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The Cave of Eternity
Luca Giordano
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This modello, or detailed oil study, is one of a group of twelve that Giordano made in preparation for the ceiling frescoes in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence in 1682–5. This scene corresponds to that painted on one of the two short ends of the grand Galleria, in which Giordano presents a gathering of mythological figures associated with time and mortality. They are encircled by a serpent biting its tail, which symbolises Eternity. The crowned figure of Janus holds the fleece from which the Three Fates draw out and then cut the thread of life, while above them is Prometheus, the god of creation. The hooded figure in the background is the pagan monster Demagorgon. He receives gifts from Nature (in green) and Fortune (blindfolded). Behind them is the winged figure of Chronos, who represents Time.

Key facts
Artist Luca Giordano
Artist dates 1634 - 1705
Full title The Cave of Eternity
Series Modelli for the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence
Date made early 1680s
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 73.1 x 87.5 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Trustees of Sir Denis Mahon's Charitable Trust through the Art Fund, 2013
Inventory number NG6637
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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