The display of The victorious Hannibal at the Museo del Prado
offers visitors an exceptional opportunity to see one of the most important and impressive works from Goyas early career. Painted in the spring of 1771, it falls within a period not previously represented in the Prados rich and remarkable collection of the artists works. Through an agreement reached between the Museum and the Fundación Selgas-Fagalde to promote and disseminate their respective collections and the artistic heritage that these institutions house, Goyas work is being shown at the Prado alongside his Italian Notebook, a sketchbook that he acquired during his time in Italy (1769-71). Among numerous other drawings and annotations, it contains sketches for the composition of The victorious Hannibal and its principal figures, namely Hannibal and the bulls head of the allegorical figure of the River Po, which the Carthaginian general crossed.
The victorious Hannibal is a work of clearly outstanding technical merit, evident in its harmonious composition, skilled treatment of light, and the deft, firm brushstrokes that model the figures through colour and light.
The painting was first presented as an undoubtedly autograph work by Goya in 1994, a year after it had been identified at the Prado and as part of one of the exhibitions organised to celebrate the Museums 175th anniversary. It now returns to the Prado for display in one of the Goya galleries for six years through the present agreement. In return, the Prado will carry out the technical study and restoration of five works in the Fundación Selgas-Fagalde collection and organise two exhibitions to be held at the Fundación in Cudillero (Asturias).
The victorious Hannibal seeing Italy from the Alps for the first Time
The identification in 1993 by Jesús Urrea of Goyas first documented work, The victorious Hannibal seeing Italy from the Alps for the first Time in the Fundación Selgas-Fagalde, marked an important step forward in our knowledge of the artist.
Francisco de Goya painted this canvas at the end of his two-year period in Italy in order to enter it in the competition organised by the Fine Arts Academy in Parma in 1771. This prestigious institution enjoyed the patronage of Duke Filippo di Borbone, nephew of Charles III of Spain. The painting, which was lost for many years following its presentation at the competition and possible return to Spain, was purchased in Madrid in the mid-nineteenth century by the archaeologist, historian and businessman Fortunato Selgas (1839-1921), who considered it to be Italian.
The twenty-five year-old Goya must have hoped that winning the prize at Parma, a city linked to Spain through family ties with the Bourbons, would bring him fame and position on his return to Court. The preparation and efforts that he devoted to this competition indicate his concern to obtain the academic success that had been denied to him in Spain on two occasions. As many as five pages in the Italian Notebook as well as two preparatory oil sketches (Zaragoza, Museo de Bellas Artes, and New York, private collection) offer clear evidence of the young and impetuous Goyas determination as he followed the Academys guidelines for the composition, adhering to the specified format and subject: the triumphal arrival of Hannibal (a hero of Spanish origins) into Italy following his arduous crossing of the Alps. Nonetheless, the gold medal was awarded to the Italian painter Paolo Borroni, a pupil of Bossi. Goyas work only received six votes and an honourable mention, although his name did appear in the prestigious literary journal Le Mercure de France.
The changes between the final preparatory oil sketch and the definitive painting only relate to small details but are of great interest for an understanding of the artist and his refined and reflexive creative process given that these modifications make the final work more harmonious. Painted in the fashionable classicist style of the period, the composition and figures reveal a close study of the psychology and states of mind of the figures. This is evident, for example, in the face of Hannibal, who is shown surprised at his own achievement (he had set out from Spain and crossed the Pyrenees and the Alps with his troops) and also fearful at the responsibility of leading his army on to conquer Rome.
Goya located Hannibal in the immediate foreground thus focusing most attention on this figure and conveying the fiery ardour of his expression. The figure of the general and the two accompanying figures, the majestically winged Genius and the mounted soldier, are located in the centre of the composition on a raised area of land that further emphasises them as if they were standing on a stage while the army passes behind, descending the mountain towards Italy. The soldier with the standard looks at his general with both wonder and trust, as if determined to follow him wherever he is commanded, while the Genius is depicted in a theatrical pose that conveys admiration, extending her outstretched arm above the figure of Hannibal. Leading the eye into the composition is the figure of the River Po, represented using the traditional iconography of a male figure with a bulls head with sharp horns reclining on an amphora that spouts water.
Jesús Urrea has been Associate Director of the Museo Nacional del Prado (1992-1996) and Director of the Museo Nacional de Escultura (1996-2008). At the present time he is President of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de la Purísima Concepción and titular professor of Art History at the University of Valladolid. He identified The victorious Hannibal by Goya in the collection of the Fundación Selgas-Fagalde housed in El Pito, Cudillero, Asturias. Professor Urrea published his findings in the Boletín del Museo Nacional del Prado, XIV, no. 32, 1993, pp.59-66.
The painting was restored and studied at the Prado in 1993 and exhibited there from January to March 1994 in conjunction with the Museums acquisition of Goyas Italian Notebook.