Antonio Tempesta is famous for the important large-scale decorative fresco projects in and around Rome that he worked on, for his paintings on stone and for the numerous engravings made after his designs. But he also produced sophisticated cabinet pictures, such as ours.
Our painting does represent a deluge, but not the Biblical one, which Noah, his family and a pair of each species of animals were saved from.
It represents the deluge written down by Ovid in 8 AD in his ‘Metamorphoses’. During the 16th century this was a highly popular book of myths that helped people, especially in Rome, understand the Classical monuments and sculptures that were being dug up. The difference between the stories of Noah and of Deucalion is that in the Greco-Roman story no animals were rescued. Paintings of Noah’s Ark always show numerous pairs of animals, which are missing here.
About Antonio Tempesta
Italian easel and fresco painter and prolific draughtsman and printmaker.
Florence 1555 – 1630 Rome
Painter of a wide range of subjects, best-known for his battle scenes.
Pupil in Florence of Santi di Tito (1536 – 1603) who had rejected the Mannerism of Agnolo di Bronzino in favour of a classical Reformist and naturalistic style. Di Tito influenced Tempesta in his choice for a Counter-Mannerism style.
Subsequently pupil of Johannes Stradanus (1523 – 1605). Stradanus was actually a Flemish painter called Jan van der Straet, born in Bruges, trained in Antwerp, who spent his career in Florence as a prominent court painter of the Medici (he also had commissions in Rome, Pisa, Naples). Stradanus strongly influenced Tempesta.
Tempesta became in 1576 a member of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (the Academy of the Arts of Drawing) which had been created in Florence in 1563. Both his masters (and actually all major Florentine artists) had been members of the Academy. In Florence Tempesta joined the large team of various artists working under Giorgio Vasari for the interior fresco decoration of the Palazzo Vecchio.
Rapidly, circa 1580, Tempesta moved permanently to Rome (but still received commissions from Florence), where he remained active for the next 50 years until his death in 1630. He painted a large number of frescoes in several churches and in a number of the most famous palaces: at the Vatican, in the Villa Farnese in Caprarola, Villa D’Este in Tivoli and in Rome in Palazzo Colonna, Palazzo Doria Pamphilij and Palazzo Giustiniani. He collaborated with the Flemish painter Mathijs Bril (circa 1550 – 1583) on panoramas commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII for the loggias of the third floor of the Vatican palace.
About the subject of our painting
According to Professor Ugo Ruggeri our painting represents the Universal Flood described in the Old Testament. I do not agree with his opinion: I think it represents the flood myth of Greek mythology, best described by the Roman author Ovid in his ‘Metamorphoses’ in the year 8 AD.
We should not forget the huge importance that the 250 myths told by Ovid had during the Renaissance and Mannerist ages, especially in Rome, and particularly within the artistic production of Antonio Tempesta.
Do not forget that Noah’s Ark was the favourite subject of animal painters, focussing on the pairs of each species of animals that were saved, so that after the deluge the world could be repopulated by them. But not so here. In our painting men and a few animals in the background try to rescue themselves by climbing to higher grounds. In the Greco-Roman story Zeus, equally infuriated by the bad behaviour of man, unleashes a flood from which he finally saves an elderly couple, Deucalion (son of Prometheus) and Pyrrha, also in a chest-like ship. No animals in this story. After nine days of flood the world could be repopulated by men that originated from rocks that the couple threw over their shoulders.
About our painting
The graphic quality of the water in our painting refers to Tempesta’s activity as a stone painter. Tempesta was one of the leading Italian painters at the start of the 17th century who created paintings on stone plates. These paintings were either made on black slate (night scenes) or on coloured marbles or semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli. In these compositions sections of the stone were left unpainted so that the natural patterned designs of the stone could be used for example as waves.
Besides several representations by Antoio Tempesta in easel paintings and in engravings of ‘The passage of the Red Sea’ I know of only one engraving representing ‘Deucalion’s Flood’. It was published as Plate 7 after 1606 by the Dutchman Willem Jansz. in Amsterdam in ‘The Metamorphoses of Ovid’ with engravings by Antonio Tempesta. That Deluge composition is completely different from our painting.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a nicely framed, original composition of a rare subject.