Luca Giordano: The Cyclops at Their Forge
18th Century Mezzotint by J. & J. Boydell, London

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The Cyclops at Their Forge
Detail of Cyclops at Their Forge Detail of Cyclops at Their Forge
Luca Giordano (1632-1705) (after)
John Murphy (1748-1810) (engraver)
The Cyclops at Their Forge
John & Josiah Boydell, London: 1788
Mezzotint, uncolored
19.75 x 14 inches, platemark
28.5 x 20.75 inches, overall
Sold, please inquire as to the availability of similar items.

Engraving after a mythological painting of a group of Cyclops in the Baroque masterpiece by Luca Giordano known today as Vulcan's Forge (c. 1660).  According to Roman mythology, three Cyclops -- one-eyed Titans -- worked at the forge of Vulcan in the caves of Mt. Etna, making thunderbolts for Jupiter.  Giordano departs from tradition by depicting them as men with normal features and two eyes, though their faces are in shadow and the emphasis is on their powerful, muscular physiques.  That artistic decision, combined with the dramatic chiaroscuro lighting, a hallmark of Neapolitan and Spanish painting of that era, lends them a heroic dignity they would not have as one-eyed monsters. 

At the time this engraving was made, this painting hung at Houghton Hall, the country house of the Walpole family in Norfolk, England.  It was displayed in the Salon (Saloon room)  along with some of the largest and most important paintings amassed by Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745).  Walpole, Britain's first Prime Minister, possessed an excellent eye for art; however he lived beyond his means and left behind massive debts when he died.  By the 1770s, these debts had grown to the point that his son, the literary figure Horace Walpole (1717-1797), had no choice but to sell the art collection.  He made a valiant but unsuccessful effort to persuade the British government to purchase the artworks for the planned National Gallery.  When that failed, he sold 181 paintings to Catherine the Great of Russia in 1779, who installed them in the Hermitage, where many remain today.  Among these paintings were masterworks by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Poussin, Reni, as well as the Giordano Cyclops painting, now owned by the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.  Today Houghton Hall is owned by the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, a descendant of Sir Robert Walpole's daughter, Mary, and is open for public tours as a historic house and garden during the spring and summer months.

Luca Giordano was an Italian painter mainly based in his birthplace of Naples, known for his oil paintings and frescoes.  Giordano studied with Ribera and Pietro da Cortona, and was profoundly influenced by Cortona and Veronese.  He painted the cupola of the Corsini Chapel and the ceiling of the Palazzo Riccardi in Florence in the early 1680s.  He spent the years from 1692 to 1702 in Madrid, where his career flourished under the patronage of Charles II.  There he produced the frescoes for the Chapel of San Lorenzo and the Escorial, and in churches and palaces in Madrid and nearby Toledo.  He then returned to Naples with the Spanish ruler Philip V.  His best-known Neapolitan frescoes include The Story of Judith in San Martino and Christ Expelling the Traders from the Temple in San Filippo Neri.

John Boydell was a successful and influential printseller and engraver. Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery is credited with changing the course of English painting by creating a market for historical and literary works.  He also encouraged the development of art of engraving in England with, among other things, his prints illustrating scenes from Shakespearean plays.  By the late 1760s, he was a successful entrepreneur in publishing and retailing prints, also including views, in England and across the continent.  In 1773, his nephew Josiah Boydell (1752-1817) became his business partner and later his successor, trading as John & Josiah Boydell, or J. & J. Boydell, at No. 90 Cheapside, London.  John Boydell became Lord Mayor of London in 1790.

Title and inscription lower margin: The Cyclops at Their Forge.  In the Salon at Houghton.  Published Jan'y. 1st. 1788. by John & Josiah Boydell, No. 90. Cheapside London.  Size of the Picture. 4F. 11I. by 6F. 4I. in height.

References:

"Giordano, Luca."  The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed.  New York: Columbia University Press: 2004.  Online at Questia.  http://www.questia.com/library/encyclopedia/giordano_luca.jsp (16 June 2010).

Julius, Muriel. "Houghton and the lost treasures - Houghton Hall's collection of paintings."  Contemporary Review.  April 1997.  Online at FindArticles.com. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2242/is_n1575_v270/ai_19507292/  (16 June 2010).

Maxted, Ian. "The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members." Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History.  U.K.: Devon Library and Information Services. http://www.devon.gov.uk/library/locstudy/bookhist/lonb.html

Rusche, Harry. "Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery." Emory University. 1998. http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/classes/Shakespeare_Illustrated/Boydell.html

"Vulcan's Forge."  The State Hermitage Museum.  2003.  http://bit.ly/b0ldMW (www.hermitagemuseum.org) (16 June 2010).