February 2011: Master of the Argonauts "History of Amor and Psyche"

Published on: 01 / 02 / 2011

Authors of this entry:
  • Magdalena Palica

Two paintings illustrating the story of Amor and Psyche, that both had formerly belonged to the collection of Counts von Ingenheim, represent the special sort of Italian Renaissance art - the cassoni painting.

Similar depictions formerly adorned shrines that in majority of cases were executed on occasion of contracting marriages. At least in the mid 15th century Italy approached a new custom of carrying a richly decorated shrine within a wedding train, symbolizing the dowry brought by a bride. After a ceremony, a shrine was transferred to the nuptial bedroom.

In the early 19th century one can notice in the milieu of collectors that were visiting Italy, increasing interest in the cassoni painting. The first cassoni collectors at a large scale were Giovanni Pietro Campana (who had even lent his own surname to an anonymous painter – currently called Master of the Campana Cassoni), J. A. F. Artaud de Montor, James Jackson Jarves and Federico Stibbert (in the Florentine museum baptized with his name on can still admire the artworks collected by him). Among the cassoni admirer were also many Britons, the most renowned of whom were John Charles Robinson (for many years superintendent of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London), Lord Lindsay and Robert Holford. Among the cassoni connoisseurs and collectors was also Franciszek Lanckoroński, some of the paintings, formerly owned by him, are currently on display on the Wawel Castle in Cracow. Among them there is a sidewall of a shrine, the so called fianco, that had formerly been part of the same piece of furniture, whose parts were paintings housed by the Ingenheim family.

The history of collecting cassoni paintings hasn’t been written for the time being, but within it count Gustav Adolph von Ingenheim undoubtedly must be stated, since he was among predecessors of that mode. During his travel to Italy he succeeded to purchase for his collection at least five paintings that had formerly decorated the cassoni. Two paintings, then regarded as works by Piero di Cosimo, depicting the story of Tobias, and one depicting life of Saint Lucia were coercively sold by the collector, soon after their purchase. The paintings, attributed to Giuliano Bugiardini and Francesco Granacci, depicting scenes from the Old Testament, reached then the Berliner museums and two of them are now on display in the Berliner Gemäldegalerie (the third was destroyed during the World War II). Despite his financial difficulties the count didn’t part with the paintings that had been executed by Master of the Argonauts (within the collector’s life they were ascribed to Sandro Botticelli). There is nothing surprising in it, since the artist succeeded in having created particularly delightful scenes. Numerous mythological figures have been dressed in pompous clothes and located against the distant, nearly fabulous landscapes (typical rather for lyric, when even not archaic Sienese painting from the Sassetta circle than for the Florentine milieu). For most of the buildings the artist chose uncommon colouring (the juxtaposed rose and green), which together with sumptuous clothes of the figures, make the painting’s surface vibrate with colours. It is quite probable that the paintings were executed in Florence, which can be confirmed by the Medici coats of arms which adorn the buildings’ façades. However there is no sufficient background to connect their execution with a wedding in the Medici family. Both paintings are worth mentioning, not only for their undeniable aesthetic quality but also for the circumstance that one of the earliest examples of early modern interpretations of a story derived from Metamorphoses by Ovid, which is why they soon became patterns for a row of future compositions on the same theme.

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