bon officio, / che imovimenti fia vivi, e no’ stanchi.”.These words apply perfectly to the canvas presented here, and are not only pregnant with meaningbut remarkable because they allow us to understand how a cultivated contemporary who wasalsoan expert on painting could appreciate the power and vital energy that lay behind Langetti’sbrushwork. Thus Boschini’s words about the painter’s interest in the nude (“L’inclina al nudo”) andfreshness of approach (“fresco muodo”), and his being “pronto, presto, veloce e tuto ardente”(“prompt, prepared, swift and keen”), offer additional and valuable notes on Langetti to furtherdefine this vigorous Samson.One should underline that Langetti’s Genoese cultural roots are clearly in evidence here, andparticularly the influence of Gioacchino Assereto, a true precursor of the tenebrosi who provided hisyounger colleague with a felicitous example of how to marry naturalism (of the Caravaggesque kind,with special reference to Ribera) and freedom of handling, together with a broad stimulus from theart of the neo-Venetians and Pietro da Cortona (T. Zennaro, Gioacchino Assereto e la sua scuola,forthcoming publication, Edizioni dei Soncino, Soncino, Cremona). The coiled pose of Samson and thesense of horror vacui that constrains him within the limits of the canvas recall the figures of classicaldivinities painted by Gioacchino Assereto during the mid-1640s in the lunette decoration of PalazzoAyrolo at Genoa (now Ayrolo-Negrone), and in paintings such as The Dream of Jacob, a work of similarformat recently with the Galerie Canesso in Paris (V. Damian, Portrait de jeune homme de MichaelSweerts et acquisition récents, Paris 2006, pp. 58-59, ill.).
The brushstrokes, strong contrasts of luminosity–allowingthe flesh passages to emerge from theshadows–and the artificial lighting of a nocturnal setting, are also elements of that Genoeseinheritance. To this Langetti added his Venetian study of Tintoretto, inspired by the heroic,Michelangelesque forms, painterly freedom, and nocturnal effects brought to life by that greatsixteenth-century master.
Tiziana Zennaro