RP.17 Bacchus, Venus, and Cupid

RP.17 Bacchus, Venus, and Cupid

Luxembourg, Musée du Grand Duché de Luxembourg, inv. no. 1941-100/412.

Hemp canvas, 209 x 161.5.


The poor condition of the picture and its restoration are discussed in Béguin, 1989, 833-834, and by Sylvie Béguin, Jean-Paul Rioux, and Annick Lautraite, in Bacchus, Vénus et l’Amour, 1989, 24, 29, 45-62.

PROVENANCE: Berne, Van Parys Collection (the collection formed before the end of the eighteenth century; see below); sale, 1853, bought by Poche.  Luxembourg, Section historique de l’Institut du Grand Duché, which gave it in or after 1877, but certainly by 1884, to the Musée d’Etat du Grand Duché.1


Catalogue d’une belle vente de tableaux anciens (Ecoles flamande, hollandaise, française) composant le Cabinet de feu monsieur Van Parys, amateur, Brussels, 6th October 1853, lot 31, as by Rosso (the dimensions given as 280 x 160); annotation: bought by Poche.

M.A. in Das Luxembourg Land, IIIe année, no. 16, [20th April 1884], 255-256, as Rosso, with reference to Vasari.

Béguin, in Renaissance, Quebec, 1984, 327, under no. 196, as related to the oil painting that Rosso executed for the Gallery of Francis I.

The picture was exhibited in 1984: La vie mystérieuse de chefs-d’oeuvre. La sciénce au service de l’art. Exposition du Laboratoire des Musée d’Histoire et d’Art, Musée de l’Etat du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, May 6-29, 1984.

Delay, in Delay, 1987, 16, 18, 156-157, a veiled reference to this painting, as by Rosso.

Béguin, 1989, 829-838, with Color Pl., as by Rosso or one of his collaborators, and for the east wall of the Gallery of Francis I.

Sylvie Béguin, Jean Luc Koltz, Jean-Paul Rioux, and Annick Lautraite in Bacchus, Vénus et l’Amour, 1989, with several Color Pls., as by Rosso, with some reservation, but the invention certainly Rosso’s.

Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 138, as Rosso, and as from the gallery.

Costamagna, 1994, 86, 98, n. 7, as Rosso?, for the Gallery of Francis I, and as “l’origine du maniérisme international.”

Knecht, 1994, 432, 434, Fig. 79, 435, as by or after Rosso.

Béguin’s supposition that this picture is the one described by Vasari2 that Rosso executed very soon after he arrived in France and that formed part of the decoration of the East Wall of the Gallery of Francis I, or is a version of that picture, is not confirmed by any of the physical evidence of the painting in Luxembourg or by its style.  The Bacchus, Venus, and Cupid of the East Wall was certainly a panel painting, not simply because Vasari referred to the large paintings on the end walls of the gallery as “tavole a olio,” but because, as we know from François d’Orbay’s drawing of 1682 of the East Wall (Fig.d’Orbay drawing a), the blank area provided for Rosso’s painting on that wall was oval.  Oval (easel) paintings in the early sixteenth century are rare, perhaps even otherwise unknown.  Round pictures were painted on panels and this would also have been the case with Rosso’s oval pictures.  If on canvas, that canvas would have been on a rectangular stretcher that would then have been set behind the oval opening of the stucco frame and ornament of the East Wall.  There is no indication that this was the case or even that this could have been the case in the early 1530s.  No clear evidence indicates that the Luxembourg picture was originally painted on panel.3  It cannot be the painting that Vasari said Rosso painted for the gallery.  Not incidentally, there is every reason to believe that the oil paintings on panel that were placed at the ends of the gallery were, unlike the frescoes in the gallery, actually painted by Rosso himself and not by assistants.  These early lost French paintings by Rosso, “fece al Re” as Vasari remarked in 1550, would have been demonstrations of his artistic inventiveness and skill to the French king as examples of what he might expect of Rosso for the decoration of the king’s grand gallery.  Rosso was a brilliant painter of oil paintings on panel and he would certainly at this early moment in his career in France have wanted to show this.

Béguin indicated that Rosso’s lost oval painting must have been approximately 230 x 179 cm., the dimensions of Boullogne le Jeune’s picture of 1702 that replaced Rosso’s.  In order to achieve this size, the Luxembourg canvas, which measures 209 x 161.5, would have to be extensively enlarged all around.  In Béguin’s reconstruction of the canvas as an oval (Fig.RP.17, enlarged; Fig.RP.17, d’Orbay), the scale of the figures in relation to the whole size of the picture becomes significantly reduced, producing an effect that is very much unlike the placement of figures in Rosso’s authentic pictures.  It also turns a composition that is so effective in its rectangular format into an unsatisfactory oval format.

What is most disturbing is that the Luxembourg picture simply does not stylistically look like a work designed by Rosso.  It should be very similar to the Mars and Venus drawing of 1530 (Fig.D.42a) and it isn’t.  The figures have neither the shapes nor poses of Rosso’s, and the decorative motifs in the picture, on Cupid’s quiver and on the vase on which Venus is seated, are not of the kind found anywhere in works certainly known to have been designed by Rosso.  Béguin made something of a point in quoting Vasari’s remark that Rosso’s painting showed “un satiro che lieva una parte d’un padiglione” and relating it to the satyr in the Luxembourg picture.  This satyr does reach up for some grapes hanging from a vine, but I see no indication of a pavilion.

Béguin did recognize (1989, 834) that “a certain rigidity in the figures, and techniques different from those used in Rosso’s Italian paintings, prompt some doubts about the attribution” to him.  She went on to say that if not by him then “it is by a painter closely familiar with his style, perhaps even one of his collaborators.”  But she had also to recognize that we know very little about his assistants, making an attribution to any one of them almost impossible.  Nevertheless, it can be seen that the decoration on Cupid’s quiver (Fig.RP.17, Quiver) is very similar to some of the patterns in Francesco Pellegrino’s pattern book published in Paris in 1530 (Fig.Pellegrino, Pattern; Fig.Pellegrino, Pattern 2); the female figure on its title page is also in a general way like the Venus in the Luxembourg picture (Fig.Pellegrino, Figure).4  As a whole, the painting also very much reminds me of some of the prints of Domenico del Barbiere, his Venus, Mars, and Cupid (Fig.RE.2), his Cleopatra (Fig.Cleopatra),5 and, in the pose of Venus, his Fame, engraved after a figure by Rosso designed for the Gallery of Francis I (Fig.E.5).  Béguin thought the grotesque mask decorating the urn below Venus is similar to motifs in the border of the Cleobis and Biton tapestry (Fig.P.22, V S,Tapestry, a), meaning, I would suppose, the masks at the upper right and left.  Similar masks, on an urn and on a shield, appear in Barbiere’s Two Skeletons and Two Flayed Figures (Fig.RE.3).  Although the evidence is hardly sufficient to attribute the painting to Pellegrino, he was Rosso’s most important assistant and he could have painted such a picture.  Vasari praised Barbiere highly, an evaluation certainly supported by the quality of the invention and execution of his engravings.  He, too, could have painted such a picture and seems to me more likely than Pellegrino to have done the Luxembourg painting.  Whoever did the picture, it would seem to have been done after Rosso’s death in the wake of his art but through the filter of Primaticcio’s.  The rear end view of Cupid reminds one of some of the figures designed by Primaticcio for the Gallery of Ulysses.  While Rosso’s lost painting on the East Wall of the gallery may have had some influence on the Luxembourg picture, this is probably reflected more in its subject and its grand nudity than in the specific appearance of its composition.6


1 From Béguin, 1989, 833, and Béguin, Bacchus, Vénus et l’Amour, 1989, 22.  Peterken was a participant of the Americanist Congress in Luxembourg, September 10-13, 1877.  J. L. Koltz, in Bacchus, Vénus et l’Amour, 1989, 39, 44, ns. 22-23, reported that between the time of Peterken’s gift and 1941 the whereabouts of the picture are not known; on May 6, 1941, it was moved from the attic of the Vauban police barracks to the museum (the barracks had been the Musée de la Section historique de l’Institut Grand-Ducal).  It was reported to have come from the château Walferdange near the capital of Luxembourg.

2 For Vasari’s descriptions of the Gallery in the 1550 and 1568 editions of his Vite, see P.22, under LITERATURE.

3 J-P. Rioux, in Bacchus, Vénus et l’Amour, 1989, 45-46, noted indications that the canvas may once have been laid on a panel, but because of the evidence of the sewing of the pieces of the canvas he had to discard the possibility that the picture was originally painted on panel.  Béguin, 1989, 833, mentioned only that evidence indicated that the canvas could at some time have been laid on panel.

4 Pellegrin, 1530.

5 Zerner, 1969, D.B.8.

6 Béguin, in Renaissance, Quebec, 1984, 327-328, no. 196, with Fig., suggested that a drawing of Two Urns, and a Leg in a private collection (Fig.Urns and Leg) is after Rosso and related to his lost picture.  The use of a frieze of realistic crustaceans as on the top of the upright urn appears in an etching of a ewer by Fantuzzi (Fig.Fantuzzi, Ewer; Zerner, 1969, A.F.54a), and in a drawing of a plate (with two pitchers) in the Ensba in Paris (Fig.Ensba, Masson 2493; pen and wash, 14 x 18.3; Kusenberg, 1931, 151, no. 53, as by Boyvin; Brugerolles and Guillet, 1994, 104, no. 36, 105, Fig., as by Thiry), neither of which can be related to Rosso.  The bathing scene of several figures forming part of a tall frieze around the upper half of the standing urn is specifically related to a drawing in Bayonne (Fig.P.22Copy, Bayonne), the two swimming figures of which were identified by Jacob Bean (1960, no. 148, with Fig.) as specifically related to figures in the Education of Achilles in the Gallery of Francis I (Fig.P.22, II N a).  Less closely related are the standing nude woman seen from the front in the drawing and the figure of Venus in Rosso’s Venus and Minerva fresco in the gallery (Fig.P.22, I N a).  Bean saw the drawing as a pastiche of Rosso made of motifs taken from different works by him.  This also seems to be the case with the designs of the two urns.  The realistic crustaceans of one of the urns suggest the kind of work that Bernard Palissy and his shop would begin to create around the time of Rosso’s death.  I would think the drawing published by Béguin copies part of a composition done about the same time as the Luxembourg painting.