Toward the end of his “Life” of Rosso, Vasari, 1568, II, 211
(Vasari-Milanesi, V, 171), states: “Lavorò di sua mano il Rosso; altre le cose dette, un S. Michele, che é cosa rara.” Although Vasari gave this information after his description of Rosso’s activities in the château at Fontainebleau, the St. Michael is grouped with several other works, including the Louvre Pietà, without reference, it seems, to any chronological scheme.
Mentioned by Kusenberg, 1931, 102, 202, n. 237, who points out the mistaken opinion of Dargenville (Dezallier d’Argenville, I, 1745, 99) that the St. Michael was painted for Écouen at the same time as the Louvre Pietà. Cox-Rearick, 1972, 35. Béguin, Revue du Louvre, 1969, 144, 155, suggested that the St. Michael might have been related to the cartoon that Vasari records Rosso made for a painting for the “Congregazione del capitolo, dove era canonico” (identified by Béguin as “la congrégation du Chapitre de la Sainte-Chapelle”). But it is implied by Vasari that this cartoon was never executed as a painting, while the St. Michael is presented as a picture, that is, it is not specifically mentioned as a cartoon (see L.57, where it is suggested that its subject was Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl). Béguin, Louvre, 1982, 71, n. 98, believed that the St. Michael is known from the copy of Rosso’s Francis I Adoring the Enthroned Virgin and Child (Fig.D.69), also suggested in Béguin, 1989, 829. This is possible but it has to be asked whether a painting reported to Vasari as a St. Michael would have been an image with nine figures where the saint occupies a secondary position.
Vasari gives no indication of the size of the painting nor of where it was. The Order of St. Michael, founded by Louis XI in 1469, was the most prestigious order in France with thirty-six members and the king as its “grand maître.” Its seat was at Mont Saint Michel and it does not appear to have met elsewhere until 1555 when its seat was moved to the Sainte Chapelle of Vincennes. Rosso’s painting could have been painted for Mont Saint Michel, but it could not apparently have been painted for the order itself anywhere else. There was an old Chapel of St. Michael “du Palais” near to the Sainte Chapelle in Paris that served as a pilgrimage stop and Rosso’s painting could have been done for this location.1 Or it could have been made for another church in Paris, perhaps even Notre Dame.2
It is very possible that the lost St. Michael was made for Francis I, who was head of the Order of St. Michael of Mont Saint Michel. In 1532 he made a pilgrimage to Mont Saint Michel.3 Perhaps Rosso’s painting commemorated this trip. As Béguin, 1989, 829, n. 7, pointed out, it can be assumed that it was not intended for Fontainebleau, where it is never mentioned, but the possible suggestion that it is a lost work (L.56) intended for Notre Dame, Paris, is not supported by any reference connecting it to this cathedral.
Béguin, Revue du Louvre, 1969, 145, Fig. 1, 155, and as reported by Bacou in EdF, 1972, 146, Fig. 159, 148, no. 159, thought that Rosso’s lost painting might have influenced Primaticcio’s drawing of The Virgin, Queen of the Angels, in the Louvre, with its central group of St. Michael combating the devil (Fig.Primaticcio, Paris, R.F.31874). The foreshortened devil recalls some of the figures in Rosso’s Combat of Centaurs and Lapiths (Fig.P.22, I S a) and in his relief to the right of the Death of Adonis in the Gallery of Francis I (Fig.P.22, III S g). The spread-out pose of the saint resembles somewhat that of Adonis in the latter fresco. But that these Rossoesque elements come directly from Rosso’s lost painting cannot be determined.
1 See Millénaire du mont Saint-Michel 966-1966, exh. cat., Paris, 1966, 130-131, no. 257, 181-183; Guilhermy, 1856, 221-222, and Map, no. 19; and Fossa, François de, Le Château Historique de Vincennes à travers les ages, Paris, II, 1908, 277-279.
2 Béguin, Revue du Louvre, 1969, 146, n. 15, mentioned Le Nain’s St. Michael presenting his Arms to the Virgin as interesting in relation to Rosso’s lost picture because she thought that Le Nain’s painting, now in St. Pierre, Nevers, came from Notre Dame in Paris where Rosso was a canon. But Jacques Thuillier (“Le Nain Studies I: Three Rediscovered Pictures,” BM, C., 1958, 56-60, Fig. 18) indicated that all that is known of its provenance is that it came from Paris. He does, however, point out (59, n. 16) that there was another painting, now lost, of the same theme, attributed to Philippe de Champaigne and painted in 1670, in the chapel of Saint Antoine et Saint Michel in Notre Dame in Paris.