Chastity – a modello

Chastity – a modello
Francesco Solimena
(Italian, Neapolitan, 1657-1747)
Oil on Canvas
49 1/2 in. x 68 5/8 in.

This modello (a preparatory sketch) is for one of the frescos of the spandrels (area between arches and the rim of a dome) in the church of SS. Apostoli in Naples. The subject is traditionally identified as The Virgin Immaculata or Allegory of Purity, when, in fact, it is the personification of Chastity, one of the seven heavenly virtues that protect against the temptation of the seven deadly sins.

It refers to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and pertains to the symbolic representation of the theme recalling the legend that the Apostle, St. Thomas, who had not witnessed the Virgin's Ascension into Heaven, doubted her bodily assumption. Finding her grave empty, he looked toward Heaven and beheld Mary being transported upward by a host of angels. Mary, pitying his weakness, Let down the belt or girdle from her dress, which he might see and believe.

Here, the girdle serves as an attribute of the Virgin, signifying her chastity. Another symbol, the lily, is the flower of the Virgin, in token of the purity she preserved among the sins of the world.

Solimena has presented the Virgin in full dress, being elevated on a cloud toward Heaven, attended by angels amid the vast swirls of cascading drapery from her white dress and blue mantle that had gently fallen behind her. She gazes downward as she loosens her girdle to lower to the “Doubting Thomas.” Solimena has added elements of chiaroscuro to the modeling of the composition.

(Canale di Serino 1657-1747 Barra)

Solimena was one of the most notable and influential figures in Neapolitan art, virtually dominating the scene from the end of the 17th century to the middle of the 18th century. In addition to his career as a painter, he also tried his hand at architecture, designing tombs and altars.

Called L'Abate Ciccio, Solimena was born in Serino Italy in 1657 and became one of the leading Italian decorative painters and most influential figures or representatives of the late Baroque style of 18th century Neapolitan art. His most valuable legacy may be found in the churches of Naples where the interiors and domes were transformed into luminary marvels.

In later years, he also became the leader of an influential academy in Naples, which produced a host of noted artists. Solimena died in Naples in 1747 at age ninety.

Many of his works can be found in numerous public and private collections throughout the world.