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domenico piola
(1627–1703, Genoa)

The Finding of Moses. Pen and brown ink and brown wash over black lead. 17.7 x 24.8 cm.

Domenico Piola is certainly the most important representative of the Casa Piola, the school of painting which bears the name of his family and largely determined the look of Genoese art during the mid to late 17th and early 18th centuries. Domenico, son of the painter Paolo Battista Piola, was trained by his prematurely deceased brother Pellegro Piola (1617–1640) and Domenico Capellino. What really shaped his stylistic development, however, was the powerful example set by the art of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. By about 1670 Piola had advanced to a mature style, which was mainly to be seen in his wall and ceiling frescoes and made him one of the founders of Genoese illusionistic wall painting. Although his early drawings still betray the strong influence of Castiglione, Piola soon developed his own, unmistakably personal artistic style.

The present Finding of Moses is a fully-fledged and high-quality example of this mature drawing style. A clever and resourceful sense of narrative is combined with a pleasing, fluid and apparently effortless drawing technique. Surrounded by a host of servants, the Pharaoh’s pretty daughter beholds the endearing figure of the Moses child with astonishment and delight. A sense of great charm emerges from the composition of the women, juveniles and children, who form a vividly articulated group of figures. Their gracious, lifelike gestures give the proceedings a baroque impetus. The hastily sketched-in tree trunks and foliage in the background indicate the spatial boundaries of the scene. Piola’s extremely sophisticated wash technique enables the paper tone to achieve its full effect and suggests warm, shimmering sunlight.

From the Santo Vanni collection, Genoa.