Circle of Giorgio VASARI
(Arezzo 1511 - Florence 1574)
The River God Arno with a Cornucopia and a Lion
Inscribed (in a modern hand) FRANCO and Franco ou Farinati in pencil on the verso.
248 x 358 mm. (9 3/4 x 14 1/8 in.)
Vasari’s decorative scheme for La Talanta was commissioned from the artist in December 1541, during his first visit to Venice, by a group of Venetian noblemen calling themselves the Compagnia della Calza ‘Sempiterni’, who were to perform Aretino’s play during the Carnival. Known as the Apparato dei Sempiterni, the project consisted of wall paintings of allegorical figures of Virtues interspersed with large, monochrome landscapes of Venice and its territories, together with ceiling paintings representing the four times of day and the hours. River gods appeared in several of the wall decorations for La Talanta, and one of these panels depicted the river gods of the Arno, the Tiber and the Appenine together. The present sheet, while not by Vasari himself, closely matches his written description of the Arno river god, in a letter of 1542 to his patron Ottaviano de’ Medici in Florence: ‘on the other wall there was our Arno who had a garland of corn, millet and sorghum, and a cornucopia filled with fruits, holding an open water vessel on a lion, a lily in his hand, he was resting on a lion turning his head towards the Tiber, who was also there…’ Vasari’s letter to Ottaviano de’ Medici, composed immediately after the performance of La Talanta in February 1542, contained a detailed description of the various paintings that made up the Apparato dei Sempiterni. Since the decoration was dismantled shortly afterwards, and is no longer extant, this letter is one of the best records of the appearance of the work, alongside the dozen or so autograph drawings for the project that survive, as well as several copies of lost drawings by Vasari for the same commission.
As Härb notes, with reference to the present sheet, ‘The Apparato included one painting dedicated to a single river god, symbolizing the river Po, the second on the right wall next to the allegory of Venice…It is not inconceivable that the former Brophy sheet reflects an early idea for the decoration, to depict the Arno instead of the Po on its own. However, given the site of the performance, such an emphasis on a Tuscan motif might not have been considered appropriate.’
A drawing of a river god in an almost identical pose, drawn in black and white chalk on blue paper, appeared at auction in London in 1981 with an attribution to Battista Franco (c.1510-1561).
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 4 July 1995, lot 163 (as Circle of Giorgio Vasari)
R. S. Johnson Fine Art, Chicago