Giuseppe Bonito (Catellammare di Stabia, Naples, Italy, 1707 – Naples, 1789)
Charles of Bourbon, King of the Two Sicilies
Oil on canvas, 124 x 97 cm
A disciple of Francesco Solimena, Giuseppe Bonito's natural talent for portraiture earned him the patronage of the Marquess of Montealegre, but he achieved fame by painting genre scenes and group portraits very similar to those of Gaspare Traversi. Named court painter to Charles of Bourbon in 1751, his paintings of Santa Chiara in Naples situated him in the vanguard of early Rococo taste. Director of the Naples Academy of Drawing and supervisor of the royal tapestry factory of San Carlo alle Mortelle, he would eventually be influenced by Mengs's pictorial style, conveying a sense of sobriety and refined compositional elegance. After 1775 his paintings became more rigidly academic, exhausting his fertile store of creative ideas.
The portrait in the Banco Santander Collection was probably painted around 1745, when Charles of Bourbon was approximately 28 or 30 years old. Based on his military outfit, complete with helmet, cuirass, sword and flare in one hand, his energetic, commanding stance and attitude, and the battle scene we can just make out in the background, this portrait may be connected to Charles's brilliant leadership of his army at the Battle of Velletri, fought against Austrian troops on 12 August 1744, which secured his seat on the throne of the Two Sicilies. Lavishly attired in a tobacco-brown justacorps with gold embroidery, the king's chest is adorned with the badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece and the sash of the Order of St. Januarius. The agitated lace on his cuffs and cravat and the plumes on the helmet add a sense of motion to the sovereign's slender figure, depicted at slightly more than three-quarter length with his hands caught in mid-gesture.
The painter Giovanni Maria delle Piane had portrayed the king on several previous occasions, but in 1742, in light of Piane's advanced age, his disciple Clemente Ruta was called to the court at Naples. However, the Neapolitan Giuseppe Bonito would ultimately have the honour of creating the loveliest and noblest likeness of Queen Elisabeth Farnese's favourite son.
This painting differs in several respects from the portrait in the Museo Campano di Capua and the one at the Museo del Prado (inv. no. P3946), a work of higher quality and fastidiously detailed execution from the Spanish royal collection, but it offers further proof of Bonito's ability to maintain high standards in his various copies. The French artist Jacques François Gaultier, in Naples from 1740, made an engraving of this same model which for a time was the official image of the Neapolitan monarch.
In this work, as in all of Bonito's portraits, we can see how the artist sought to individualise his model by emphasising the expressive intensity of his gaze and using his talent for psychological characterisation. The subtle colour palette, the refined quality of the composition, the lighting and the vaporous atmosphere make this a fine specimen of the work of Giuseppe Bonito, whose skill as a portraitist was officially recognised in 1751 when the king appointed him court painter. The portrait is set in a frame with richly carved golden foliage from the same period as the painting. [Jesús Urrea]