The Allegory of Human Progress (The Triumph of Bacchus and the Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite), oil study on canvas by Luca Giordano, 4ft x 6ft 2in (1.21 x 1.9m), priced $700,000 at Robert Simon Fine Art.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The Triumph of Bacchus and the Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite by Luca Giordano (1634-1705) is not what you would describe as ‘dashed off’.

The oil, a complex mythological scene featuring various gods and goddesses on a rocky shoreline, is a modello or oil study based on a huge ceiling cycle painted for the Medici family.

Yet if Giordano was best known for something, it was for the speed at which he worked. The Neapolitan Baroque painter is the focus of an exhibition running at Robert Simon Fine Art in New York until June 28, and the large mythological scene is one of the central works in the show.

He was nicknamed Luca fa presto (literally ‘Luca does quickly’) and is popularly considered to have been the most prolific artist until Picasso (and Giordano died 20 years younger), with more than 5000 paintings and frescoes to his name. Even so, his pictures are characterised by compositional intricacy and high levels of finish.

The modello in question is one of a group of 12 produced after the completion of the ceiling cycle, Allegory of Human Progress.

Executed in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, it adorned the Galleria, built as a reception room and place to store the family’s antiques collection. It follows the history of humanity from creation to the advent of the Medici family, and its theme is the improvement of mankind through virtue and wisdom. The group of model paintings was in the possession of the Riccardi family until the 19th century.

In 2023, the modelli - including The Triumph of Bacchus - were displayed together at an exhibition in the Palazzo. One of the pictures is in a private British collection, and the remaining 10 are with the National Gallery in London but not on display. Nor are there many to be found in New York. Though two are held by institutions, neither is on display. This is thought to be the first exhibition devoted to the artist in New York.


A Guardian Angel Leading a Child, oil on canvas, 3ft 4in x 2ft 6in (1.01m x 75cm), $375,000 at Robert Simon Fine Art.

Giordano was popular in his time and remains sought-after today. As well as working in Naples and Florence, he went to Madrid where he became court painter to King Charles II of Spain. The exhibition features pictures from each period of his work and across a range of subject matter including allegorical, genre, mythological and religious works.

He also appears regularly on the open market where prices often go into the six figures (his record, according to ArtPrice, is £800,000 made at Christie’s in 2014). Prices at the show range from $5000-700,000.

“Giordano is beloved by me and by many others for his visceral appeal, his varied style and the vitality of his compositions,” Simon says. “The idiosyncratic personality of the man is evident in every painting.”


Giordano with Giovanni Battista Ruoppolo, Fruit, Flowers, a Ceramic Dish and a Vase on a Stone Ledge beneath a Grape Arbor with Two Women Gathering the Bounty, oil on canvas, 3ft 10in x 5ft 7in (1.17 x 1.69m), $250,000 at Robert Simon Fine Art.