Luca Giordano was born in Naples in 1634, the son of Antonio Giordano, an undistinguished follower of Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652). Exhibiting a precocious talent for painting, the young Luca is said by the biographer De' Dominici to have entered Ribera's school at the early age of seven or eight. This direct training is not otherwise documented, yet the intensity of Giordano's early imitation and interpretation of Ribera's style is undeniable.
Shortly after 1650, Giordano, accompanied by his father, traveled to Rome, Florence, and Venice. In Rome the young man studied and drew after the works of Raphael and other High Renaissance masters. He certainly knew Pietro da Cortona's works in Rome and Florence, and may even have studied with the older master. In Venice, Giordano received his first known commissions for altarpieces and turned in earnest to the Venetian Cinquecento painters whose importance had already been made clear to him by the neo-venetianism then current in Rome and Naples and by paintings, especially those of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), in Neapolitan collections. Giordano is documented back in Naples in 1653. His works of the next ten years show a careful assimilation of the lessons learned on his trip, with conscious reference to the various stages of Ribera's career. A growing circle of patrons warmly accepted Giordano's evolving style, although the painter Francesco di Maria (1623-1690) was harshly critical of the younger painter's intense colorism.
Giordano made a second trip north in 1665. In Rome and Florence he returned with renewed interest to the works of Pietro da Cortona; in Venice he resumed his study of the Cinquecento masters. He also expanded his contacts with Venetian patrons and sent many works to Venice and northern Italy in subsequent years. Aside from a possible but undocumented trip to Venice in 1672-1673, Giordano remained in Naples or nearby during the next fifteen years, which are among the least documented of his career. Giordano's openness to diverse artistic currents has long been recognized, and his ability to change his manner to fit a given subject or the desires of his patrons makes it difficult to plot a linear course for his stylistic development at this or any other moment in his life. Indeed, De' Dominici recounted that Giordano often executed paintings expressly "in the manner of" a given artist, either to satisfy the wishes of his patrons or as outright forgeries. Giordano also worked with great speed, producing a vast oeuvre in which few works are dated or documented.
In 1680-1685 Giordano was again in Florence to execute two large decorative commissions, the dome of the Corsini Chapel in the Church of the Carmine and the gallery and library frescoes in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. The Florentine frescoes and the many easel paintings executed in the 1680s show Giordano's continued interaction with the stylistic currents of the day, as required by subject matter, patrons, and his own artistic aims.
In 1692 Giordano accepted the invitation of Charles II of Spain to the court in Madrid, where the painter was regally received and showered with honors. The large surfaces to be decorated allowed Giordano to develop his increasingly free and painterly fresco style, as seen in the evolution from the staircase and nave frescoes at the Escorial (1692-1694) to the Casón del Buen Retiro in Madrid (1697). After the death of Charles II in 1700, Giordano worked mostly for private patrons until returning to Naples in 1702. His last frescoes in the Cappella del Tesoro in the Certosa di San Martino (1704) take the lyrical freedom of the Spanish frescoes to new heights. The late frescoes and easel paintings are generally seen as prefiguring and inspiring the light, decorative style of the early eighteenth century.
De' Dominici reported that Giordano had numerous students, whom he treated very well; of these, none achieved real importance. Giordano died in Naples in 1705. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Ferrari, Oreste and Giuseppe Scavizzi. Luca Giordano. Naples, 1966.
Richerche sul '600 napoletano. Saggie e documenti per la Storia dell'Arte dedicato a Luca Giordano. Milan, 1991.
Ferrari, Oreste and Giuseppe Scavizzi. Luca Giordano. L'opera completa. Naples, 1992.
De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 116-117.