Date : I have dated the painting to the final years of the artist's activity in Naples, circa. 1725 and this was confirmed by the expert on Neapolitan painting, Nicola Spinosa (written communication, see below).
Subject : The subject is taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses, (1:689-713). Pan was pursuing a nymph of Arcadia named Syrinx when they reached the River Ladon which blocked her escape. To avoid the God's clutches she prayed to be transformed, and Pan unexpectedly found himself holding an armful of tall reeds.
The artist has chosen to illustrate the scene just before the point of Syrinx's transformation. The nymph flees in fright of the approaching Pan whilst two alarmed water nymphs watch anxiously from the river's edge. (see photographic detail link at end of document)
Artist : Pupil of Luca Giordano (1634-1705) and considered Francesco Solimena's competitor.
He favoured the tonal values of Luca Giordano, with delicate blues, pale pinks and violets that prevail in the fluttering robes worn by Syrinx and the powdery blue sky.
De Matteis travelled widely and is known to have painted for the following important patrons, among others :
The Count d'Estrees (in France 1702-1705)
Pope Clement XI, Rome
Pope Clement XII, Rome
Pope Benoit XIII, Rome
The Count Dau (Austrian envoy in Naples)
The Marquis of Carpio, (Spanish viceroy in Naples)
Prince Eugene of Savoy
The Earl of Shaftesbury
Nicola Spinosa : Il Soprintendente
(Ministere per I Beni Culturali e Ambientali, Soprintendenza per I beni artistici e storici di Napoli)
Posso confermarle che il dipinto raffigurante "Pan e Siringa" e certamente opera di Paolo de Matteis databile agli ultimi anni di attivita dell'artista, intorno al 1725.
In relazione alla presenza dello stemma di Ferdinando I di Borbone e la famiglia Meriam di Prussia sul retro dell'opera, cio potrebbe spiergarsi con il fatto che Paolo de Matteis dipinse numerose opere per famiglie austriache e tedesche negli anni del Viceregno d'Austria a Napoli (1707-1734) e che alcuni di questi dipinti potrebbero essere passati dopo il 1734 nelle collezioni borboniche con l'ascesa sul trono di Napoli in quell'anno di Carlo di Borbone, cui successe nel 1759 Ferdinando IV che dal 1815 prese il titolo di Ferdinando I Re delle Due Sicilie.
Three seals on the reverse have provided concrete details of the early provenance of this painting. However it is not yet known who commissioned the painting from de Matteis. Nicola Spinosa has proposed that it may have been painted for one of the Austrian or German patrons residing in Naples during the years the Viceroy of Austria was in the city (1707-1734) and that like many other paintings, it perhaps passed into the Bourbon collection when Carlo di Borbone acceeded to the throne in 1734. This would account for it passing directly into the hands of his successor, Ferdinando I, whose seal appears on the reverse.
The painting bears three wax seals on the reverse, identified by Dr. Cecil R. Humphrey-Smith of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies as :
1. Ferdinando I of Bourbon and the Two Sicilies (1759-1825).
2. MERIAN family of Prussia, (ennobled by the Austrian Kaiser Ferdinand I, in 1563) which settled in Basel-land, Switzerland.
3. This black wax seal has not yet been positively identified : it seems to be Bavarian or at least, of German origin and is quite likely the seal of the first owner of the painting.
Christie's Sale, London 6 July 1990 as Lot 7.
The present owner would like to learn the identity of the third seal : please email me with any comments: email@example.com
Here follows more details on the seals :
SEAL NO. 3 (on reverse of canvas)
It looks like a municipal coat of arms though, like Citerio which has roses rather than fleurs de lys, it might be familial. It is cut in the late-seventeenth or early sixteenth century style. It is similar to several appearing in Lombardy in the vicinity of Milan. Use of the Imperial eagle in the chief is significant. The plumed and horned helmet at the top of the shield closely resembles that of "L'arme dei duchi del Meclemburgo nel XVI secolo", for comparison in art see the Schwerin family coat of arms with a helmet described as "due corna di bufalo" which reappears in the engravings and drawings of Cranach and Durer.
The form of the shield seems datable to about 1690. The shield is divided into two sections. An eagle with outspread wings in the top section, and the bottom section shows the facade of a castle portal with two keys either side and what appears to be a fleur-de-lys (?) above the castle.
A pair of snakes writhe vertically outside of the shield situated beneath a pair of as yet, unidentified motifs.
For those interested in Heraldry and Provenance : MORE ON THE OTHER SEALS....
SEAL NO. 1
The red seal with three superimposed images bears the words DUE SICILIE indicating the Royal House of Borbone-due-Sicilie. This certainly would fit with the geographical origins of our artist and introduces the possiblity of de Matteis having been commissioned to paint Pan and Syrinx by a member of the royal household.
The seal shows the regalia of the Sacro Angelico Imperial Ordine Constantiniano di S. Giorgio._ This seal would have been associated with a Grand Master of the Imperial order of the Golden Fleece.
The Grand Masters for the period of de Matteis' activity up till his death in 1728 are listed as follows :
Girolamo Angelo Flavio Comneno 1679-1687
Giovanni Andrea Angelo Flavio Comneno 1687-1697
Francesco I Farnese 1697-1727
Antonio Farnese 1727-1731
Carlo di Borbone, (Charles III of Spain) 1732-1759
Ferdinando I di Borbone-Due Sicilie 1759-1825
Francesco I di Borbone-Due-Sicilie 1825-1830
Ferdinando II di Borbone-Due Sicilie 1830-1859
Francesco II di Borbone-Due Sicilie 1859-1894
The royal family motto was "CIANCE ERUDITE" which may be a possiblity.
N.B. : In the Wildenstein sale, there was a portrait of Kaiser Franz I of Austria in which he is seen wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece (Lot 20). This could also point to the early provenance of Pan and Syrinx, as de Matteis had been much favoured at the court in Vienna earlier in the century. The painting may have originally entered the Kaiser's collection via the Conte Aloys Thomas Raimund Harrach, Viceroy of Naples 1728-1733 who could have brought the de Matteis from Naples to Vienna and presented it to the Kaiser. Harrach took up his post in Naples in 1728, the same year in which de Matteis died, at the height of his fame as an artist in that city.
However, to account for the DUE SICILIE reference, it is important to determine whether Sicilia and Napoli were under Hapsburg domination at the time of Kaiser Franz I.
The Kaiser's portrait was given as a gift of appreciation to Peter Vischer-Sarasin (1751-1823) by the Kaiser himself in 1814. This could provide an explanation for the method by which our painting entered the Vischer collection and would also explain why it is not listed in the 1773 Vischer collection inventory.
Footnote 1 : see Ordini Cavallereschi Storia e Decorazioni by Vincenzo Privitera, 1982, pages 222-237.
SEAL NO. 2 (on the stretcher)
MERIAN - Kaiser Ferdinand I. bessert Theodor Merina sein Wappen. 1563.
The red seal featuring two cranes either side of a shield belongs to Northern Europe. The cranes hold snakes in their mouths which is a symbol associated with cities of The Netherlands.
It should be noted that in the Wildenstein sale, another painting, Lot 30 is stamped on the reverse with a coat-of-arms of the city of Antwerp. Lot 30 was acquired by Peter Vischer-Sarasin from the family of Peter Werthemann, 19th March 1803. The Werthemann family orginate from Antwerp and it was from Peter Werthemann that Peter Vischer-Sarasin inherited the Schloss Wildenstein.
Another connection to the North of Europe is through the Birr branch of Vischer-Sarasin's family which were from the Netherlands.
The shield is surmounted by a Knight's horned helmet and shoulder armour and the order of the golden fleece hangs around the Knight's neck. Above the Knight, between the horns on the helmet is a lightning bolt (?) which is repeated diagonally across the body of the shield. There are three mountain peaks at the base of the shield and a star to the upper right. The shield stands on a rocky plinth which bears the letter S.