(b. 1612, Siena, d. 1676, Roma)
Allegory of Fortune1660s
Oil on canvas, 179 x 271 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome
The Sienese painter Bernardino Mei, author of this masterpiece, was a student of Rutilio Manetti. He moved to Rome permanently in 1657, and there became fascinated with the painting of Preti, Sacchi, Maratta, and Mola, as well as with the sculpture of Bernini. The result for Mei's own work was an important synthesis of classicism and Baroque elements.
This painting has connected with a seventeenth-century documentary reference to a picture of Fortune Subdued by Virtue. The painting treats the stoic theme of the disdain of wealth, a virtue that places the philosopher above the vicissitudes of Fortune. The picture was originally part of a series of large canvases painted by Mei between 1660 and 1670 and now dispersed. Commissioned by Cardinal Flavio Chigi, the series once decorated the grand salon of the Palazzo Chigi. In this important painting, with its grandiose composition and surface rhythm of monumental figures (derived in part from classical statuary), traces of Mei's maturing artistic experiences in these years can be recognized. The artist has transformed the naturalism of his teacher Rutilio Manetti, creating forms that are radiantly illuminated by a cold, glossily rendered light. The figure of the philosopher Cratetes, wrapped in shadow, is a perfect example of Mei's fusion of the naturalism of Preti and the classicism of Maratta.