Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 66 x 82 cm
Signed: and dated lower left: Rubio 1832
Paris, Galerie Fischer-Kiener, 1989; New York, Private Collection.
Paris, Salon, 1833, no. 3189. The Salon livret describes the scene as follows: Nous lisions un hour dans un doux loisir…nous étions seuls et sans défiance … mais un seul moment nous perdit tous deux … alors celui qui ne me sera plus ravi colla sur ma bouche ses lèvres tremblantes, et nous laissâmes échapper ce livre par qui nous fut révélé le mystère d’amour. (Dante); Cambrai 1834; Valenciennes, 1835; Romance and Chivalry – History and Literature reflecting in Early Nineteenth-Century French Painting, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans – June 23 – August 25 1996, Stair Sainty Mantthiesen Inc, New York – September 25 – November 2 1996, Taft Museum, Cincinnati – December 12 – February 9 1997.
The tragic tale of the lovers from Dante’s Inferno (canto V) was first portrayed by the now little known artist Coupin de la Couperie at the Salon of 1812. Coupin’s painting had been widely acclaimed and its purchase by the Empress Josephine for her collection at Malmaison brought it further attention (it now may be seen at the château of Arenenberg, on Lake Constance, given to Josephine’s daughter Hortense by the Grand Duchess Stephanie of Baden). An engraving after this work inspired Ingres, then based in Rome, to paint the first of his several versions of the subject; while Rubio paints the same moment he concentrates more attention than either Coupin or Ingres on the neo-gothic setting.
All three artists represented the moment when Francesca, wife of the crippled Lord of Rimini, who has been reading the romantic tales from the Morte d’Artur. drops the book as she reads how Sir Lancelot kisses Arthur’s wife Guinevere in an adulterous embrace. At that moment, her young companion and brother-in-law, Paolo Malatesta, leans to kiss her. Unfortunately for the young couple, her husband, Giovanni Malatesta, enters the room at that moment and in instant rage, plunges his sword through both of them. The drama of the moment is accentuated by the contrast of the tenderly embracing couple seated unaware of their imminent fate with the enraged husband entering the room behind them, about to draw his sword.
In its highly finished and detailed style, quattrocento-esque spatial construction, colouring and immediate sentimentality, this picture perpetuates the troubadour tradition. As attested by the numerous later versions Ingres did of his Paolo and Francesca, the popularity of this style and the fascination with modern literary classics continued throughout the Romantic period, even into the 1860s.
Rubio was Italian by birth but had an international career with a strong association with the Paris art world and the Salon, where he exhibited from 1831 to 1867. He began his studies in Rome at the Academy of Saint Luke; at a young age he was awarded the Canova prize and was received as a member in 1827, when just nineteen years old. He went briefly to Poland and was, by 1830, in Paris studying with Léon Cogniet. He later lived for some twenty years in Geneva and travelled a great deal, notably to Turkey and Russia, where he painted the portrait of the Tsar. In 1870 he was named professor at the Academy of Beaux Arts of Florence.