Carneades with the Bust of Paniscus
Oil on canvas
Purchased through the Mrs. Harvey P. Hood W'18 Fund, the Florence and Lansing Porter Moore 1937 Fund, and the Hood Museum of Art Acquisitions Fund; P.999.51
The vast body of work of Luca Giordano, one of the most celebrated artists of the Neapolitan Baroque, included religious scenes, mythological subjects, and vast decorative fresco cycles executed in Naples, Venice, Florence, and Madrid. His early development was deeply influenced by the dramatic lighting and bold naturalism of Caravaggio (1571-1610) and Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652).
This painting ranks among the greatest early works of Giordano presently in the United States. It originally belonged to a series of ten “portraits” of philosophers—attributed to Ribera—that was in the Carvallo collection in Villandry, France, at the beginning of the past century. The attribution to Giordano was made by August Mayer in 1923 and has been universally accepted. The subject, identified by Delphine Fitz Darby in 1957, is the stoic philosopher Carneades (213/14-129 BCE) gone blind, who recognizes the bust of the young Pan (Paniscus) through the sense of touch. Stylistically close to the work of Ribera, the painting also borrows its narrative mode from the Spanish master, and its composition follows Ribera’s Allegory of Touch (Pasadena, Norton Simon Museum), which depicts a blind man tracing with his fingers the features of a marble head, and Giovanni Gonnelli (Madrid, Museo del Prado)—also titled The Touch—where the blind sculptor is presented with his hands resting on a sculpture. Other paintings by Ribera that may have affected Giordano’s composition are his numerous half-length representations of St. Jerome holding a skull, the saint’s meditation on death being replaced in the case of Carneades with a more earthly reaffirmation of the power of the senses. Indeed, as in Ribera’s allegorical portraits, Giordano’s Carneades may be construed as an allegory of touch.
As in many of his early images of “philosophers”—imaginary portraits of famous classical thinkers, or more generic representations of astronomers or mathematicians—he particularly emphasizes physiognomy here. In the absence of “actual” portraits (if one excludes some ancient busts of Seneca or Cato), the artist’s challenge in these works was to create a believable likeness of a subject known only through literary sources. Giordano demonstrates in this painting his mastery at depicting such qualities as nobility, resignation, and strength, which not only define the character of his subject but also lend the painting its power.
It is unclear for whom these paintings of philosophers were intended. Their austere beauty suggests patrons more interested in the intellectual qualities of these compositions than their seductiveness. Neo-Stoicism was prevalent among Neapolitan intellectuals, and the choice of some of the philosophers painted by both Ribera and Giordano reflects this: Carneades, Diogenes, Cato, and Seneca. Other subjects, however, seem barely connected with, if not completely opposed to, this philosophical tradition. It is also legitimate to inquire if Giordano himself took part in the philosophical debates of his time. The self-image the artist acquired through his later work seems to almost contradict the introverted and somber mood of his early production.
Last Updated: 1/21/10