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Allegory of Prudence
Luca Giordano
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This modello, or detailed oil study, is one of a group of 12 that Giordano made in preparation for the ceiling frescoes in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence in 1682–5. Ten of the modelli are in the National Gallery'​s collection, and this one represents ​one of the four Cardinal Virtues. First identified by the philosopher Plato, these were later adopted by the Roman Catholic Church. A different Virtue is depicted in each corner of the ceiling.

Here, Prudence carries an arrow with a serpent entwined around it. On the left are two mathematicians, probably Archimedes and Euclid, representing Order and Reason. Cowering at the feet of Prudence is Fraud (the two-faced figure with claws), while Ignorance holds up a donkey’s head. In the sky are figures representing, from left to right: Abundance (or Felicity), with a cornucopia and olive branch; Grace, who holds a key; and Wellbeing, with a shield and a cup.

Key facts
Artist Luca Giordano
Artist dates 1634 - 1705
Full title Allegory of Prudence
Series Modelli for the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence
Date made early 1680s
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 99.7 x 95.2 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Trustees of Sir Denis Mahon's Charitable Trust through the Art Fund, 2013
Inventory number NG6634
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Modelli for the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence

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This group of ten paintings was made by Giordano as a series of detailed oil studies (or modelli) for the ceiling frescoes in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, which are among the artist’s finest achievements. The modelli are part of a set of 12 (the other two are in private collections).

Nine of the paintings relate to the ceiling of the highly ornate Galleria, built to house a precious collection of antiquities and function as a public reception room. The other is associated with the ceiling of the adjacent Library. The overall theme in the Galleria is the elevation of mankind through Wisdom and Virtue, using allegorical and mythological figures to represent different strengths and traits. It culminates in a centrepiece which presents the wealthy Medici family as the paradigm of both these qualities.

Giordano seems to have worked up these modelli to clarify his designs and may have presented them to his client, the Marquess Francesco Riccardi, for approval before the frescoes were executed.

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