Amadis Aldano Maldo (de Aldano Maldo) known as Maldonado (o Maldonato) d’Aldana, (known to be in Florence between 1759 and 1800)
Signed on the bottom right.
Trompe l’oeil o “Inganno” con incisioni, 1798 ca.
Tempera on paper, cm. 56 x 40
Inscriptions: (on the engrainving of the hunting scene) Le Major d’Aldana Maldonado d’et f.t (signiture of the artist); (on the etching by Mitelli) Se un cieco guida l’altro cieco, ambedue cascano nella fossa; (on the engraiving of the panoramic view) Benedi(…); (on the engrainving by Montagu) (…). Maria Maggiore / Montagu scul.; (on the etching by Lasinio) Orazio Nelson / Contro Ammiraglio della Squadra Blu, / e Cav.re dell’Insigne Ordine del Bagno; (on the etching by Piranesi) (…) di Nerone Druso con gl’aquedotti di Caracalla; (on the small note within the “meander” or Greek fret) M.sa M.ra Settimmia Strozzi / Vedova Ferroni / Montughi; (on the etching by Crespi) Vai ad uso di Soma, e de tuoi pari, / Non sai che ve ne son si tanti in Corte, / Che potrian caricar cento somari?
The inscription on the bottom left, on the only partially visible sheet of engraving depicting a hunting scene, allows us to state that this work is by Amadis of Maldonado Aldana, painter and etcher active in Florence in the last quarter of eighteenth century. Descendant of Antonio, who came in 1540 from Andalusia as Hofmeister (house-tutor) of Eleonora of Toledo, Amadis Maldonado was captain of the Corps of Engineers in the service of the Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Lorraine, holding the office from 1777 as Major. The superposition of a sheet of illuminated manuscript of the Gospel in the Castilian language on the sheet of the hunting scene reinforces this attribution.
This Trompe l’oeil depicts a series of engravings on the surface of a wooden board, typical of the Northern tradition of the “letter frame” or quodilibet (or, again, pêle-mêle), which in the mid-eighteenth century knew its maximum expansion in European painting and took on, at the turn of the century, other forms like still life and emerged as a visual practical joke of a new kind. From the beginning of the eighteenth century there are in fact more frequent depictions of wooden panels that show open letters, unsealed personal notes, images and writings in print and similar paper materials: a phenomenon that goes hand in hand with the great success of epistolary novels. The “defects” add a degree of plausibility, suggesting that the components of the picture share the same space with the viewer, a real space where things do not enjoy unalterable life in perfection but, taking part of daily life, they crease, lacerate, and break.
The dedication, on a cartouche within the “Meander”, to the Marquise Maria Settimia Strozzi (1745-1811), widow of Giuseppe Francesco Ferroni and living in the villa of Montughi, necessarily places the execution of the work after 1785, when – as documented the Florentine archives – the Ferroni was still living. A key element to define its dating is the presence of an engraving of the portrait of Admiral Nelson from an etching performed in 1798 by Carlo Lasinio from a painting by Daniel Orme: this trompe l’oeil was carried out, according to all the evidence, in the vicinity of such date and before 1811, the year of death of the Marquise Strozzi.
The engravings reproduced in the trompe l’oeil represent foundational references for the Florentine figurative culture of the late eighteenth century, from Proverbj figurati by Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (Due ciechi in procinto di cadere nel fosso, 1678) to the etchings of Giuseppe Maria Crespi for Bertoldo, Bertoldino e Cacasenno (1736), from the scenes of the Dutch farm-style lyricism of Grechetto, to the Roman views of Piranesi (Arco di Nerone Druso con gl’aquedotti di Caracalla, 1745-1763 ca.) and Dominic Montagu (Veduta di S. Maria Maggiore, 1760 ca.).
This tempera by Maldonado of Aldana (Major of the Corps of Engineers) documents the intellectual proximity with the best-known contemporary artists of the Florentine artistic environment; in particular, Giuseppe della Santa and his sons Caterina and Pietro Leopoldo, authors of optical illusions that are “deceptive” cameos and carvings on a simple wooden surface. It is important to point out in this regard that Giuseppe, followed by his son, was restorer and “scrittore” of the Biblioteca Laurenziana, of the Magliabechiana and of the archives of the Grand Duke, admired by his contemporaries as“imitatore di caratteri” (“imitator of typefaces”), “abilissimo nel restaurare le antiche edizioni tanto coi caratteri a mano, che con le dorature e con gli altri convenevoli adornamenti” (“skilled in restoring the old editions with both characters by hand, with gilding and other pleasant adornments”).
The carvings and the illuminated and printed manuscripts of the Trompe l’oeil are not linked to a figurative or allegorical message that the viewer must decipher, neither he or she is called to imagine a more profound meaning, conspicuously absent, of the nature of optical illusion of is work which seems to allude to the proverb of the two blind men. The magical power of the trompe l’oeil is that the represented objects are the equilibrium of two realities: that of the object and that of the artificial, pictorial illusion, as shown in the painting entitled Raccolta di disegni con autoritratto e ritratto di Elleviou (private collection) exhibited by Boilly at the Salon of 1800.
Photographer: Rob Matthews