Four Paintings Acquired by the Metropolitan

1. Ottavio Leoni (Il Padovano) (1578–1630)
A Cardinal and his Suite, 1621
Oil on copper - 39.4 x 37.5 cm
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo : The Metropolitan

29/8/13 - Acquisitions - New York, Metropolitan Museum - Several paintings recently joined the collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the world’s most active in its acquisitions policy.

An oil on copper from the early 17th century representing A Cardinal and his Suite (ill. 1) was donated to the museum in 2012 by Damon Mezzacappa. After appearing at Christie’s on 12 January 1996 under the name of Jacopo Chimenti, known as Jacopo da Empoli, it is now attributed to Ottavio Leoni.
A lineup of very individualized faces appears under a colonnade, suggesting that these might indeed be portraits. Two of them eye the spectator with a piercing look : firstly, the cardinal, placed in the center, holding a letter in his hand, as does the figure standing behind him, distinguishing himself from the rest by his habit. Their identity remains obscure, despite the gold and silver mace carried by the man in front of the cardinal, decorated with an eagle and a lion which perhaps allude to a coat of arms. If so, this might be Cardinal Francesco Cennini de Salamandri (1566-1645) followed by Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1632), the nephew of Pope Gregory XV. As for the church seen in the background, it does not seem to correspond to a known building. At the bottom right there is a battle sketched in grisaille, presenting notably a horseman face on, foreshortened, and a man on the ground.
A son of Ludovico Leoni from Padova who settled in Rome, Ottavio, at times nicknamed Il Padovanino, is today familiar for his drawn portraits ; he also painted others, such as that of Cardinal Borghese (at the Musée Fesch). Leoni produced works on copper as well, notably Susanna and the Elders at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Another 17th century painting, Landscape with Hermine by Claude Gellée (ill. 2) is perhaps a study for a larger composition or an unfinished painting ; it was donated in 2013 by Eugene V. Thaw. The painter represented an episode from Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered : Hermine, who remained for a while with the shepherds, wrote the name of her loved one, Tancred, on the bark of a tree. The subject of the painting was debated with some seeing Oenone ; Claude had already painted this theme in a canvas residing at the Louvre, The Ford : Oenone, the nymph, shows Paris the oaths of love he has engraved on the trunk of a poplar. Apart from the iconography, the attribution is not unanimously accepted either : certain specialists see the hand of Agostino Tassi in the painting from the Metropolitan, linking it with a drawing held at the Uffizi in Florence ; another one can be found at the Harvard Art Museum.

2. Claude Gellée, known as Le Lorrain
Landscape with Hermine, c. 1647
Oil on wood - 33 x 46 cm
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo : The Metropolitan

3. Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797)
Silius Italicus Reciting Verses at Virgil’s Tomb in the Moonlight, 1779
Oil on canvas - 101.6 x 127 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum
Photo : Metropolitan Museum

The 18th century is represented by Silius Italicus Reciting Verses at Virgil’s Tomb in the Moonlight by Joseph Wright of Derby, purchased by the museum in 2013 from the Matthiesen Gallery in London (ill. 3). A consul in 68 B.C., the last year of Nero’s reign, Silius Italicus was also a poet, the author of the Punica, who admired Virgil. Legend has it that he purchased the land where Virgil’s tomb was, near Naples, and that he came every year to recite lines by the great poet. Apparently the tomb was shelterred inside a cave on the hill of Posillipo visited by all the travelers on their Grand Tour during the 18th century. Wright lived in Italy from 1773 to 1775, and was probably familiar with the engraving by Paolo Antonio Paoli representing Virgil’s tomb, published in 1768 in Antichità di Pozzuoli.
The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1779 and was well received. The artist toys here with the contrast between the warm glow of the lantern inside the cave and the silvery moonlight enveloping the landscape.
There are other known versions of this composition which are dated later ; two of them notably represent an empty grave, without Silius Italicus : the one from 1782 shows the tomb in the moonlight (Derby Museum and Art Gallery), that from 1785 depicts in daylight (Ulster Museum, Belfast). The artist produced six in all.

4. Pierre-Auguste Cot (1837-1883)
Spring, 1873
Oil on canvas - 213.4 x 127 cm
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo : The Metropolitan Museum

Finally, Spring is one of Pierre-Auguste Cot’s most famous works (ill. 4). The painting, which was on deposit at the museum for several years, was finally donated by Steven and Alexandra Cohen. Cot, who trained under Bouguereau, Cabanel and Léon Cogniet, exhibited for the first time at the Salon of 1863 and this canvas was shown there in 1873, not far from Nymphs and Satyre by Bouguereau. John Wolfe bought both of these works and hung them side by side in his Manhattan residence.

The painter presents two young persons in Arcadia, suggested by the nature surrounding them and their antique robes : the young man, with a dark complexion, but whose eyes are not visible to the viewer, makes no move toward his female companion ; on the contrary, his knee would seem to indicate a barrier ; on the other hand, the young woman, with luminous white skin, has her arms wrapped around her partner’s neck, a wily look in her eyes, just ambiguous enough, to appear almost inviting, and contrasting sharply with the whiteness of her gown which symbolizes purity.
Spring joins another painting by the artist residing at the Metropolitan which was commissioned by John Wolfe’s female cousin, completed in 1880 and which might be considered almost a companion piece to this one : The Storm.

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Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, jeudi 29 août 2013

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