By Stephanie Cook

Luca Giordano, The Judgement of Solomon, 1665, in the public domain

Tim Rafferty and Stephen Cook have recently posted about Solomon’s wisdom, and Tim’s post was accompanied by a painting by Luca Giordano. (The painting here by Giordano titled The Judgement of Solomon could just as well have accompanied Stephen’s post.)

Luca Giordano, 1634 to 1705, was an Italian late Baroque painter and printmaker in etching. He worked successfully in Naples and Rome, Florence and Venice before spending ten years in Spain. He was born in Naples and died there. He gained an apprenticeship and his early work was heavily influenced by his teacher, Ribera. He had a knack of painting quickly which enabled him to copy other painters.

His mature style combined ornamental pomp and grandeur with a bold use of colour. Giordano painted frescoes in Florence for the Medici family as well as other wealthy patrons. He was invited to travel to Spain by Charles II and he stayed there for ten years until the monarch’s death. He was popular in the court and he produced many fine works. I believe that the painting ‘Dream of Solomon’ was painted while he was a member of the royal court of Spain.

After his return to Naples early in 1702, he continued to paint prolifically. His paintings evolved into an almost pre Rococo style and were influential in the eighteenth century. He was good to poorer artists and was stated as saying that the public are more attracted by colour than design. Giordano has been criticised as being a prolific trader of all styles, and master of none. He was ‘the ideal rococo painter, speedy, prolific, dazzling in colour, assured in draughtsmanship, ever-talented and never touching the fringe of genius.’

The ’Dream of Solomon’ is almost dazzling in its use of colour. Solomon is a young and attractive man who lies in repose on a bed, obviously dreaming. The dream must be from God as there are an abundance of angels and heavenly beings enveloped in vaporous clouds of light. And yet the colours are more pastel than bold in hue and the divine presence visits Solomon in his dream and, according to the text, gives him wisdom as a divine gift.

Giordano, The Dream of Solomon, 1694-1695.

The majority of the painting is taken up by the apparition from heaven and it would seem that the artist deems heaven to be glorious. There is a halo of light surrounding the major figure in the apparition and we are left to ponder if this is God. The ray of light then travels from Gods eyes to Solomon and we actually get to see, as if voyeurs, the gift being bestowed. Most of the focus is on the figure of God, who being all powerful, is able to give Solomon what he asked for. Solomon’s wisdom was legendary in some circles and the commentary helps to elevate Solomon’s status as having divine right to rule. He was a kings’ son and the furnishings in the painting are beautiful. Giordano would have spent many an hour in the court of the king of Spain and would have known what real wealth looked like.

I love the richness and depth of this painting and viewing it one can see the beginnings of the Rococo style emerging. This style was abundant in the court of Marie Antoinette and its opulence cannot be surpassed. This painting seems to say to the viewer that Solomon had a right to enjoy his wealth as he had the divine stamp of approval. At least, this is what his supporters wanted ordinary people to interpret as the message.