caption

Michele da Verona, Allegorical Figures in a Landscape

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)

Details

Country House
Mells Manor
Title(s)
Allegorical Figures in a Landscape
Date
? c. 1510
Medium and support
? c.1510
Dimensions
Overall height: 67 cm, Overall width: 112 cm
Artist
Michele da Verona (c.1470-c.1536)
Catalogue Number
MM19

Description

The attribution of the present painting to Michele da Verona was presumably made by Berenson between 1936 (it is not to be found in the Italian edition of his Lists, published in that year), and his death in 1959; it first appears in the posthumously published lists of 1968. As far as this writer is aware, the painting has not been mentioned or discussed elsewhere.

It is unclear whether it is complete in itself or a fragment: the latter might seem at first sight more likely, for the composition is highly unusual, but if so the canvas of which it formed part must have been very large. This is not inherently improbable for Michele, whose signed and dated 1501 Crucifixion in the Brera, Milan is one of the largest canvases of the period. However, judging by the ridge that runs across the foreground, and the large peacock that sits on it, it is more likely – on balance – that the composition is complete in itself; it may have formed part of a decorative scheme, perhaps placed above a door or surmounting a range of furniture. This scheme might have been secular but, given the probable identifications of the figures, it could equally have been religious, perhaps set in a conventual building, conceivably in a library. 

The subject is uncertain. Berenson simply calls it an Allegorical Scene. It contains four female figures. Reading from right to left, the woman seen rather awkwardly – for Michele was not a particularly accomplished figure-draughtsman – from the back, holds a chalice and presumably represents Faith. The next woman holds what seems to be a mirror (it is too large to be the sacred Host) and would therefore be Prudence. The third woman holds a red-covered book and may represent Philosophy but this is not one of the Cardinal or Theological Virtues. The leftmost woman raises her hands as though in prayer and probably represents Hope. But, accepting these identifications are correct, it is not entirely clear what this conjunction might signify.

The painting is slightly reminiscent of the early work of Giorgione (Michele’s younger contemporary) in the treatment of the vernacular buildings – although their arrangement is more cramped and frontal than in Giorgione’s work – and in the large peacock in the foreground, which recalls that in Giorgione’s so-called Homage to a Poet in the National Gallery, London (NG1173). The treatment of light on the leaves is also akin to that seen in Giorgione’s earliest work but the link is not so immediate as to allow one to postulate influence either way. There is also a trace of Mantegna’s influence, which is common in Michele’s work, in the figure of Faith, both in her pose and in her drapery type. The painting was probably executed a little later than the Brera Crucifixion but not after c.1510.

 Oliver Garnett comments that the picture is

especially interesting as it obviously has close similarities with Rossetti’s ‘doppelganger’ picture, How they met themselves. Rossetti’s picture predates his friendship with Graham, so the Michele can hardly have influenced him (unless he knew it before it entered the Graham collection). It may indeed have been vice versa as Graham owned an earlier version of Rossetti’s ‘doppelganger’ subject. Probably because of its Rossettian flavour and the current attribution to Carpaccio, the Michele da Verona held a particular fascination for Burne-Jones and Graham lent him the picture in May 1873.1

 William Graham owned another painting by Michele da Verona, the Meeting of Coriolanus and Volumnia, recorded as at Mells by Berenson (1968, p. 273 and pl 1293, the caption transposed from pl. 1291). 

The provenance of he painting prior to its acquisition by William Graham is unknown. It was in Graham’s possession by 19 January 1873 as Carpaccio and mentioned by him in a letter of that date to Burne-Jones described, oddly, as ‘the little Carpaccio (?) Maidens in their Spirit Garden’ and in another to Georgiana Burne-Jones of 27 May 1873 as ‘the Carpaccio or whatever it is “garden of the Souls” which he [Burne-Jones] fancies so much when we go away to Scotland’.2 Graham exhibited it at the Royal Academy in 1875 (173) as The Garden of Souls, ‘Early Venetian’.3

by Paul Joannides

Bibliography

Bernard Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central and North Italian Schools, 3 vols, London : Phaidon, 1968, vol. 1, p. 273; vol. 3, pl. 1291 (caption transposed from pl. 1293)


Oliver Garnett, 'The Letters and Collection of William Graham: Pre-Raphaelite Patron and Pre-Raphael Collector', The Walpole Society, vol. 62, 2000, d207, p. 324, fig. 195, as Michele da Verona, attributed by Graham to Vittore Carpaccio (WG inventory 237: £200/sale 469, bought Agnew [1958] £204 15s).


Footnotes

  1. Garnett, 2000, p. 154.

    1
  2. Ibid., B13 and B15, pp. 256, 257–8.

    2
  3. Exhibition of Works by The Old Masters and Deceased Masters of the British School: Winter Exhibition, sixth year, MDCCCLXXV, London: William Clowes and Sons, 1875, no. 173, p. 19.

    3

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