photo credit: Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)
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.’
It looks to me to be possibly by Johann Michael Rottmayr - so Austrian?
I think it is the infancy of Zeus with the goat Amalthea
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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]