Andrea Sacchi (Nettuno 1599-1661 Rome) Daedalus fastening wings on his son Icarus

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Lot 44*
Andrea Sacchi
(Nettuno 1599-1661 Rome)
Daedalus fastening wings on his son Icarus

£ 250,000 - 350,000
US$ 330,000 - 460,000
Andrea Sacchi (Nettuno 1599-1661 Rome)
Daedalus fastening wings on his son Icarus
oil on canvas
124.5 x 106.5cm (49 x 41 15/16in).


  • Provenance
    Private Collection, France
    Sale, Sotheby's, New York, 29 January 2009, lot 162, after which acquired by the current private owner, USA

    This magnificent Baroque composition has recently been added to the oeuvre of Andrea Sacchi by Dr. Ann Sutherland Harris who refers to it categorically as 'an autograph work' (private correspondence between Dr. Sutherland Harris and the owner, a copy of which is available on request). This is significant since no comparable, fully authenticated work which displays Sacchi's crucial place in art history has appeared at auction in recent years.

    The elegant composition captures the moment of drama when Daedalus, the designer of The Labyrinth on the island of Crete, attaches to the shoulders of his son a pair of delicate wings, made of feathers. Icarus's eyes do not meet those of his father as if ignoring, or failing to comprehend, his father's warning that he should fly neither too close to the sun since the wax with which the feathers were secured would melt, nor too close to the sea since the spray from the ocean would soak the wings. A number of ancient authors, in particular Ovid in his Metamorphoses (Book VIII lines 182-235), relate that Icarus ignored these admonitions, soared towards the sun and then plunged to his death in the Aegean Sea. The juxtaposition of Daedalus's sunburnt flesh with the pale, youthful skin of Icarus illustrates a metaphorical contrast between wisdom and youth. Sacchi has, furthermore, bathed his figure of Icarus in a spotlight, referencing the familiar Baroque chiaroscuro which was first popularised by Caravaggio and continued by Guido Reni, Albani and others.

    Sacchi occupied an important and influential position, midway between Annibale Carracci and Carlo Maratta, in the development of an elegant classical style of painting in 17th century Rome. Sacchi's devotion to the art of Raphael and Carracci and his criticism of the views of Pietro da Cortona and Gianlorenzo Bernini made him, with Nicolas Poussin and Alessandro Algardi, one of the most significant representatives of a stylistic and aesthetic opposition to the more flamboyant aspects of the High Baroque. Certainly, the present composition elegantly combines a restrained and pure form of classicism with the theatre and sensuality of the Baroque style. In this respect, this painting of Daedalus and Icarus is one of Sacchi's most inventive and successful compositions. In the artist's celebrated debate with Pietro da Cortona, described by Missirini in his early 19th century history of the Accademia, the two artists discussed the relative virtues of compositions containing fewer figures and those with many. Missirini relates that Sacchi favoured paintings with fewer figures and the present work takes this policy to a natural, and dramatic, conclusion.

    A number of versions of Sacchi's Daedalus fastening wings on his son Icarus are recorded before the end of the 18th century. What had been considered to be the finest version is that in the Palazzo Rosso, Genoa, where it has been since 1766, when it was first recorded in a Brignole sale. One other version has an earlier documented history and has remained in the Doria-Pamphilj family collection in Rome. Together with the present work, these three autograph paintings differ slightly from each other in size and minor details. It is important to highlight that the present work must be recognised as on a par with the Genoa version. Dr. Sutherland Harris points out, 'the freely painted feathers of Icarus's wing are more visible in the [present] version than in the Genoa version, more of Icarus's face is in shadow, and its shorter format concentrates the viewer's attention on the two men and the fatal lack of attention by Icarus to his father's instruction. The treatment and distribution of all the shadows falling on both men have been very carefully recorded, and are not identical in these two versions'.

    Dr. Sutherland Harris concludes 'To summarise, the two paintings by Andrea Sacchi depicting Daedalus and Icarus in the Palazzo Rosso, Genoa and [the present painting] are both autograph works by Sacchi. The fact that there are minor differences between them also supports this conclusion as the artist himself would be more likely to continue to edit and make adjustments than a copyist working in Sacchi's studio under his supervision. During the papacy of Innocent X Sacchi lacked the steady patronage he had enjoyed during the reign of Urban VIII Barberini, especially from Cardinal Antonio, and started making copies of own compositions, among them this subject, but also of the more complex story, The Drunkenness of Noah, of which decent versions exist in Berlin, Vienna and Catanzaro'.

    Sacchi has combined painterly skill, compositional elegance and emotional intensity to emphasise the drama which, as all viewers know, will culminate in Icarus's fall into the sea.
Andrea Sacchi (Nettuno 1599-1661 Rome) Daedalus fastening wings on his son Icarus
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