National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 22, 1973

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Bartolommeo Veneto and His Portrait of a Lady

by Creighton Gilbert

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11 One portrait signed and dated 1506 is a ghost work which never existed, but has been created by a slip of the pen of a very good scholar. Giovanni Morelli (loc. cit.) referred to a portrait so signed and dated as belonging to a Mr Carew in London. It has never been reported since, and most writers have omitted any reference to it, but some thorough surveyors of Bartolommeo (Michalski, Hevesy) have quoted Morelli's report and expressed regret that this dated work was no longer available. The puzzle can evidently be solved by referring to the second case of a signed and dated work of 1506, the Circumcision, frequently cited as in the collection of an Honourable Mrs E. M. Trollope from 1907 (when she lent it to the London Royal Academy, exhibition no. 30), to 1921 (when she sold it at a Christie auction in London to the dealer Buttery). What is less often noted is that this signed and dated work of 1506 had earlier belonged to a Colonel Carew in Somersetshire, who lent it to an exhibition in Leeds in 1868 (catalogue no.66), with the result that it was included in 1871 by Crowe and Cavalcaselle in their pioneer list of four known works by Bartolommeo; the editor of the second edition of Cavalcaselle, Borenius, in 1912, vouches that the Carew Circumcision is the same as the Trollope Circumcision. It thus follows either that by an extraordinary coincidence Carew owned both the works by Bartolommeo signed and dated 1506 (one cited by Morelli only, the other exhibited, photographed, and cited by many people but not by Morelli), or else that there was only one Carew picture, the Circumcision, known from the exhibitions and photographs, and that Morelli simply erred in calling it a portrait. This is certainly the case, since Morelli used Cavalcaselle's list of four paintings yet did not pick up the Circumcision from it; he seemingly, at this point, simply wrote "portrait" under the influence of Bartolommeo's predominant theme and "London" as the automatic location of an English collection he did not know at first hand. The small differences between the inscription he reports, "Bartolommeo de Venecia 1506," and the one recorded in the exhibition catalogues, "1506 Bartho1omaeus de Venetia," do not argue for two different paintings, since in this context exact readings cannot be relied upon. To the contrary, the identity might be confirmed by the shared divergence from the artist's more usual "Veneto." The uncertainty expressed about Morelli's non-existent "portrait" has persisted in part because later writers on Bartolommeo have generally ignored the report by Cavalcaselle, which in its brevity seemed to be of little use, and was soon superseded by thorough treatments, but where alone the clue to the puzzle was to be found. Thus the recent bibliography of Bartolommeo in the Dizionario biografico degli Italiani (loc. cit.), with many minor references, and apparently exhaustive, omits both Cavalcaselle and Morelli. If this helps to simplify the study of signed works of Bartolommeo slightly, it does not solve another typical Bartolommeo problem: Is the Carew-Trollope Circumcision, last recorded in 1921, to be identified with the Louvre Circumcision, first recorded in 1925? The two dates of disappearance and appearance fit perfectly, both paintings are signed and dated 1506, and the dimensions match within five millimeters (Trollope: 2 ft. 9-7/8 x 4 ft. 7-5/8 in; Louvre: .865 x 1.415 m). Yet it seems extraordinary that the reports of the gift to the Louvre in 1925, from Michael Friedsam, omitted the established earlier history of the painting, if it is the same one. More extraordinary, the 1925 Louvre photograph shows two figures not to be seen in the 1921 photograph of the Trollope picture, which instead shows a blank dark wall at that point. These new figures might have been revealed by cleaning in the brief ownership of Buttery or Friedsam, and such a hypothesis gains support from the fact, kindly brought to my attention by Mr Myron Laskin Jr., that Buttery was a professional cleaner of paintings. The form of signature reported in the Trollope and Louvre catalogues is completely identical, and recurs nowhere else. This would be consistent with identity, but also with the execution of two versions of the composition in the same year, an entirely plausible occurrence in the artist's career, and particularly so in his religious work during his youth. In that case, the coincidence of one version's disappearing just before the other first appeared would be the one true oddity of the story. The Musée du Louvre regards its picture as the same previously owned by Mr Carew and Mrs Trollope, but only on the basis of the normal reasonable assumptions, made without noting the difference of the two additional figures. It appears that no papers in the Louvre files, bearing on the Friedsam gift, offer evidence of its earlier history, but an X-ray of the panel would probably be decisive. I am indebted to M. Pierre Rosenberg for discussing this question with me.

12 Various points discussed in this essay illustrate the unusual disorder of the available material on Bartolommeo, even including ambiguity within a brief span of years about the identities and locations of works. Extreme cases of this sort may be illustrated by two more examples, which are not directly related to the Ottawa portrait but virtually exhaust the contributions I am able to offer toward clearing up the difficulties. One consists in referring to the Portrait of a Man with a Globe, until recently in the Arthur Erlanger collection, New York, a splendid and typical mature work with a bibliographical history that would be incredible in any other artist. It has been recorded for generations in a variety of publications conspicuous in various ways: S. Reinach, Répertoire des peintures du moyen age et de la renaissance (1280-1580) (Paris: E. Leroux, 1905); New York Times, Rotogravure section (8 February 1931), on file at the Frick Art Reference Library; Giorgione and his Circle (exhibition catalogue), ed. G. de Batz (Baltimore: John Hopkins University, 1942), pl. 41; H. Tietze's remarks on this exhibition, Arte Veneta, vol. I (1947), p. 41. The portrait has at no time been mentioned, however, in articles about Bartolommeo and his work, except in my own brief entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica (1960). Previous collections of this portrait include: Guido di Faenza, Rome (1902, catalogue no. 397, pl. 8); Back, Szegdin, Hungary; Silberman, New York.

The second case, conversely, seems to be the only occasion when Bartolommeo has broken out of the specialized awareness of collectors and specialists, into a context of broad culture which, however, remained unknown to the specialists. This is the essay by J. K. Huysmans, the once famous novelist of Against the Grain and other classics of the decadent Symbolist movement, who was earlier one of the first favourable critics of Impressionism. One of the three pictures surveyed in his book Trois Primitifs (Paris: L. Vanier, A. Messein, 1905) is Bartolommeo's "fancy picture" in the Stadel Institut, Frankfurt, often called The Courtesan, but by Huysmans La Florentine. In a paperback reprint (Paris: Flammarion, 1967), with many illustrations and notes, it is the cover illustration in colour. Huysmans more naturally did not know the specialist writing that had begun shortly before (his term "primitif" was critically obsolescent for this painting), and calls the work anonymous. He finds this fact attractive as part of its enigma, whose chief element is the anonymity of the girl. He proposes that she is the mistress of Pope Alexander VI and mother of Lucrezia Borgia, and calls her an "androgyne implacable et jolie," the purity of impurity, at the same time instigator of lust and announcing the expiation of sensual joys. Huysmans here exemplifies a tradition in French nineteenth-century culture which saw in the Renaissance, particularly in the Borgias, a precedent for one of its own interests, the intense cultivation of sensuous experiences interrelating religion, a sense of evil, and art. While the general trend is best known in Baudelaire, classic instances of its turning to Renaissance precedents are Musset's play Lorenzaccio, about a Medici whose excesses of experiences end in murder, and Berlioz' opera Benvenuto Cellini, emphasizing the artist's participation in an invocation of witches. A mild belated echo of this is the French art historian A. de Hevesy's article "Bartolommeo Veneto et les portraits de Lucrèce Borgia," Art Quarterly, vol. II (1939), which does not mention Huysmans.

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