Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

The Contest Between Athena and Poseidon for the Possession of Athens

Artist:
Cesare Nebbia (Italian, Orvieto ca. 1536–1614 Orvieto)
Date:
1570s
Medium:
Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, over traces of leadpoint or black chalk; squared in red chalk. Traces of framing outlines in pen and darker brown ink
Dimensions:
10-3/16 x 10-3/8 in. (25.9 x 26.4 cm)
Classification:
Drawings
Credit Line:
Harry G. Sperling Fund, 2000
Accession Number:
2000.320
Not on view
As Rhoda Eitel-Porter and Alberto Satoli pointed out, this drawing relates to Cesare Nebbia's partly destroyed fresco in the "Salone della Caminata" of the Palazzo Simoncelli (Torre San Severo, near Orvieto), painted possibly in the 1570's. The drawing is the principal documentary means of reconstructing the lost portions of the frescoed composition.

Airy and full of light, this carefully drawn composition portrays a subject based on Ovid's Metamorphoses (5:250-268). A council of the Classical gods (presided by Zeus and Hera at center), seated in the heavens and identifiable through their attributes, witness below the monumental scene of the nude, muscular sea-god Poseidon (at left), who has vigorously struck the ground with his trident, causing a horse to spring up, seen here rearing from an enormous rock at center.

On the right, the mighty, armor-clad goddess Athena, who in her guise of "Athena Parthenos" holds her characteristic shield with Medusa's head, has touched the ground with her long lance, causing an olive tree to sprout. The olive tree symbolizes peace and victory which prompts the council of the gods to award her the ownership of the regions of Attica and its capital, Athens. Rather unusually here, the artist envisioned the Classical myth in terms of his own experience, portraying the city of Athens in the distant background, as if it were one of the fortified medieval hill towns of his native region of Umbria, perhaps Orvieto where he was born and died. The attribution to Cesare Nebbia, which more recently found confirmation, was first proposed by Philip Pouncey.

(Carmen C. Bambach, 2000)
Inscription: Annotated by Thomas Coke (1697-1759) on his mount, "Fiderico Zuccharo"
Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (British, 1697–1759); Christie's, London, Holkham sale, July 2, 1991, lot 10; Katrin Bellinger Kunsthandeland Galerie de Bayser (New York, Paris, London 1994, lot. 10); Vendor: Katrin Bellinger Kunsthandel, Munich
Arthur Ewart Popham, Christopher Lloyd Old Master Drawings at Holkham Hall. Chicago, 1986, p. 25, no. 19.

Katrin Bellinger Kunsthandel, Galerie de Bayser European Master Drawings. New York, Paris and London, 1994, no. 10.

Rhoda Eitel-Porter, Alberto Satolli "Cesare Nebbia's Work for the Palazzo Simoncelli." The Burlington Magazine. vol. 136, London, 1996, pp. 433-38, repr.

Rhoda Eitel-Porter Disegni per Orvieto dell' "...Illustre concittadino Cesare Nebbia." Quaderni del Bollettino, Istituto Storico Artistico Orvietano. no. 2, 2004, pp. 104-107, no. 18.



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