27 Who painted this mythological scene and what is its subject?

DUN_DAGM_189_1912
Topic: Artist

Has anyone thought or published anything about this painting since The National Inventory of Continental European Paintings adopted Anita Brookner's attribution of it to Louis de Boullogne?

Alerted to its existence by an image of it taken and sent to me by Jamie Mulherron, I find the attribution utterly improbable - the painting does not even look French. Is it not Italian, by an artist in the Neapolitan/Roman orbit - possibly Sebastiano Conca? Nor is the subject the Infancy of Bacchus - it is the Infant Zeus being entrusted to Amalthea.

The collection comments: ‘The painting was presented to Dundee’s collection as by Francois Boucher, then a tentative attribution to Gerard de Lairesse (1641-1711) and in 1971 Anita Brookner’s attribution to Boullogne the younger.

Recently we had contact from a Leeds academic who noted that there may be some confusion about who the artist is. They went on to say that Boullogne did exhibit a “La naissance de Bacchus” at the Paris Salon of 1704.

It is interesting that you have proposed an alternative subject, as this has never been questioned before. We would be very happy to receive any new information that would add to our knowledge of this painting.’

Alastair Laing, Entry reviewed by Art UK

27 comments

Toby Campbell,

It looks to me to be possibly by Johann Michael Rottmayr - so Austrian?

Barbara Furlotti,

I think it is the infancy of Zeus with the goat Amalthea

Jochen Suy,

I couldn't say why this painting couldn't possibly be French, so I won't go into that. There is indeed something to say for this being the infancy of Zeus, most importantly the goat being the very centre of the composition. However, there are also strong arguments for this being the infancy of Bacchus nonetheless. In many otyher representations of his infancy a goat is present too (see for example the famous one by Poussin), along with fauns and satyrs. Note the merry figure on the back of a donkey, which is crearly Silenus, the teacher of Bacchus. The general 'merrymaking' is also a bit strange for Zeus' infancy, rather it hints to Bacchus.

Is there a better picture available? I think it would help to identify 1) the object the infant holds in his right hand and 2) the scene on the vase to the lower left.

Alastair Laing,

I've submitted the image of this picture to Edgar Peters Bowron, the great expert on Italian 18thC painting. He does not think that it is by Conca, and is not even sure that it is Italian.
Often, when a painting falls between the Italian and the French Schools, the answer is that the artist is Netherlandish - someone such as Gerard de Lairesse or Nicolaas Verkolje. I don't think that this is classicising enough to be by the former, but the latter does seem a possibility (I'm currently trying to get access to the recent monograph on him, to see if this suggestion might hold water). There are, however, other artists, such as the Terwesten brothers, as well as others, some of whom I barely know; nor do I know (other than the author of the book on Verkolje) who the expert or experts in the field is or are.
I don't think that either the palette or the figure types look like those of Rottmayr.

Alastair Laing,

I've now got hold of Paul Knolle & Everhard Korthals Altes's 'Nicolaas Verkolje 1673-1746: de Fluwelen Hand', Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede, 2011. There are a number of paintings in it that have affinities with the painting in Dundee - 'Perseus & Andromeda' (Frankfurt am Main; fig. 4, p.39); 'Venus with the sleeping Cupid' (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Carcassonne; fig.4, p.60; and cat.no.12); 'Proserpine and her Companions gathering Flowers' (Louvre; cat.no.8); and 'Europa and the Bull' (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; on loan to the Rijksmuseum, Enschede; cat.no.10) - but none of them is close enough to justify an attribution of the latter to him (there is a frustrating lack of both satyrs and goats in his pictures, to make better comparisons with). Nonetheless, they and other works of his, do suggest that the type of painting represented by him and by the Terwestens is the right sort of area to be looking in.

Anton Zakharov,

The pose of the child seems to be modelled after that of The infant Hercules strangling the serpents by J.Reynolds. (or the other way round). The presence of satyrs may support the initial hypothesis that this child is indeed Bacchus and not Zeus, cause otherwise the lost painting by Jordaens with a somewhat similar composition can be also renamed: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jordaens_Young_Bacchus.JPG

Martin Hopkinson,

Could this be from the same artistic circle as a painting in the Ashmolean with the rare subject 'Vigilance and Love's Opinion' there attributed to the circle of Luigi Garzi? That was owned by the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans

Martin Hopkinson,

Sotheby's recently had an Alpheus and Arethusa lot 437 in the New York sale of 27 January 2017 should also be taken into consideration. Giancarlo Sestieri suggested that this is by Garzi. [120.7 x 171.5 cm]

Alastair Laing,

Garzi might be a possibility, but I'm not totally convinced; the painting auctioned at Sotheby's New York in January that is just attributed to him seems a more convincing parallel than the picture in the Ashmolean (which I don't think that I've ever seen hung - it would be good if it were to be). But the suggestion of Garzi does corroborate my original suggestion that the picture is Italian rather than French.

Riccardo Lattuada,

Unfortunately the image is too light to judge (any chance to get an heavier one?), in any case I agree with hose who don't think that this painting is Italian.

Martin Hopkinson,

The difficulties in finding the right artist might be explained if the artist was a German, Flemish or Dutch painter who worked for a time in Italy

Could I ask everyone to, where possible, provide links to paintings and other documentation that they refer to in discussions, so everyone can readily access them too. For example, the Sotheby's 'Alpheus and Arethusa' is at http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2017/master-paintings-19th-century-european-n09600/lot.437.html and the Ashmolean's 'Vigilance and Love's Oblivion' is of course on Art UK at https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/vigilance-and-loves-oblivion-142028

Martin Hopkinson,

The animals could be compared with those in Guidobono's 'The Sorceress' [Iris and B Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University] see Wikipedia Commons' Google Art Project - also his 'Orpheus singing to the animals' sold at auction [www.artnet.com/artists/bartolomeo_guidobono] which has another title 'Jacob's journey'.
It was owned by a Genoese dealer, Mario Panzano see http://www.artslife.com/2015/05/13/mario-panzano-da-cambi-la-raccolta/dellantiquario/genovese
Guidobono was born in Savona near Genoa. To my eye the colours and tones of the picture under discussion seem to be late 17th century Genoese in character

Martin Hopkinson,

I have now had a chance to look at 3 recent publications on Guidobono - from the images I think that it is far from certain that he is our man, but that it is very likely that the painting is Genoese

Alastair Laing,

Nearer the mark than your earlier suggestion of Luigi Garzi, but - from an admittedly imperfect knowledge of his works - I don't know anything by Guidobono - or any other Genoese artist - that has the smoothness of the Dundee picture, or comparable types of female nudes or putti. I wish that I had a more positive suggestion to make, but I don't. If only the distinctive little figure of the horn-playing putto bottom right were to turn up in some other picture, it would clinch an attribution. But that the picture shows the Infancy of Jupiter, there can be no doubt. (Louis de Boullogne's painting of the Infancy of Bacchus, by the way, is in the Musée Calvet in Avignon [exh. cat. '1704: Le Salon, les arts, et le roi, musée de l'Ile de France, Sceaux, 2013, no.34], and illustrates the differences in both style and subject from the Dundee picture.)

I hesitate to comment on a judgement by Alastair Laing but I would welcome his comments on, or alternative explanations for, what seems to me to be a preponderance of iconographic elements connected with Bacchus and his youth.

There are at least three Satyrs in attendance; is that not Silenus on in the background on his ass; the infant holds a form of thyrsus; the goat is surely being garlanded with flowers in preparation for sacrifice to Pan and a herm of Pan is indeed in the upper left; lower left is a wine pitcher and neighbouring vine leaves. If we could see more clearly the figures on the side of the pitcher, they would probably add something too.

Jacinto Regalado,

How about Francesco Solimena, or one of his many pupils?

Jacinto Regalado,

Compare the head, hair and left arm of the old satyr supporting the infant (the NICE image is preferable to ArtUK's) with those of the old man in this relatively early (1690) Solimena in the Hermitage :

https://www.artrenewal.org/Artwork/Index/27043

Also, compare the younger man at lower right in the Hermitage picture with the two younger satyrs in the Dundee picture (which increasingly strikes me as Neapolitan the more I look at it). The crowded, rather theatrical composition and the lighting would also fit Solimena or a follower (look over the pictures by him on ArtUK).

Jacinto Regalado,

I suppose one could also consider Luca Giordano and perhaps Mattia Preti, both older painters who influenced Solimena, but I think this picture fits him better.

Alastair Laing,

In answer to Andrew Greg, it seemed to me that the crucial thing was that Dionysus/Bacchus was brought up by the five Nymphs of Nysa - there is only one nymph in the Dundee picture - in a cave (though, for understandable reasons, artists rarely used that setting), to conceal him from Hera/Juno. The satyrs did not enter his life till later, when he invented wine. Zeus/Jupiter, by contrast, was brought up by three nymphs, only one of whom, the goat-nymph Amaltheia, did he recognise as his foster-mother, by setting her image in the stars, as Capricorn, whilst he borrowed one of her horns, to create the Cornucopia. The artist of this picture, unlike Poussin, who in the paintings of the Nurture of Jupiter in Dulwich and Berlin, showed all three nymphs, two of them in human form and Amaltheia in the form of a goat, appeared to show just the latter, in both human and goaty form, as other artists did. Pan, chief of the satyrs, was the son of Amaltheia, which would have accounted for their presence.
However, the presence in the background of Silenus with his ass, whom I had not seen, shows that I must retract: the artist was evidently inspired by another composition by Poussin, of the Infancy of Bacchus, in the simpler form of which, in the painting in the National Gallery, the child is tended by two satyrs, in the presence of a single nymph and a goat, and in the more elaborate form of which (not accepted by everyone as autograph), the painting in the Louvre, it is in the presence of two nymphs and a goat. Where Poussin got the notion of the satyrs bringing up the infant Bacchus from, I do not know - it is not in Ovid's Metamorphoses - but the artist of the Dundee picture must either have taken his inspiration from the same source, or perhaps from knowledge of one of Poussin's paintings, either directly, or through a copy, or via a print.

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