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Giovanni David

(1743 Cabella Ligure – 1790 Genoa)

Isabella and Rodomonte. Etching. 30.2 x 21.7 cm. 1775. Grasso 118 I (of II).

In the overall perspective of Italian Settecento art the work of Giovanni David occupies a special place by virtue of its remark­able originality and the creative power of its imagery. David was a gifted etcher, and his extensive printed work, most of which was done between 1775 and 1779, owes its appeal to the artist’s verve and willingness to experiment with new techniques.

The scene, rendered with baroque pathos, presents the climax of the story of Isabella and Rodomonte from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (books 28 and 29). In iconographic respects the rarely depicted subject is one of David’s most curious inventions. Isabella, a king’s daughter from Galicia, having been kidnapped by Rodomonte, king of Sarza and Algiers and leader of the Saracen army, is beset by the love-crazed suitor. To escape his advances, Isabella resorts to a ruse and pretends to have drunk an elixir that makes her invulnerable. Rodomonte then puts her to the test and, after separating her head from her body, is inconsolable.

The scene takes place in a gloomy dungeon vault lit by the glow of a wood fire. The weapons, trophies and the large banner behind Isabella, which give the work a markedly decorative and theatrical touch, bring to mind an opera seria of the kind that was fashionable in Italy in Giovanni David’s time. This rare etching, made during the artist’s Venetian period, is on offer here in an early impression before the address of the publisher Viero. A fine, contrasting impression with even margins. Minute hole in the right margin, minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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