Born in Venice in 1675, Pellegrini received his training in the workshop of Paolo Pagani (1661–1716), with whom he travelled to Moravia and Vienna in 1690. In 1704, he was back in Venice, where he married Angela Carriera, the sister of the celebrated Grand Tour pastel portraitist, Rosalba Carriera. Four years later Pellegrini departed for London at the behest of Charles Montagu, the British Ambassador to Venice and later 1st Duke of Manchester. Although he lost the commission of the decoration of the new St Paul's Cathedral interior dome to Sir James Thornhill following the fall of the Whigs in 1710, Pellegrini found considerable success in England. He established himself as one of the most sought-after decorative painters in Europe during his stay. His most important large-scale decoration was the cycle in Castle Howard, N. Yorkshire, which was largely destroyed by fire in 1941. In 1713 he finished the decoration of the chapel and the stair-well of the Duke of Manchester’s country house, Kimbolton Castle. Pellegrini’s third large-scale cycle from this period, probably done c. 1709–10, consists of a series of mythological canvases originally intended for Burlington House, London, and now in Narford Hall, Norfolk.
The present lot dates from Pellegrini’s English period (1708-13). The story of Diana and Endymion is recounted by Apollodorus (I, vii, 5). The hunter Endymion was condemned to perpetual youth and sleep by Jupiter, as punishment for his romantic interest in Juno. The goddess of the hunt, Diana, fell in love with the beautiful youth at first sight as he slept on Mount Lamos in Caria; she descended from the heavens each night to watch over him. The success of Pellegrini’s works at Burlington House and Narford led to the execution of numerous, smaller works depicting the stories of mythical heroines, such as the present lot. Whilst Pellegrini brought from Venice experience painting mythological scenes, pictures of these subject matters appear in his ouvre only after his arrival to London.
Pellegrini's successful entry into England's artistic circles was confirmed in 1711, when he became a founder-member and director of the country's first school for art, Godfrey Kneller's Academy in Great Queen Street. He subsequently travelled to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria, returning to Venice by 1735, where he remained for the rest of his life.
A characteristic work of Pellegrini's English period, this picture is close to the Diana and Endymion at Hinton Ampner, Hampshire.