Andrea Meldola, known as Andrea Schiavone, came from a family originating in Meldola, a small town near Forlì in the region of Romagna on Italy’s Adriatic coast. By the mid-fifteenth century, they had moved across the Adriatic to Zadar (or Zara) in Dalmatia, where Andrea’s father became a constable. The term Schiavone (Slavonian) refers to Andrea’s heritage there. It is not clear where the artist trained, but by the mid-1530s he may have been working in Belluno, about one hundred miles north of Venice, and in 1540–41 he was certainly working in that city, where the painter-biographer Giorgio Vasari commissioned a painting from him that was later given to Ottaviano de’ Medici (1484–1546; the picture is now lost). Schiavone was an accomplished draftsman and etcher, as well as painter, and one of his few signed and dated works—the etching of The Rape of Helen
(Bartsch XVI, 81)—of 1547, as well as closely related works, show an artist deeply indebted to the examples of Parmigianino and Mannerist artists active at mid-century in Venice, such as Francesco Salviati. The great poet and friend of Titian, Pietro Aretino, wrote an affectionate letter to the artist in 1548, and his mention in Paolo Pino’s treatise Dialogo di pittura
the following year demonstrates that Schiavone was a well-known member of the artistic community. Pino links him with the younger Jacopo Tintoretto, chiding each of them for working with too much "prestezza" (quickness)—a reference to the loose, highly pictorial styles they developed. Although Schiavone had a handful of important public and ecclesiastical commissions, such as that for three of the tondos for the ceiling of the Sala d’Oro in the Biblioteca Marciana (1556), he was best known for works on a smaller scale and for domestic settings. Soon before his death in 1563, he was called alongside the greatest painters of the time—Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese—to give his opinion about a mosaic that had just been carried out in the church of San Marco.The Painting:
One of Schiavone’s most impressive surviving paintings, the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche
may have been painted for a ceiling in the Collalto family’s Castello di San Salvatore, near Susegana, where a work of this description was noted by Carlo Ridolfi in 1648. Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, acquired it at an unknown date although most likely during his Grand Tour in Italy in 1714–15, but no record of the purchase exists in the travel accounts of his stay in Venice or following his departure from the city, from February to the end of April 1715, when he arrived at Dover. By about 1740, it hung in the Red Velvet Room at Chiswick House, Burlington’s beautiful Palladian villa on the outskirts of London ("Inventory of paintings at Chiswick House," ca. 1740). With the earl’s daughter’s death in 1754 the painting was inherited by her son, William Cavendish, later the 5th Duke of Devonshire (died 1811), passing to that family, and hung either at Chiswick—it is still recorded in 1761 as in the new dining room there—or at Chatsworth in Derbyshire, until 1958. The panel was originally octagonal in shape, appropriately for a ceiling painting, and it is believed that the corners were added to it in the eighteenth century.
A closely related panel of a similar composition, although somewhat smaller and with fewer figures, is now in the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence (Istituto Nazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento; see Additional Images, fig. 1), where it arrived as part of the Contini-Bonacossi bequest. It too was originally octagonal in shape (a third version now in a private collection in Novi Sad seems to be a replica, although perhaps also autograph. Richardson (1980) argued that the painting in Florence was an earlier, autograph composition (ca. 1541–44) that served as the basis of the elaborated scene, which he believed to show an increased spatiality, an enriched harmony, and figures with "a more robust and natural elegance." He dated the painting in New York to about 1549, citing its affinities with the Adoration of the Magi
in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan.
The dating of both versions of the Marriage
remains an open issue, with Ballarin (1996) suggesting that the painting now in New York was done as early as about1540–45. The painting in Florence could have followed it, with the artist clarifying the exchange of rings between the protagonists and making other changes (its current state of conservation must be taken into consideration when attempting to reach a conclusion about its date). However, that it is a simplified version is not open to doubt: three figures have been excluded, and the brilliant ornament of feathers, plumes, jewels, and attributes of the gods that both enliven and bring meaning to the scene have been dropped. Above all, more difficult details, such as the river god who rests on a vessel of gleaming metal, or the movement of Jupiter’s eagle who thrusts its wings under the god’s bent knees, or the figure of Hebe who rushes onto the scene holding high her offerings, have not been attempted in the Florentine painting. The care with which the painting in New York has been thought through suggests that it was done for a prestigious commission, such as that for the counts of Collalto. Despite this, it should be noted that Bellieni (2015) has argued that the painting done for the Castello di San Salvatore in Collalto is instead that now in Florence, stating that its removal from that location would have been easiest either in the late nineteenth century or, indeed, in 1917–18 when the castle was gravely damaged by bombardment. The provenance of the painting in the Palazzo Strozzi could fit in with this scenario, although we have no further evidence about when or where Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi bought it. Any identification of the works commissioned for the room devoted to the story of Psyche in the Castello di San Salvatore must remain tentative therefore, as none of the known versions mentioned above have an unbroken provenance that would make an indisputable case. It is nonetheless likely that this painting and a highly finished drawing of Cupid Presenting Psyche to the Gods
), also in the Metropolitan Museum, are in fact two surviving elements.
Ridolfi’s (1648) passage on the Collalto commission is so central to a discussion of the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche
that it is worth summarizing aspects of it. He relates that Schiavone was invited to San Salvatore by the Counts to paint (fresco is the term he uses, probably alluding as well to Schiavone’s work on the exterior of the castle) part of their houses. The first room Ridolfi discusses included four favole
(stories), including a Danae. He then continues that Schiavone painted four smaller ceilings: the first was dedicated to the story of Psyche, the middle of which showed her marriage to Cupid, made up of very gracious figures. ("Nel primo divise in più partimenti la favola di Psiche, and in quel di mezzo si sposa ad Amore, ove sono in vero gratiose figure.")The Subject:
The subject is taken from the Latin text of the Metamorphoses
, more commonly known as The Golden Ass
(books IV–VI), by Lucius Apuleius (born ca. A.D. 123), where it is embedded within the larger narrative of the novel. In the Renaissance, knowledge of the story emerged principally through Giovanni Boccaccio’s Genealogie deorum gentilium
(composed 1360s), in which the narrative was developed with precision and in great detail. The popularity of the text as the basis of lively and sensual imagery is seen in a number of famous cycles, several of which, such as that of Giulio Romano in the Palazzo Te in Mantua, and Raphael’s Psyche Presented to the Gods
in the Villa Farnesina in Rome, Schiavone might well have known and may have inspired his own interpretation (for an overall history of the imagery in the Renaissance see Sonia Cavicchioli, Le metamorfosi di Psiche: l’iconografia della favola di Apuleio
, Venice, 2002, especially p. 34 for Boccaccio; Richardson 1980). The Met’s panel depicts the final scene of the intricate myth, after Psyche has carried out all of the tasks demanded of her by Venus and receives her reward—her reunion with and marriage to Cupid—presided over by the gods. These include Juno, Jupiter astride his eagle, the helmeted Mars, Venus, Hebe, cupbearer to the gods, a river god, and possibly Vesta. At the center of the panel Jupiter passes a ring to Psyche with a gesture that echoes the shape of the ring itself, while Cupid holds a myrtle leaf wreath aloft in honor of the bride. The gently di sotto in su
viewpoint, in which the river god’s massive water jar seems to open out over the viewer, provides additional confirmation that it was designed as a ceiling painting.The Probable Patrons:
Two brothers, Count Collaltino (or Collatino) (1523–1569) and Vinciguerra Collalto (born 1527), were the dominant figures in the family at San Salvatore throughout the years that Schiavone might have painted there, although their father Manfredo lived until 1552 and was also a man of learning, tied to the court of Leo X and great friend of both the humanist and poet Pietro Bembo and the author Pietro Aretino (who later became Vinciguerra’s godfather). Collaltino, the elder son, may well have been the patron of this cycle of paintings that so closely reflects his interests. He was first and foremost a soldier, attached to Alfonso d’Avalos in Milan, and then traveling widely in the service of the kings of England and above all France, participating in the complicated military skirmishes of the mid-century. But he was also a poet and man of letters, and published collections of his poems in Venice in 1545 and 1549. His fame today rests principally on the complicated love affair that he had with the poet Gaspara Stampa, whom he met in Venice in 1548 and whose widely-admired poems (Rime di Madonna Gaspara Stampa
, 1554) began with a letter bemoaning her abandonment by him (see Nicola Longo, "Collalto, Collaltino," in Dizionario biografico degli italiani
, vol. 26, 1982; and Giampaolo Zagonel, "I fratelli Collaltino e Vinciguerra tra i letterati veneziani intorno alla metà del Cinquecento," in I Collalto: conti di Treviso, patrizi veneti, principi dell’impero
, Vittorio Veneto, 1998, pp. 122–23).
By 1543 Collaltino had come into contact with the author Giuseppe Betussi (ca. 1520–1573), a pupil of Aretino, and in 1545 Betussi dedicated I casi degli Uomini illustri di M. Giovanni Boccaccio
to his benefactor, saying that the work had been carried out at San Salvatore. Over the next years Betussi used the tranquility of the Castello to undertake numerous studies and translations of Boccaccio’s Latin works, the most significant of which was La geneologia degli dei
(1547), also dedicated to Count Collaltino di Collalto; some of the woodcuts at the openings of the chapters may illustrate the castle (Zagonel 1998, pp. 116–19, 125). While there were eight editions of Boccaccio’s Latin text published between 1474 and 1532, Betussi’s was the first translation into Italian (Cavicchioli 2002, p. 141, no. 19). The following year Collaltino appeared as one of the participants in another important dialogue, Marco della Fratta e Montalban’s Il nobile: ragionamenti di nobiltà
, set in the count’s Venetian home. The date coincided with the meeting with Gaspara, who accompanied him in 1549 to the Castello, making several additional visits there before their final rupture in 1551 (Collaltino was to marry Giulia Torelli, marchesa di Cassei, in 1557). The only contemporary witness who wrote of Collaltino and Gaspara’s love in a poem set it in the Castello of San Salvatore: "Alto colle famoso al ciel gradito, Quanto ogni altro più be che Italia gira…" (Girolamo Molino as quoted in Zagonel 1998, p. 123).
Although documentary evidence is lacking, Collaltino could have become aware of Schiavone’s art in Venice either in the early or the late 1540s, and the commission for the decoration of the Psyche ceiling, along with that of Danae, the Sleeping Venus, and other mythological figures, could have been conceived in the ambiance described above. For Collaltino these must have been years of intense engagement with the erotic myths described by Boccaccio and studied and translated by Betussi; if the painting was done later in the decade the commission would also have coincided with his highly-charged affair with Stampa, at the moment of his own most vigorous engagement with poetry, and carried out in the beauty of his native hills. If this panel was part of that commission, Schiavone rose to the challenge, creating one of his most distinctive works, with its "unconventional" palette (a term used by Richardson) and striking attention to detail and texture. The elegant choreography of the central figures, so like that found in the artist’s etchings and inspired in turn by Parmigianino, and their luminous flesh tones, cause them to spring forward from the encircling gods and goddesses. This was a panel on which Schiavone lavished his attention and demonstrated his skill at organizing a complex and monumental scene.
[Andrea Bayer 2016; adapted from Bayer 2015]