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Vulcan and AeolusEnlarge image

Vulcan and Aeolus, c. 1490

Piero di Cosimo
Italian, 1462 - 2
oil and egg tempera on canvas
155.5 x 166.5 cm
Purchased 1937
National Gallery of Canada (no. 4287)

The subject is unclear, but is thought to represent the dawn of civilization, marked by the discovery of fire. Vulcan, god of fire, works at the anvil, while Aeolus, master of the Winds, pumps the bellows. The prominent white horse and rider represent the animal’s domestication, while behind we see men build a primitive house from rough tree trunks. At this time, humans and animals live in harmony. Piero reveals his mastery of the human form, showing figures in a range of complex poses – a particular concern for artists and clients at this time. Painted to decorate a domestic setting, this is a rare surviving example of its type. Frame: carved wood, painted and partly gilded. Italy, late 16th – early 17th century

Inscriptions 

in ink (?) on canvas on verso: “N [.] XXIX / Pupilli Micheli / L. Landucci”

Provenance 

Francesco del Pugliese (1458-1519), Florence, Italy (?) [1]

before 1860
Micheli Family, Florence (Pier Antonio Micheli, d. 1737 (?) [2]

by 1861
William Blundell Spence (1814–1900), Florence, [3]

1861– early 1930s

The 9th Marquis of Lothian, Newbattle Abbey, near Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland to the 11th Marquis of Lothian, Newbattle Abbey, by inheritance [4]

by 1936/10 – 1937
Daniel Katz, Dieren, The Netherlands, purchased from the 11th Marquis of Lothian through Frank Partridge, London [5]

1937 –
National Gallery of Canada, purchased from Daniel Katz through Schaeffer Galleries (Dr. Hanns Schaeffer) New York, N.Y., United States [6]

Notes 

[1] The painting has been connected with a passage in Giorgio Vasari: “Fece… in casa di Francesco del Pugliese intorno a una camera diverse storie di figure piccole; né si puo esprimere la diversità delle cose fantastiche che egli in tutte quelle si diletto dipingere, e di casamenti e d'animali e di abiti e strumenti diversi, ed altre fantasie, che gli sovennono per essere storie di favole.”[Vasari, Giorgo. “Le Vite.”ed. Milanesi, IV, 1879, p. 139]. The connection, however, remains hypothetical.

[2] According to David Franklin, the inscription on the verso refers to the heirs of the Micheli family, who were minors (“pupilli”) at some stage of the collecting history of the work. Their estate would have been held in trust by the Magistrato dei Pupilli of Florence until they reached the age of majority. Landucci is probably the name of the official responsible for the estate or the person who drew up the inventory on which the painting appeared, the no. 29 probably being an inventory number. Fanklin suggests Pier Antonio Micheli (d. 1737) as potential former owner of the work. He had an important collection of plant and mineral specimens and this work might have appealed to him [Franklin, David. “Piero die Cosimo's Vulcan and Aeolus and the Finding of Vulcan on the Island of Lemnos Reunited.“ National Gallery of Canada Review, vol. I, Ottawa 2000, p. 56 f.].

[3] William Blundell Spence was an English art dealer in Florence.

[4] In a letter to Eric Brown, Director of the National Gallery, Lord Lothian acknowledges that the painting, then attributed to Signorelli, used to belong to his family, but that they did not keep any records about where and when they acquired the work. He mentions that Vulcan and Aeolus was on display at Newbattle Abbey and later on loan at the National Gallery of Edinburgh until he sold it “a few years ago through Frank Partridge to Mr. Katz” [letter dater Feb. 17, 1937, Accession records, NGC curatorial file].

[5] See note [4]. Negotiations about the purchase of the painting between Hanns Schaeffer (as agent for Katz) and the NGC started in December 1936 [Dr. HannsSchaeffer's letterhead reads: “American Agent for Messrs. D. Katz, Dieren (Holland)”].

[6] The NGC Accession log only gives the year 1937 [NGC curatorial file].

Provenance completed
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