Landscapes with Rustic Figures
( Treviso, 1500-Venice, 1571 )
Oil on panel 28.5 x 110 cm
Switzerland, Private collection
From Titian to El Greco,exhibition, Piero Corsini, Inc., New York 1991, no. 6; Le Meraviglie dell’Arte,Important Old Master Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Maison d’Art, Monte-Carlo, 2005; From Lightto Enlightenment, Exhibition in the Shanghai Art Museum, China, 12-17 November 2005.
F. Dabell, From Titian to El Greco, exh. cat., Piero Corsini, Inc., New York 1991, p. 36, no. 6; FrankDabell, Le Meraviglie dell’Arte, exhibition catalogue, Maison d’Art, 2005,N 4, pp 25-29, color ill. p. 27; From Light to Enlightenment, Exhibition catalogue, Shanghai Art Museum, 2005, N 2, pp. 22-25,129-130.This recently discovered work illustrates the story of Diana and Callisto described by Ovid (1). Theemphasis here is on lost virginity, the frequent theme of the vengeful loves ofthe Gods. In the leftbackground of this Arcadian scene, we see the prelude to the story in which Jupiter has transformedhimself into the Goddess Diana and is seducing Callisto. As one of Diana’s nymphs, she is bound bychastity. This picture may be oneof the works described in 1568 by Vasari who had met Paris Bordonin Venice in 1566: “at this same time [that is, the 1540s] he painted many of Ovid’s Fables for theMarchese d’Astorga, who took them with him to Spain” (2).Callisto is depicted in the panel at a moment when the real Diana, with her huntress’ javelin, invitesher to bathe with the other nymphs. On the right, Callisto’s secret is revealed. Two nymphs disrobeher as she attempts to flee, ashamed by her pregnancy. In the background on the far right, Callistokneels in supplication before Juno who is about to turn her into a bear, jealous of her husbandJupiter’s involvement. The beauty of the picture clearly lies in Bordon’ s loving depiction of theselegendary figures, arranged in a loose frieze, and his offsetting of pale flesh colours and typically pinkand rich ochre draperies, his landscape with dark trees.Our senses are engaged through the two most appealing aspects of Venetian Cinquecento painting:the landscape and the nude. The main purpose of the picture was to excite and delight the viewerwith the depiction of nude and scantily-dressed figures in a sylvan landscape. The figures and their fluttering draperies are characteristic of Bordone’s mannered style and evoke, in their attitudes,Classical sculpture. The depiction of Callisto in the left foreground is very similar to Titian’s figure ofAriadne in his famous Bacchus and Ariadne (London, National Gallery of Art). The dynamic portrayalof Callisto on the right is derived in reverse from the figure of the fleeing Dominican in Titian’s SaintPeter Martyr Altarpiece of 1530 (formerly in Venice, SS. Giovanni e Paolo; destroyed by fire in 1867).The figures in our Diana and Callisto may have been influenced by Giorgione’s lost compositionof“Diana con molte Ninfe ignude ad una fonte, the della bella Calisto le violate membra scoprivano”,described by Carlo Ridolfi in 1648 (3).Our painting may have been one of several cassone or wainscoting panels made to decorate a room.One of its apparent companions is the Calydonian Boar Hunt (present location unknown) (4). Apartfrom near-identical dimensions, this mythological panel displays close parallels in handling, figurestyle, and tonality. In particular, there is a striking similarity betweenthe pregnant Callisto on theright of our picture and the figure of Atalanta, like Diana, another virgin huntress-shooting her arrowat the boar. The shadows cast by these figures are also depicted in an identical manner. Stylisticallysimilar works include the fragmentary panel with Four Nymphs in a Wood (Jacksonville, Florida,Cummer Gallery of Art), with what appears to have been its companion, a much abraded Diana asHuntress (Alexander City, Alabama, Adelia M. Russell Library) (5). The characteristic nymphs aremanifestly reacting to a scene which takes place on the right and must have belonged to a largerpanel. Moreover, there is a continuation of the dark thinly-painted line which defines the horizon ineach panel and which resembles that on the extreme left of our picture. Professor Mauro Lucco hassuggested a date in the 1540s for these works. Our Diana and Callisto and these related paintingsreveal a neglected aspect of Bordone’s oeuvre and show his poetic approach to pastoral-mythologicalthemes(6).1-See Ovid, Metamorphoses, II, 442-453; idem, Fasti, II, 155-192. See also E. Panofsky, Problems inTitian, mostly Iconographic, New York 1969, part VI, “Titian and Ovid”, especially pp. 158-60. Figs.166-170 provide interesting comparisons from woodcut illustrations to Ovid published between 1497and 1553. For further remarks about the theme of Diana and Callisto, with special reference to Titian’s later poesy, see A. Gentili, Da Tiziano a Tiziano. Mito e allegoria nella cultura veneziana delCinquecento [2nd edition], Rome 1988, pp. 183-204.2-See G. Vasari, Le Vite…, ed. G. Milanesi, Florence 1881, vol. VII, p. 465 (Life of Titian); and Lives ofthe Most Eminent Painters Sculptors and Architects by Giorgio Vasari translated by Gaston Du C. DeVere, London [1912-15], vol. IX, 1915, p. 181.3-See C. Ridolfi, Le Meraviglie dell arte…, Venice 1648, part I, p. 80 (ed. Detlev von Hadeln, Berlin,1914, vol. I, p. 98).4-The panel, which has always been erroneously described as a Death of Adonis, measures 31x110cm. It was with the Galleria Monatti in Rome in 1948 and was published by Bernard Berenson, (ItalianPictures of the Renaissance, Venetian School, London 1957, vol. II, pl. 1127) as homeless. It was soldby Finarte, Milan, 16/25 March 1968, lot 9, and illustrated by G. Mariani Canova in “Nuove note aParis Bordon”, Arte Veneta, XXII, 1968, p. 172, fig. 251.5-These panels were associated by Giordana Mariani Canova in 1968 (see note 4) and provide us