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A Battle Scene, late 17th century

Luca Giordano

Italian, 1632-1705
Oil on canvas
79 x 127-3/4 in. (200.7 x 324.5 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1976.12.P
© 2012 The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

There is nothing modern about the battle piece, a form of history painting whose complicated pictorial challenges have attracted artists since antiquity. Portraying the harsh realities of the combat zone put an artist’s skill and ingenuity to the test. In seventeenth-century Italy, artists developed an approach to battle scenes that elevated painterly qualities over narratives that described the specific historical moment. Known as “battles without heroes,” these compositions were intended to make viewers feel as though they were in the midst of the noise, smoke and confusion of the melee. Giordano’s own dramatic and monumental design, shown here, accomplishes this with flair and imagination. While the focus of the battle is arranged around a pyramidal structure, the swirling, interlocking shapes of rearing horses, tumbling soldiers and a general tangle of limbs contribute to the overall sense of chaos. Giordano’s exuberant handling of paint, and his skill in depicting such ephemeral moments, evidences the aesthetic concept of pittoresco, for which inspired creativity and manual facility are foremost. Such a bravura performance earned Giordano, one of the great Neapolitan Baroque artists, admirers and patrons throughout Europe.

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