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Luca Giordano, 'Mythological Scene with the Rape of Proserpine', early 1680s

Key facts
Full title Mythological Scene with the Rape of Proserpine
Artist Luca Giordano
Artist dates 1634 - 1705
Series Modelli for the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence
Date made early 1680s
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 121.6 × 193 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Trustees of Sir Denis Mahon's Charitable Trust through the Art Fund, 2013
Inventory number NG6639
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Mythological Scene with the Rape of Proserpine
Luca Giordano

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 1682–85. The overall theme of these highly elaborate frescoes is the progress of mankind by means of Wisdom and Virtue.

This scene corresponds to part of the ceiling decoration of the grand Galleria. On the right, Pluto, god of the underworld, is manhandling Proserpine into his chariot. Above them fly harpies, the cruel guardians of his realm. To the left of Pluto are the three infernal judges; high above are Dedalus and his son Icarus, who was punished for flying too close to the sun.

The three-headed dog Cerberus guards the entrance to Hades (the underworld) while Charon ferries the souls of the dead across the River Styx, helped by Death, who holds a scythe. Behind them is Vulcan, god of fire, while to the left are mythological figures suffering eternal tortures. Night and Sleep are enveloped in a star-studded blue cloak.

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Modelli for the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence


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.