Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object
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Scenes from the Story of the Argonauts

Artist:
Biagio d'Antonio (Italian, Florentine, active by 1472–died 1516)
Artist:
and Jacopo del Sellaio (Italian, Florence 1441/42–1493 Florence)
Date:
ca. 1465
Medium:
Tempera on wood, gilt ornaments
Dimensions:
Overall 24 1/8 x 60 1/8 in. (61.3 x 152.7 cm); painted surface 19 5/8 x 56 in. (49.8 x 142.2 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1909
Accession Number:
09.136.2
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 604
In this and its companion panel, the story of Jason and the Argonauts unfolds in a continuous narrative. At the left, Jason is charged by King Pelias to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Jason then mounts his horse and consults the centaur Chiron on Mount Pelion together with Hercules and Orpheus. In the distance is Jason's ship, the Argo.

In the second panel King Aëetes and his daughters Medea and Chalciope meet Jason and his companions. At center, Jason plows the grove of Ares, where the Golden Fleece is guarded, while Orpheus lulls the dragon to sleep so that Jason may steal the fleece. At right, the King sends his sons off to capture the fleeing Jason and Medea. For a complete account, visit metmuseum.org/collections.

The engaged moldings of the panel are original; the pictures were probably installed as the backrests of two benches or were framed in the wainscoting of a room. As was often the case, more than one painter was involved.
This panel and its companion (09.136.1) recount episodes from the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece in vivid detail. They have been considered both cassone fronts and spalliere, or wainscoting, panels. Though their dimensions are consistent with those of many cassone panels, they have independent moldings and show none of the damages characteristic of cassone panels and were, therefore, certainly designed to be installed where they would not have been kicked or accessible to children.

Christiansen and Pope-Hennessy (1980) first pointed out the parallels in spatial construction between Lorenzo Ghiberti's Story of Isaac, from his second set of bronze doors for the Baptistry in Florence, designed in the 1430s, and the Story of the Argonauts panels. Definition of space is especially effective in the articulation of the many subplots in the epic tale of Jason's travels and tribulations in procuring the fleece. Like Ghiberti, the artists here treat the panels like a stage on which several episodes take place at varying distances from the viewer. Setting up architectural and landscape settings for the characters to inhabit is an essential element in this sophisticated narrative strategy.

Many, but not all, of the episodes depicted on these panels come from the classical versions of the story: the epic poem Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes, written in the third century B.C., which would have been available in its Latin paraphrase by the Alexandrian poet Valerius Flaccus as well as in numerous Greek manuscript versions that were in Florence by the second half of the fifteenth century and were being studied and translated in Medicean circles, which the unknown patron of these panels likely frequented.

The distribution of the episodes in various parts of the setting suggests that the viewer was expected to be familiar with the story (see Additional Images, figs. 1, 2). The story begins in the upper left of the first panel (09.136.2), with the charge of King Pelias to Jason, his nephew, to retrieve the Golden Fleece from a heavily guarded cave in distant Colchis, on the Black Sea (1). Pelias is later murdered by his daughters, and this is shown in another room of the palace (2). Easily recognizable in golden armor, a pink cloak, and a winged helmet, Jason is shown in the next scene rounding up adventurers to join him on his quest (3). In the center background he finds Orpheus, shown on an island playing his viol (4). Jason and Orpheus are then seen consulting the centaur Chiron atop Mount Pelion (5). Below them is shown the Calydonian boar hunt (6). After the Argonauts' arrival at Mysia, in Asia Minor, Hercules' squire, Hylas, goes in search of fresh water, but is set upon by nymphs (7). Hercules and Polyphemus set off to find him, and the Argonauts unwittingly depart in the middle of the night without the three men (8).

On the left side of the second panel (09.136.1), Jason and the Argonauts arrive in Colchis (9) and are greeted by King Aeëtes, who rides a triumphal chariot flanked by his two daughers, Medea and Chalciope (10). The king explains that in order to obtain the Golden Fleece, Jason must plow the grove of Ares with fire-breathing bulls, sow the furrows with dragon's teeth, and slay the warriors who spring from them. With the magical aid of the sorceress Medea, Jason is able to accomplish all this; Orpheus then plays his viol to put the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece to sleep, Jason slays the dragon, and steals the fleece (11). The right-hand scene may show Aeëtes sending his son in pursuit (12). He is then seen astride his horse, hat flying off as he rides in haste across the castle's drawbridge (13). In the left background Jason and Medea return to Iolcus (14), and Medea’s magic rejuvenates Jason's father with the aid of Diana, who is shown with her dogs as an apparition in white (15).

There has been almost constant controversy about the panels' authorship since they appeared on the art market in the first years of the twentieth century. Sold by the dealer and collector Stefano Bardini in 1899 as by Pesellino, in 1901 Logan tentatively attributed them to Jacopo del Sellaio, and in 1932 Bernard Berenson suggested that they were by Giovanni Battista Utili da Faenza, whose oeuvre eventually became associated with the name of Biagio d'Antonio (Fahy 1989), an artist active in both Florence and Faenza (a later panel by the same artist illustrating the Biblical story of Joseph also belongs to the MMA: 32.100.69). Fahy called attention to the fact, first noted by Wehle in 1940, that the two panels are not by the same artist, ascribing 09.136.1 to Biagio and 09.136.2 to the Master of the Argonauts, perhaps to be identified with Francesco Rosselli (1448–before 1513), brother of the better-known Cosimo. That the two are by different hands is supported by a comparison of underdrawings, visible with the aid of infrared reflectography. Collaboration on series of panels such as these was common practice (see, for example, the panels by Granacci in the MMA: 1970.134.1–2).

[2012; adapted from Krohn 2008]
Palazzo Torrigiani, Florence; [Stefano Bardini, Florence, until 1899; his sale, Christie's, London, June 5, 1899, no. 364, as by "Pesellino?"]; [Colnaghi, London, 1899]; Leopold II, King of Belgium, Brussels (1899–1909); [Julius Böhler, Munich, 1909]; [Julius Böhler, Munich, and Kleinberger, Paris, 1909; sold for £5,000 to Morgan]; J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (1909)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy," November 11, 2008–February 16, 2009, no. 59a.

Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum. "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy," March 15–June 14, 2009, no. 59a.

Werner Weisbach. Francesco Pesellino und die Romantik der Renaissance. Berlin, 1901, pp. 120, 122–25, ill., calls this painting and its companion (MMA 09.136.1) cassone panels, and groups them with battle scenes that he attributes to a follower of Pesellino.

Mary Logan. "Compagno di Pesellino et quelques peintures de l'école (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 26 (October 1901), pp. 334–35, calls them cassone panels and tentatively ascribes them to Jacopo del Sellaio.

Attilio Schiaparelli. La casa fiorentina e i suoi arredi nei secoli XIV e XV. Ed. Maria Sframeli and Laura Pagnotta. 1983 ed. Florence, 1908, vol. 1, p. 285; vol. 2, p. 83 n. 250.

B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "Principal Accessions: Cassone Panels by Pesellino." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (December 1909), pp. 224–25, ill. p. 223, as cassone panels by the a pupil of Pesellino; dates them to the second half of the fifteenth century.

Morton H. Bernath. New York und Boston. Leipzig, 1912, pp. 71–72, fig. 70, calls them good workshop pieces very close to Pesellino.

Bryson Burroughs. Catalogue of Paintings. 1st ed. New York, 1914, p. 206, states that "these two panels formed part of a chest" and attributes them to the school of Pesellino.

Paul Schubring. Cassoni: Truhen und Truhenbilder der italienischen Frührenaissance. Leipzig, 1915, text vol., pp. 116, 286, nos. 296 and 297; plate vol., pl. LXXI, attributes them to a follower of Pesellino and dates them about 1470.

Osvald Sirén. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Pictures in the Jarves Collection, Belonging to Yale University. New Haven, 1916, pp. 125–28, ascribes them to the immediate follower of Pesellino who painted a cassone in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and the Virgin Adoring the Christ Child in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.

Osvald Sirén. "Early Italian Pictures at Cambridge." Burlington Magazine 37 (December 1920), pp. 300, 303, as by a follower of Pesellino, active about 1460–70, who also painted two cassoni panels with scenes of the Trojan War in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Paul Schubring. Cassoni: Supplement. Leipzig, 1923, p. 4, calls the artist the "Meister der Argonautenbilder" after the MMA paintings, attributing to him the two panels in the Fitzwilliam Museum, and, tentatively, another two in the Franchetti collection, Venice.

Paul Schubring. "Cassone Pictures in America: Part One." Art in America 11 (August 1923), pp. 242–43, fig. 7, as by a pupil of Pesellino, active about 1470.

Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 10, The Renaissance Painters of Florence in the 15th Century. The Hague, 1928, pp. 566–67, fig. 340, ascribes them to the school of Pesellino and accepts Schubring's [see Ref. 1915] dating.

Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 585, lists them as cassone panels by Utili da Faenza.

Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 503.

Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 35–37, ill., calls them cassone panels by "two different followers, perhaps studio helpers, of Pesellino," observing that 09.136.1 is the more finished of the two.

Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 261, no. 731, ill. p. 262.

Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 37, Leipzig, 1950, p. 24, mentions them as the eponymous works of the Master of the Argonaut Panels.

Hans-Werner Grohn. "Zwei Cassoni mit Darstellungen aus der Erzählung von Amor und Psyche." Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Forschungen und Berichte 1 (1957), pp. 94, 97, 99, fig. 3, attributes them to the Master of the Argonaut Panels.

Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 211, lists them with the works of "'Utili' (Biagio di Antonio?)".

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florentine School. New York, 1971, pp. 143–45, ill., give 09.136.1 to Biagio d'Antonio and this panel to an assistant in his shop working from designs by the master; suggest a date about 1465 and call them decorations for two companion marriage chests.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 28, 472, 606, as by the "school, shop, or studio" of Biagio d'Antonio.

Everett Fahy. Some Followers of Domenico Ghirlandajo. PhD diss., Harvard University. New York, 1976, p. 207, calls them cassone fronts.

Edward Morris and Martin Hopkinson. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool: Foreign Catalogue. [Liverpool], 1977, text vol., p. 70, under no. 2809, notes that in a letter of July 28, 1967 Everett Fahy attributes this and a panel showing the Adventures of Odysseus in Liverpool to an artist Offner called the Master of the Porta Romana Lunette, but finds that the condition of the Liverpool panel precludes any positive identification.

Annarosa Garzelli. La Bibbia di Federico da Montefeltro: un'officina libraria fiorentina, 1476-1478. Rome, 1977, p. 105.

John Pope-Hennessy and Keith Christiansen. "Secular Painting in 15th-Century Tuscany: Birth Trays, Cassone Panels, and Portraits." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 38 (Summer 1980), pp. 16, 29, 31, figs. 21–26 (color, overall and details), state that they were designed by Biagio d'Antonio about 1465, and are "probably from the backrest (spalliera) of a cassone rather than its front"; note that the architectural organization in both derives from that in Ghiberti's Story of Isaac relief on the doors of the Florence Baptistry.

Maria Sframeli and Laura Pagnotta, ed. La casa fiorentina e i suoi arredi nei secoli XIV e XV. By Attilio Schiaparelli. Florence, 1983, vol. 2, p. 83 n. 250.

Everett Fahy. "The Tornabuoni-Albizzi Panels." Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Federico Zeri. Milan, 1984, pp. 236, 241, 244, fig. 240 (detail), ascribes this panel to an assistant of Biagio d'Antonio and calls the pair cassone fronts dating from about 1465.

Cristina De Benedictis in Il Museo Bardini a Firenze. Milan, 1984, vol. 1, p. 122, lists them both as by Biagio d'Antonio.

Everett Fahy. "The Argonaut Master." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 114 (December 1989), pp. 285–87, 289–92, 297 nn. 1, 9–10, figs. 1 and 3 (overall and detail), attributes this panel to the Argonaut Master and 09.136.1 to Biagio d'Antonio, dating them about 1465; believes "they probably were engaged in the wainscoting of a room, or they could have been the 'spalliere,' backrests, of two cassoni"; reconsiders the attributions of panels formerly ascribed to the Argonaut Master, giving many of them to Biagio d'Antonio and citing Konrad Oberhuber's tentative identification of the anonymous artist with Cosimo Rosselli's brother, Francesco.

Colnaghi in America: A Survey to Commemorate the First Decade of Colnaghi New York. Ed. Nicholas H. J. Hall. New York, 1992, p. 131.

Anne B. Barriault. "Spalliera" Paintings of Renaissance Tuscany: Fables of Poets for Patrician Homes. University Park, Pa., 1994, pp. xi, 69, 71, fig. 23.1, illustrates this panel as "design given to Biagio di Antonio," and 09.136.1 as "design and painting given to Biagio di Antonio," dating them about 1465; observes that the size of the panels and the "visualization of the story share the hallmarks of cassone paintings produced by Apollonio di Giovanni in the 1460s"; doubts that they were spalliere for cassoni [see Ref. Pope-Hennessy and Christiansen 1980], stating instead that their scale and formal elements are closer to those of cassone paintings.

Roberto Longhi. Il palazzo non finito: saggi inediti, 1910-1926. Ed. Francesco Frangi and Cristina Montagnani. Milan, 1995, pp. 257, 268–72, 285, 291–92, 294 n. 3, p. 562, fig. 101, attributes them to Utili [see Ref. Longhi 1937], and dates them after 1470.

Graham Hughes. Renaissance Cassoni, Masterpieces of Early Italian Art: Painted Marriage Chests 1400–1550. Alfriston, England, 1997, pp. 155, 210, 213, 232, calls them cassone panels and thinks both are by the same artist.

Roberta Bartoli. Biagio d'Antonio. Milan, 1999, p. 19 n. 25, pp. 147–48, 155, 161, 173–75 nn. 28, 41, 52, pp. 182–85, 230, 235–36, no. 11a, ill. (color), attributes it to the Master of the Argonauts, identifed here as Bernardo di Stefano Rosselli (1450–1526), noting that the design may have come from Biagio d'Antonio; attributes 09.136.1 to Biagio, calls them "spalliera" paintings, and dates them to the end of the 1460s.

Fonds d'or et fonds peints italiens (1300–1560). Exh. cat., G. Sarti. Paris, 2002, pp. 121, 127, attributes this panel to Bernardo di Stefano Rosselli and 09.136.1 to Biagio d'Antonio, dating them about 1470.

Dennis Geronimus. Piero di Cosimo: Visions Beautiful and Strange. New Haven, 2006, p. 322 n. 176.

Caroline Campbell. "Lorenzo Tornabuoni's 'History of Jason and Medea' series: Chivalry and Classicism in 1480s Florence." Renaissance Studies 21 (February 2007), pp. 5–6, fig. 4, states that the pair of panels probably dates to the 1470s and adds that the narrative is clearly based on versions of the story of Jason and Medea by Apollonius of Rhodes and Valerius Flaccus.

Deborah L. Krohn in Art and Love in Renaissance Italy. Ed. Andrea Bayer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, pp. 109, 137–38, 293, no. 59a, ill. (color), dates the two panels about 1465, but also calls them "roughly contemporary with" Jacopo del Sellaio's panel with the story of Cupid and Psyche (private collection, New York) of 1475.

James Grantham Turner in Art and Love in Renaissance Italy. Ed. Andrea Bayer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, p. 181.

Andrea Bayer in Art and Love in Renaissance Italy. Ed. Andrea Bayer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, p. 305.

Nicoletta Pons in Virtù d'amore: pittura nuziale nel Quattrocento fiorentino. Ed. Claudio Paolini et al. Exh. cat., Galleria dell'Accademia. Florence, 2010, p. 128.

Roberta Bartoli in Virtù d'amore: pittura nuziale nel Quattrocento fiorentino. Ed. Claudio Paolini et al. Exh. cat., Galleria dell'Accademia. Florence, 2010, p. 271, under no. IV, fig. 4 on p. 155, reproduces a photograph of the installation of the Bardini collection in Paris in 1899.

Jerzy Miziolek in Virtù d'amore: pittura nuziale nel Quattrocento fiorentino. Ed. Claudio Paolini et al. Exh. cat., Galleria dell'Accademia. Florence, 2010, p. 253, under no. 27.

Everett Fahy in The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini. Ed. Keith Christiansen and Stefan Weppelmann. Exh. cat., Bode-Museum, Berlin. New York, 2011, p. 134 [German ed., "Gesichter der Renaissance: Meisterwerke italienischer Portrait-Kunst," Berlin, 2011], states that Biagio worked with Jacopo del Sellaio on one of these two panels.



This original molding frames a painted panel, one of a pair that may have been inset into an architectural wainscoting or formed the backrest of a cassapanca or bench. The maker worked in Florence in about 1500. The engaged molding is made of poplar and is water gilded and carved at its sight edge in the form of running oak leaves and acorns which may relate to the coat of arms of the family who commissioned the panels. The top edge is a flat fillet and the whole is framed in a twentieth-century gilded fillet molding (see Additional Images, figs. 3–5).

[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2015; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
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