Art/ Collection/ Art Object

An Allegory

Domenico Guidobono (Italian, Genoese, 1668–1746)
Oil on canvas
56 3/4 x 92 1/4 in. (144.1 x 234.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, R. A. Farnsworth Gift, Gwynne Andrews, Charles B. Curtis, Rogers, Marquand, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment, and Victor Wilbour Memorial Funds, 1970
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 601
The subject of this remarkable painting remains elusive. The woman holding dividers over an open book with diagrams has been identified as Circe or Melissa, but is probably a more generic sorceress surrounded by symbols of her dark magic: skulls, a bat, and a chimera (a fantastical winged creature). The animal in the left foreground is a coati, a member of the raccoon family native to South America. Domenico was the younger brother of Bartolomeo Guidobono (1654–1709). The work of the two brothers is directly related and often difficult to distinguish.
[Ira Spanierman, New York, until 1970; sold to MMA]
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. "Kunst in der Republik Genua, 1528–1815," September 5–November 8, 1992, no. 121 (as "Allegorie des Triumphes der Künste").

Bertina Suida Manning. Unpublished manuscript. 1971, attributes it to Bartolomeo Guidobono, noting that Robert Manning was the first to assign it to this artist; calls it a mature work of the Genoese period; discusses the subject, suggesting that it may be the Triumph of Art, with the central figure representing the personification of Art and the child symbolizing the human soul; identifies the animal in the center background as a chimera or griffon and the one in the left foreground as a coati.

Ann Percy. Letter to Elizabeth E. Gardner. February 28, 1973, suggests that "the main figure, the skull, the dog and the cat could have come from Castiglione's etchings (Circe, Diogenes, Melancholia)".

Charles Dempsey. Letter to Elizabeth E. Gardner. June 12, 1973, tentatively identifies the central figure as Ariosto's good witch, Melissa, although adding that the picture does not seem to illustrate a particular episode from Ariosto's work; believes that the child is a portrait; identifies the animal in the center background as a hippogryph and the one in the left foreground as an opossum.

Mary Newcome Schleier. "Notes on Guidobono." Antichità viva 20, no. 6 (1981), pp. 32, 36 n. 72, fig. 20, attributes it to Domenico Guidobono, comparing the figures with those in the artist's "Glorification of Giovanna Battista di Savoia Nemours" (Palazzo Madama, Turin) of 1721; suggests that it may be a Vanitas, with the child representing life/day pointing to death/night on the right.

Bertina Suida Manning. "The Transformation of Circe: The Significance of the Sorceress as Subject in 17th Century Genoese Painting." Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Federico Zeri. Milan, 1984, pp. 701–2, 706, 708 n. 35, figs. 699–704 (overall and details).

Alberto Cottino and Andreina Griseri in La natura morta in Italia. Ed. Francesco Porzio. Vol. 1, Milan, 1989, p. 112, fig. 103, as by Bartolomeo Guidobono; call it an allegory of the triumph of the arts.

Mary Newcome Schleier in Kunst in der Republik Genua, 1528–1815. Exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. Frankfurt, 1992, p. 219, no. 121, colorpl. 120, dates it about 1720 and concurs with Suida Manning [see Refs. 1971 and 1984] that it is an allegory of the triumph of the arts, with the child possibly representing the personification of the human soul.

Keith Christiansen. "Going for Baroque: Bringing 17th-Century Masters to the Met." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 62 (Winter 2005), p. 14, fig. 11 (color).

Old Masters & 19th Century Art. Christie's, London. July 7, 2009, p. 62, under no. 25, refers to it as "attributed to Domenico and depicting an enigmatic interior with a 'Sorceress and her daughter'".

The frame is from the Lombardy region and dates to about 1580 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–3). This densely carved and gilded frame is made of poplar and was probably originally silver leafed. The sight edge is ornamented in pearl and rope twist. The ogee shaped frieze is carved with acanthus and oak leaves with berry festoons. The top edge ornament which emanates from center points depicts ripe carved fruits and the back edge stylized egg and dart. The frame was widened and heightened with carved intervals added and regessoed and regilded to accommodate this painting.

[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2017; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
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