Antonio Tempesta
Florence 1555 - Rome 1630
Oil on marble - 42 x 66.5 cm.

Further information


Lord William Bentinck (Portland 1774 – Paris 1839)



This magnificent picture on alabaster/marble showing a multifigured composition of a battle scene is an important addition to Tempesta’s limited oeuvre of pictures on stone (see Johanna Beate Lohff, Malerei auf Stein Antonio Tempesta’s Bilder auf Stein im Kontext der Kunst- und Naturtheorie seiner Zeit, Munich 2015. She counts 43 pieces). At the same time it represents a link between the pictures on stone and Tempesta’s rich graphic oeuvre. The picture is a most characteristic example of his style around 1609 – 1614, but it is particularly rich and animated. The depicted scene, taken from Exodus 17: 8 – 16, was very rarely depicted in Italian 17th century paintings.

Among the 43 pieces on stone by Tempesta, there is no other example of this subject. Joshua is apparently the figure wearing a helmet and holding a banner in his right hand, while he gives commands with his left hand. He stands on a hill in the right background, followed by an archer and other figures. On the other side, on the hill in the far background on the left we see Moses kneeling, accompanied by Aaron and Hur.


Tempesta painted quite a number of pictures depicting the “Crossing of the Red Sea”. Close in style is the very large picture on alabaster (1606 -08) in Milan, Giulini coll. (Lohff, cat. I.1; plate1). It is his only signed picture; it is not dated. The facial type of Pharaoh wearing a crown, drowning, is very similar in reverse to the Amalekite rider with a turban on a horse, on the far left of our picture. 

The picture on alabaster in the Palacio Real in Madrid (Lohff 2b) can be compared to this as well. The face of Pharaoh sinking back, on his horse, is similar to that of the warrior with a turban in a red dress in the center of our picture, just being pierced by the sword of a rider with a helmet. Another comparable painting is the “Crossing of the Red Sea”, painted on marble, formerly with Luca Baroni (2011; Lohff no. 2.3).


However, it must be said straight away, that the new picture is very closely related to the etching by Tempesta of the same subject, signed and dated 1609 (MDCVIIII). See S. Buffa, The Illustrated Bartsch 35 Antonio Tempesta, New York 1984, p. 60, no. 234 with plate; Eckhard Leuschner, The Illustrated Bartsch  35 Commentary Part 1 Antonio Tempesta, New York 2004, p. 133 – 134, no. 234; Eckhard Leuschner, Antonio Tempesta, Petersberg 2005, p.161 , 447 -448, 486.


The large etching, consisting of two sheets, is dedicated to Pompeo Targone (1575 – ca. 1630), a military engineer, architect of fortresses, sculptor of bronzes, and jeweller. He was, just as Tempesta, a protégé of Pope Paul V and Cardinal Scipione Borghese. About Targone, see: Giovanni Baglione, Le Vite de’ Pittori, Scultori et Architetti, Rome 1642, pp. 329 -331; Catherine Fruhan, ad vocem Pompeo Targone, in Dictionary of Art 30 1996, pp. 344-345. The dedication reads as follows:



Antonius Tempesta  devoti animi monumentum.


“He took part in the Spanish campaigns in the southern Netherlands, whence he was ordered back to Rome in 1598 by Pope Clement VIII to work on the … bronze ciborium (completed 1600) for the altar of the Blessed Sacrament… in the transept of S. Giovanni in Laterano. Subsequently, Targone worked in Flanders, Mantua and Cologne as a military engineer, but was again recalled to Rome (1607) by Pope Paul V, who sought his expertise in hydraulics, marsh drainage, water supply and military fortifications…..He was the architect assigned to complete the fortification of Ferrara (1607 – 09). Targone’s superior knowledge of metalwork was called on when he was assigned the task of refining the model and casting (1611) the intricate bronze framing device surrounding the image of the Virgin and Child on Girolamo Rainaldi’s altar in the Borghese Chapel (Cappella Paolina) in S. Maria Maggiore.” (Fruhan 1996) 

Angels in bronze are holding the miraculous image of the Virgin. In the upper field there is a relief with the scene of the Miracle of the Snow. According to Baglione (1642), Tempesta furnished a drawing (now lost) for Targone after the model by Girolamo Rainaldi. (see also Leuschner 2005, p. 486, fig. 14.17).


Most of the scene in the foreground of the etching–five horses and four riders, occupying most of the width of the scene–has been depicted by Tempesta in his painting, where the group of five horses however occupy only a little more than the left half of the width of the scene. In the picture, there is a clearer division between the battling figures on horses in the foreground, the battle in the middle ground and the hill, on the top of which we see the group of figures led by Joshua with the banner, followed by a warrior, who shoots an arrow with his arch. There is a wide gap in the center, in the far background, where we see several elephants carrying thrones with warriors–whereas they are missing in the etching. Above this scene in the middle background, filled with the smoke of guns, we see the intense blue sky. The scene with Moses, flanked by Aaron and Hur, is further away in the etching, while it is a little closer to the viewer and better visible in the painting.  


The present painting can be dated to ca. 1609 – 1614, a period which roughly coincides with Tempesta’s and Targone’s activity for the Borghese. See Tempesta’s two frescoes of friezes with triumphs of Amor and Fame on the short walls of the main room in the Casino de’ Aurora in Scipione Borghese’s Villa on the Quirinal (1614; Leuschner 2005, fig.14.18. See also his pages 478 – 492).



Erich Schleier