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Art and Love in Renaissance Italy

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

November 11, 2008 to February 16, 2009

The Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth

March 15 to June 14, 2009

"Portrait of a Man and a Woman at a Casement" by Lippi

"Portrait of a Man and a Woman at a Casement" by Fra Filippo Lippi, tempera on panel, 25 1/4 by 16 1/2 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889

photographs by Michele Leight

By Carter B. Horsley

This exhibition contains many famous masterpieces of Italian Renaissance painting relating to the subject of love and marriage and birth and the selections are almost perfect except for the fact that Titian's "Sacred and Profane Love," perhaps the greatest painting on the subject which is in the collection of the Borghese Gallery in Rome is not included.

It is reproduced in color in the lavish, $65 hardcover catalogue that is full of fascinating facts about the paintings that range from the small portraits for domestic display to "birth trays" to large, major works fit for palaces and altarpieces.

The exhibition, which is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from November 11, 2008 to February 16, 2009 and from March 15 to June 14, 2009 at the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, also includes a substantial number of related works in other media such as majolica.

One of the exhibition's most famous works and the frontispieceof its catalogue is "Portrait of a Man and a Woman at a Casement" by Fra Filippo Lippi (circa 1406-1469), a tempera on panel that measures 25 1/4 by 16 1/2 inches. It was given to the Metropolitan in 1889 by Henry G. Marquand. According to one expert, Keith Christiansen, the work is "the first surviving Italian portrait with an interior setting, the first Italian portrait with a landscape background, and the first double portrait in Italian art."

The placement of the figures is rather unusual as the man learning through the window is further back in the picture space than the woman and both are looking straight ahead and not at each other.

"Under Florentine sumptuary law," the catalogue notes, "unless the bride was exempt as the wife of a foreigner, knight, or doctor, such costly attire would have been permitted only for a restricted period; she would have been required to simplify her wardorobe and reduce the number of jewels she wore in the years following her nuptials. The sumptuary laws were regularly broken, however, and a husband could also choose to sell costly items or return them to their lenders at any time." Given the current financial crisis, the timeliness of such laws is quite interesting even if they are unlikely to be adopted in this country.

"Apart from any metaphorical meaning, Lippi exploits the possibilities of the window to create fictive space. Whatever the pictorial inspiration for this portrait, the male figure appears as an adjunct of the woman, who is clearly the focus of attention," according to the catalogue entry for this work.

"Apollo and Daphne" by Pollaiuolo

"Apollo and Daphne," by Antonio del Pollaiuolo, oil (?) on panel (possibly cypress), 11 5/8 by 7 7/8 inches, possibly 1460s, The National Galler, London, Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876

One of the major gems of the exhibition is "Apollo and Daphne," by Antonio del Pollaiuolo (Florentine, 1431-1498). An oil (?) on panel (possibly cypress), it measures 11 5/8 by 7 7/8 inches, possibly 1460s. It is in the collection of The National Gallery in London, Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876.

The catalogue relates the tale:

"Exultant at having just killed the great serpent Python, Apollo taunted Cupid about his lesser abilities as a hunter. Cupid took his revenge, kindling Apollo's love for the nymph Daphne with a golden arrow, while frightening Daphne into flight with its antithesis, an arrow blunt, and tipped with lead. Having already declared to her father, the river god Perseus, her intention to be as chaste as Diana - despite his pleas for a son-in-law and grandsons - Daphne was all the more intent on escaping the amorous Apollo. She ran, he followed, pleading with her to realize from whom she was fleeing, while she felt rather like a hare running before a hound. Her flight only enhanced her beauty: 'The winds bared her limbs, the opposing breezes set her garments a-flutter as she ran and a light air flung her locks streaming behind her.'....Perseus granted her wish to escape pursuit, allowing her to be transformed into a laurel tree. Even then, as her limbs and hair changed to branches and leaves, her feet to roots, and her sides to soft bark, Apollo pressed kisses upon the wood.....Antonio del Pollaiuolo's precious panel painting is the most lyrical intrepretation from the fifteenth century of this Ovidian tale....In 1915, Paul Schubring, in his ground-breaking volume on Italian marriage chests, suggested that the Apollo and Daphne was a side panel of a cassone....Most recently Alison Wright has argued forcefully that it must have been an independent painting, perhaps treated as a precious object as comparable Netherlandish pantings were, and stored in a case or a sleeve...."

Portraits of Giovanni II and Ginevra Sforza Bentivoglio by Ercole de' Roberti

Portrait of Giovanni II Bentivoglio, left, and Portrait of Ginevra Sforza Bentivoglio, both by Ercole de' Roberti, tempera and oil on panel, 21 1/4 by 15 1/4 inches each, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Samuel H. Kress Collection 1939

It was not uncommon in the Renaissance for separate wedding portraits to be made of a bride and groom and the exhibition has several very fine examples including the portraits of Giovanni II Bentivoglio and Ginevra Sforza Bentivoglio, both by Ercole de' Roberti (Ferrarese, circa 1455-6-1496). The works are each tempera and oil on panel, 21 1/4 by 15 1/4 inches and were given in 1939 to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., by Samuel H. Kress, the greatest collector of Italian Renaissance art in the history of the United States. Mr. Kress gave about 3,000 Italian Renaissance paintings to more than 20 American museums.

de' Roberti's master was Francesco del Cossa and these portraits "no doubt depend on Piero della Francesca's celebrated pendant portraits of Battista Sforza and Federigo da Montefeltro (Galleries degli Uffizi, Florence), which were probably painted shortly after Battista's death in 1472, and before Federigo was named duke of Udino, in 1474....Piero's portraits are perhaps the first to place their subjects against a landscape backdrop inspired by Netherlandish examples, and their general prototype may be found in hieratic profile portraits of the Burgundian and northern Italian courts, which were in turn inspired by ancient medals that carried connotations of rulership." The catalogue entry for this pair of paintings suggests that they were painted probably a decade after the couple was married but it "celebrates their union by proclaiming their virture, magnificence, and lineage."

Gozzadini portraits by Maestro delle Storie del Pane

Portrait of a Man, possibly Matteo di Sebastiano di Bernardino Gozzadini, left, and Portrait of a Woman, possibly Ginevra d'Antonio Lupari Gozzadini, attributed to the Maestro delle Storie del Pane, Emilian School, circa 1485-1495, tempera on panel, 20 3/4 by 14 5/8 and 19 2/4 by 14 5/8 inches, respectively, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975

An even more attractive pair is "Portrait of a Man, possibly Matteo di Sebastiano di Bernardino Gozzadini," and "Portrait of a Woman, possibly Ginevra d'Antonio Lupari Gozzadini," that is attributed to the Maestro delle Storie del Pane, Emilian School, circa 1485-1495. Both works are tempera on panel and measure 20 3/4 by 14 5/8 and 19 2/4 by 14 5/8 inches, respectively. The works were given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Robert Lehman in 1975.

The catalogue notes that double portraits rarities in the Italian Renaissance and that while the Bentivoglio pendants "evoke paradigms of state portraiture, the present panels...emphasize the marital virtues."

"The landscape is replete with human figures and animals that evoke marital virtures, fecundity, and prosperity. The paysage moralisé of the male portrait features a falcon-bearer riding on a horse and accompanied by a dog, and a hunter on foot father behind. Falconers are frequent motifs in chivalric amorous imagery, the bird representing the beloved. On the path is a pelican feeding her young from the blood of her pierced breast - a common symbol of charity. The phoenix on the tree stump stands for regeneration, here undoubtedly referring to the family lineage, as does the tree stump that sprouts a new branch in the forground of the female portrait. As a counterpart to the falcon-hearer, this landscape features a woman approaching a unicorn..., the mtoif alludes to the lady's chastity, since legend tells that only virgins could capture the mythical beast....Attributions to Francesco del Cossa and Lorenzo Costa have not found support in recent shcholarship. Carlo Volpe ascribed the panels to the anonymous master known as the Meastro delle Storie del Pane, who in the 1480s painted the fresco cycle at the Castello dei Bentivoglio at Ponte Poledrano, Giovanni Bentivoglio II's favorite rural retreat, outside Bologna on the route to Ferrara - an attribution that recently has gained support."

Double portraits attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio

Portrait of a Young Man, left, and Portrait of a Young Woman, right, attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio, tempera on panel, 20 3/8 by 15 5/8 inches each, The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, The Arabella Huntington Memorial Collection, San Marino, California

Another pair is "Portrait of a Young Man, " and "Portrait of a Young Woman," attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio (Florentine, 1448/9-1494), tempera on panel, 20 3/8 by 15 5/8 inches each, The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, The Arabella Huntington Memorial Collection, San Marino, California.

A nearly identical portrait of a young man is in the Gemaldegalerie, Staatliche Museeen zu Berlin, where it is attributed to
Davide Ghirlandaio. Domenico Ghirlandaio had two younger brothers Davide and Benedetto. The catalogue notes that the "female portrait in the present pair is related to Domenico Ghirlandaio's elegant portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), althugh its mood is more quotidian. Both portraits show an alcove for the display of marriage gifts. The unidentified woman seen here is less expensively dressed than Giovanna Tornabuoni, whoe image is arguably posthumous."

Portraits by Jacometto Veneziano

Portrait of Alvise Contarini and Portrait of a Woman, by Jacometto Veneziano, oil on panel, 4 5/8 by 3 3/8 inches and4 by 2 7/8 inches, respectively, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975

Two exquisite and small portraits of Alvise Contarini and a Woman are by Jacometto Veneziano. (active 1472-1497). They are oils on panel, 4 5/8 by 3 3/8 inches and 4 by 2 7/8 inches, respectively, and were given to The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Robert Lehman in 1975.

The catalogue notes that "the portraits are no doubt those recorded in 1565 in the Vendramin collection with an attribution to Giovanni Bellini." The clarity and brilliant light of these two minature portraits is reminiscent of Bellini's style. The catalogue also notes that "another, slightly smaller verion of the Lehman male portrait is in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry."

The exhibition also includes a quite large and impressive double portrait of a married couple by Lorenzo Lotto (circa1480-1556) in which the man points to a squirel on a table.

"Venus with an Organist and a Dog" by Titian

"Venus with an Organist and a Dog" by Titiano Vecellio, called Titian, oil on canvas, 54 3/8 by 87 1/2 inches, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, shown in New York only

"Venus with an Organist and a Dog" by Titiano Vecellio, called Titian, oil on canvas, 54 3/8 by 87 1/2 inches, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, shown in New York only. The large and lush painting is one of five known versions by Titian and is, according to the catalogue, considered the most sumptuous.

"Venus Blindfolding Cupid" by Titian

"Venus Blindfolding Cupid," by Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian, oil on canvas, 45 5/8 by 72 1/2 inches, Borghese Gallery, New York only

Another major work by Titian is "Venus Blindfolding Cupid," an oil on canvas that measures 45 5/8 by 72 1/2 inches. It is in the collection of the Borghese Gallery in Rome and is being shown in New York only.

The catalogue notes that "one author has noted the irony of the scene: 'rendering Love blind, Venus made him all the more dangerous.' Spaced rhythmically across the picture plane like the picture from ancient relief scupture that must have inpired the artist the protagonists take part in an open-ended drama about love and its effects that alludes to the virtues of marriage. Monumental and grave, yet with the incredible, subdued coloristic richness of Titian's later paintings, the five interlocking figures are set before a view of the mountains of Pieve di Cadore, Titian's hometown."

Another great work is "Venus and Mars Suprised by Vulcan," an oil on canvas by Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto (Venetian, 1518/9-1594). It measures 52 3/4 by 78 inches and is shown only in Fort Worth. It is in the collection of the Pinakothek in Munich.

"Venus and Cupid" by Lotto

"Venus and Cupid," by Lorenzo Lotto, oil on canvas, 36 7/8 by 43 7/8 inches, late 1520s, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchase, Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift, in honor of Marietta Tree, 1986, shown in New York only

One of the more charming works in the exhibition is "Venus and Cupid," by Lorenzo Lotto (Venice, ca. 1480-Loreto, 1556). It is an oil on canvas that measures 36 7/8 by 43 7/8 inches. It was bought in 1986 to The Metropolitan Museum of Art as a gift from Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift, in honor of Marietta Tree. In this work Cupid is urinating on his mother to get her attention.

"Banquet in the Pinewoods" by Botticelli

"The Banquet in the Pinewoods: Scene Three of the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti," by Alexandro di Mariano Filipepi (Botticelli) and workshop, tempera on panel, 33 1/8 by 56 inches, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, shown in New York only

Detail of "Banquet in the Pinewoods" by Botticelli

Detail from "The Banquet in the Pinewoods: Scene Three of the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti," by Alexandro di Mariano Filipepi (Botticelli) and workshop, tempera on panel, 33 1/8 by 56 inches, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, shown in New York only

Alexandro di Mariano Filipepi is one of the greatest painters in history and is known as Botticelli (Florentine, 1444-1510). A fine work by him and his workshop is in the exhibition. It is entitled "The Banquet in the Pinewoods: Scene Three of the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti." It is a tempera on panel that measures 33 1/8 by 56 inches. It is in the collection of the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid and is being shown only in New York.

According to thecatalogue, Botticelli was commissioned in 1483 to paint four spalliere panels "illustrating Giovanni Boccaccio's tale of Nastagio degli Onesti (Decameron 5.8) on the occsion of the marriage of Giannozzo Pucci to Lucrezia Bini, probably by the briedgeroom's father, Antonio, who was already the artists's partron....In a well-known passage, Giorgio Vasari described the four paintings - 'fascinating and very beautiful ' - as being in the Palazzo Pucci, along with a tondo of the Adoration of the Magi (probably the one by Botticelli of about 1470-75 in the National Gallery , London)....Botticelli's narratives strikes many modern observers as an odd choice for a wedding decoration to be hung in the couple's cqmera, and there has beeen much speculationas to its underlying meaning for the patrons. The tale revolves around a wealthy young man from Ravenna, Nastagio degli Onesti, who is rejected - despite his lavish attempts to woo her, - by a young nobelwoman from the Traversari family. Boccaccio is in no doubt about the cruetly of her rejection.....Nastasio went only so far as the neighborhing pinewoods, where he pitched a camp and entertained his friends profusely. ...he saw a horrifying scene: A naked girl ran toward him, screaming; a knight on horesebach followed here, accompanied by dogs that tore at her flesh....The knight, Guido degli Anastagi, tells Nastagio not to interfere, as both partiipants are dead and this is their posthumous punishment for their behavior in life. Hers had been to mock and reject him; his to react to this treatment with suicide." Three of the panels are at the Prado and the fourth panel is in a private collection.

"The Story of Cupid and Psyche" by Sellaio

"The Story of Cupid and Psyche", by Jacopo del Sellaio, tempera on panel, 23 1/4 by 70 inches, 1470s, private collection, New York, shown only in New York

One of the major works in the exhibition that is still in a private collection is "The Story of Cupid and Psyche", by Jacopo del Sellaio (Florentine, 1441/2-1493). It is a tempera on panel that measures 23 1/4 by 70 inches and was executed in the 1470s. The catalogue states that the early episodes of the story are illustrated on a panel in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and that both panels "were attributed in the early literature to Fra Filippo Lippi (ca. 1406-1469) or his son Filippino (ca. 1457-1504), but have been given unanimously to Sellaio since the 1920s. As a pupil of Filippo Lippi, Sellaio was well situated to learn informally from other contemporary painters such as Sandro Botticelli..., whose influence is evident in the Psyche panels. Based on three clearly documented works, Sellaio's oeuvre has come into sharper focus in recent years and he has emerged as a significant painter of small devotional panels as well as narratives such as the Cupid and Psyche."

Two panels with Scenes from The Story of the Argonauts, circa 1465, tempera on wood, gilt ornaments, 24 1/8 by 60 3/8 inches each, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan,1909

The catalogue entry for two panels from The Story of the Argonauts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art provides the following commentary:

"These two panels recount episodes from the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece in vivid detail They have been considered both cassoni fronts and spalliere or wainscoting, panels. Though their dimensions are consonant with those of many cassoni panels, they are in better condition than would be expected of cassoni, which were often damaged in use and thus presumably were spalliere.....Like Ghiberti, who attempted to depict a narrative that unfolds over time through the illusionistic manipulation of space, the artists here treat the panels like a stage on which several episodes take place at varying distances from the viewer. Setting up architectural and landscape settings for the characers to inhabit is an essential element in this sophisticated narrative strategy....There has been almost constant controversy about the panels' authroship since they appeared on the art market in the first years of the twentieth century. Sold by the dealer and collector Stefano Bardini in 1899 as by Pesellino, they retained that attribution, as Everett Fahy recounts, when J. Pierpont Morgan presented them to the Metrpolitan Museum in 1909, though they had also been attributed to Jacopo del Sellaio,....Neither attribution stuck, and in 1932 Bernard Berenson suggested that they were by Giovanni Battista Utlili da Faenza, whose oeuvre eventually became associated with the name of Biagio d'Antonio. Fahy illuminated matters further by calling attention to the fact, first noted by Harry B. Wehle in 1940, that the two panels are not by the same artist. Though some scholars believe the the artist of the second panel designed, but did not execute, the first, this is not universally accepted. Based on the comparison of underdrawings viewed with the aid of infradred reflectography, the artist of the first panel is generally called the Master of Argonauts, perhaps to be identified with Francesco Roselli (1448-before 1513), brother of the better-known Cosimo. Since panels such as these, whether destined for chests or other decorative locations in domenstic settings, were often the product of workshop collaborations, variations in design and execution within what was presumably a single commission are not surprising."

Cassone panel from Florence

Cassone Panel with the Story of Esther, Florence, 1460-1470, tempera and gold on wood, 17 1/2 by 55 3/8 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1918

Some of the most impressive works are cassone panels that adorned wedding chests. One at the Metropolitan Museum depicts "The Story of Esther" and is dated circa 1460-1470 from Florence. According to the catalogue, "Esther, a Jewess, came to Shushan to compete with other virgins of the kingdom for the privilege of marrying King Ahasuerus....To prepare to meet the king, the virgins underwent rituals of purification for many months in a harem....The banquet and marriage take place in a loggia, a private poirtico built as an extension to a palace for celebrations and other events, which would also have been familiar to a contemporary viewer....only when the comprehsensive catalogue of the museum's Italian paintings was published in 1971 was the panel linked to the productive and relatively well-documented workshop of Marco del Buono and Apollonio di Giovanni."

Detail from Cassone panel from Florence

Detail from Cassone Panel with the Story of Esther, Florence, 1460-1470, tempera and gold on wood, 17 1/2 by 55 3/8 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1918

"It is likely," the catalogue notes, "that there was a companion panel, for a second cassone, illustrataing other episodes from Esther's story."

"Francesco Sassetti and His Son Teodoro" by Domenico Ghirlandaio

"Francesco Sassetti and His Son Teodoro,"by Domenico Ghirlandaio, tempera on panel, 33 1/4 by 25 1/8 inches, ca. 1488, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jules Bache Collection, 1949

"Francesco Sassetti and His Son Teodoro," is a fine work by Domenico Ghirlandaio (Florentine, 1448/9-1494). A tempera on panel, it measures 33 1/4 by 25 1/8 inches, and was painted circa 1488. It was given to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1949 as part of the Jules Bache Collection.

The painting was sold at Sotheby's in 1886 for 510 guineas to Robert Benson and in 1927 the Benson collection was purchased by Duveen Brothers, who sold it that year to Mr. Bache. "In 1971," the catalogue stated, "in the catalogue of the Metropolitan Museum's Italian paintings collection, Zeri wrote that 'the age of the man in our double portrait cannot be judged by the present appearnce of his face, which has been extensively repainted and is therefore useless as a means of dating the picture' Later, scholars also remarked on the state of the panel. According to Meryle Secrest, Michele Lazaaroni, who overzealously restored many works held by Duveen, repainted Sassetti's face and made other improvements,' however, the surface rather closely follows the underpainting...."

"Woman with a Mirror" by Romano

"Woman with a Mirror," by Giulio Pippi, called Giulio Romano, oil on canvas, transferred from wood, 43 3/4 by 36 1/4 inches, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

A section of the exhibition is devoted to "profane" love and is full of "erotic" pictures. One of the more outstanding examples is "Woman with a Mirror," by Giulio Pippi, called Giulio Romano (Rome, circa 1499-Mantua, 1546). Romano was the principal pupil of Raphael. The painting is an oil on canvas, transferred from wood, and measures 43 3/4 by 36 1/4 inches. It is in the collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.

"Whatever her historical identity," the catalogue states, "the subject's 'overtly erotic' treatment and the presence of a sculpture of Venus, goddess of love, in a niche in the background leave little doubt that she is a courtesan."

"Allegorical Wedding Picture" attributed to Busi

"Allegorical Wedding Picture," attributed to Giovanni Busi, called Giovanni Cariani, oil on canvas, 29 7/8 by 49 1/4 inches, circa 1510-30, private collection, Switzerland

Oneof the more beautiful paintings in the exhibition is "Allegorical Wedding Picture," attributed to Giovanni Busi, called Giovanni Cariani (San Giovanni Bianco, ca. 1485-Venice, after 1547). An oil on canvas, it measures 29 7/8 by 49 1/4 inches, and is in a private collection in Switzerland.

"Portrait of a Woman (Laura)" by Giorgione

"Portrait of a Woman (Laura)," by Giorgione, oil on canvas mounted on panel, 16 1/8 by 13 1/4 inches, 1506, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Gemaldegaleria, Vienna

There are several portraits of woman in the exhibition including "Portrait of a Woman (Laura)," by Giorgione (Castelfranco Veneto, 1477/8-Venice 1510). An oil on canvas mounted on panel, it measures 16 1/8 by 13 1/4 inches, and was painted in 1506. It is in the collection of the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Gemaldegaleria in Vienna.

The catalogue notes that radiography has indicated that Giorgione changed his mind about the background in his work a couple of times and that it also had once been an oval shape and then reshaped with the result that the bottom was reconstructed.

"Young Woman  in Blue" by Palma il Vecchio"Young Woman in Green" by Palma il Vecchio

"Young Woman in Blue with a Fan," left, and "Young Woman in Greeen Holding a Box," right, both by Jacopo Negreti, called Palma il Vecchio, oil on panel, 25 by 20 1/8 and 19 3/4 by 16 inches, respectively, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The exhibition has two lovely portraits of young women by Jacopo Negreti, called palma il Vecchio (1479/80-1528), both from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. One is entitled "Young Woman in Blue with a Fan," and measures 25 by 20 1/8 inches. The other is entitled "Young Woman in Greeen Holding a Box," and measures 19 3/4 by 16 inches. Both are oils on panel.

"The Triumph of Fame" birth tray

"The Triumph of Fame" birth tray, by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni, called Lo Scheggia, tempera, silver and gold on panel, 36 1/2 inches in diameter, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase in memory of Sir John Pope-Hennessy; Rogers Fund, The Annenberg Foundation, Drue Hieinz Foundation, Annette de la Renta, Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Richardson, and the Vincent Astor Foundation Gifts, Wrightsman and Gwynne Andrew Funds, special funds, and Gift of the children of Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joshua Logan, and other gifts and bequests by exchange, 1995

One of the most impressive works in the exhibition is "The Triumph of Fame" birth tray by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni, called Lo Scheggia (1406-1486), the younger brother of Masaccio. The work, which is 36 1/2 inches in diameter and tempera, silver and gold on panel, was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995 when it was deaccessioned by the New York Historical Society. The tray was made to mark the birth of Lorenzo de' Medici, the "de facto ruler of Florence from his father Piero's death in 1469 until his own in 1492.The catalogue states that "Piero de' Medici must have bought it as a gift for his wife, Lucrezia Tornabuoni." The subject of the tray was based "largely on Boccaccio's Amorosa visione...and Petrarch's Trionfi...,two popular vernacular poems of the period....Lo Scheggia's Fame is a winged woman, a sword in her right hand and a statuette of a cupid in her left, standing on a globe placed atop a complexly constructed pedestal....Twenty-eight men on horseback pledge their allegeiance with raised right arms below her. They are dressed in extravagant contemporary costumes, their armor reflecting the sunlight and their fur-lined brocade robes. In Petrarch's text, these men include celebrated heroes of the past such as Caesar. Hannibal, Achilles, Noah, King Arthur, Plato, Aristotle, and Herodotus....By 1811 it had passed to Alexis-Francis Artaud de Montor, a French diplomat and prolific writer. Artaud de Montor....published a study of these paintings in which he attributed the Medici-Tornabuoni tray to Giotto, an indication of the state of scholarship regarding early Italian pantings at the time. After Artaud de Montor's death in 1849, his collection was sold in Paris, and Thomas Jefferson Bryan, a wealthy Phildelphia art collector then resident in Paris, bought some eighteen paintings at the sale, including this tray. For several years Bryan exhibited his collection in New York, at his Bryan Gallery of Christian Art and elsehwere; in 1867 he donated it to the New york Historical Society."

"The Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba" birth tray

"The Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba" birth tray, tempera, gold, oxidizedsilver leaf on panel, 36 3/8 inches in diameter, workshop of Francesco del Cossa, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Edith A. and Percy S. Straus Collection

Another colorful and large birth tray is attributed in the catalogue to the workshop of Francesco del Cossa (Ferrarese, 1430-circa 1477) and its subject is "The Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba." It is 36 3/8 inches in diameter and in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. According to the catalogue, Cossa was "best known for the complex astrological frescoes at the Palazzzo Schifanoia, executed in collaboration with Cosmè Tura on the occasion of Borso d'Este's elevation to duke of Ferrara in 1471....Franceso's painting style, recognizable for its complex and oftentimes eccentric detail, was both popular and influential." The meeting of Solomon and the Queen "became a metaphor for the union of the eastern and western churches, the much-celebrated but short-lived outcome of the ecumenical council that took place in Basel, Ferrara and finally Florence...between 1431 and 1439....The evocative story...owed much to the influence of Lorenzo Ghiberti's representataion on one of the lowest, and therefore most visible, gilt -bronze panels of the East Doors of the Florentine Baptistery, which were installed in 1452."

"The Triumph of Venus" birth tray

"The Triumph of Venus," birth tray, circa 1400, Florence, Master of Charles of Durazzo, tempera on panel, 19 1/4 by 19 1/8 inches, Musée du Louvre, Départment des Peintures, Donation de la marquise Arcanati-Visconti, 1914

A dodecagonal birth tray from Florence circa 1400 depicting "The Triumph of Venus" has been attributed to the Master of Charles of Durazzo and is a tempera on panel that measures 19 1/4 by 19 1/8 inches. It was given in 1914 to the Musée du Louvre by the Marquise Arcanati-Visconti.

The catalogue notes that "both Miklos Boskovitz and Everett Fahy have identified this painter as the Florentine Francesco di Michele, who was responsible for some of the earliest Renaissance marriage chests and birth trays, but also executed monumental sacred work, such as the altarpiece for the Church of San Martino a Mensola, outside Florence."

"The artist," the catalogue entry continued, "used his knowledge of the sacred iconographic types popular for altrapieces to good advantage here. The composition of the tray comes directly from scenes of Christ Triumphant and the Assumption of the Virgin, in which the main figure is elevated and enclosed in a mandorla, counnected by rays of light to the devout below. On this tray, however, the stuject is distinctly pagan rather than Christian; the main figure ia a dainty nude winged Venus, hoveirng in a brilliant glow, and the rays of light joining her to six male devotees originate from her genitals. These devotees - heroic lovers from ancient, bibilical, and medieval literature, conveniently identified by inscriptions on their tunics, - stare up at her in awe and make gestures of humility. They kneel in a flowering garden whoe great abundance is a traditional sign of Venus and her fertility. The men are struck not only by the rays of light but also by arrows aimed by two cupids in the sky. The little boys hover on feathered winds, kicking their birdlike feet to draw attention their talons, symbolizing the ferocity of love"

The exhibition also includes a handsome circular birth tray painted by Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1557) from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

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