Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 13

New light on Cecco Bravo, a Medici painter of mythology and landscape
lost, the work in question is of outstanding quality and
in very good condition; it was certainly produced for a
private patron and – as will be discussed below – can
be linked to a specific event which allows us to date it
to 1637. As such, it is a precious example of an early
picture which enhances our understanding of Cecco
Bravo’s initial phase of activity, for which no other
easel paintings have yet been identified.
The rediscovered work is painted on an oval-shaped
copper support and depicts The Wedding of Venus and
Vulcan (fig. 1);7 it can be identified with a “Sposalizio
degli dei” (Wedding of the Gods) with the same dimensions
and format, also on copper, which was recorded by
Ulderigo Medici in 1880 in the picture gallery of
Prince Tommaso Corsini in the family palace on via
di Parione in Florence.8 The picture was already in loco
in 1842, when Federico Fantozzi noted a “Sposalizio
degli dei” by Cecco Bravo in the Galleria Corsini in his
guide to the city.9 The Corsini inventories preserved
in the family archive allow us to trace the presence of
the painting in the collection from 1711, when it was
in the apartment of the Marquis, later Cardinal Neri
Corsini (1614-1678), on the piano nobile of the Florentine
palace.10 In all subsequent inventories until the death
of Tommaso Corsini, 6th Prince of Sismano (18351919), the painting is recorded in the same wing of
the palace, which is connected to the main hall by the
gallery frescoed in 1650-1654 by Alessandro Rosi.
The scene in the newly discovered painting is set in a
wood which opens up to create space for the bride and
groom. Cupid, descending from the sky with Venus
in her swan-drawn chariot following, takes aim with
his arrow. To the left of the couple presides Hymen,
the god of marriage. In the right foreground a centaur
armed with arrows stands just behind a satyr and a
nymph; on the opposite side more nymphs and satyrs
are seated in various poses,with the banquet of the
gods sketched in beyond them.
The creation of the scene follows no sense of proportion
or rule of perspective. In a typical theatrical staging
New light on Cecco Bravo, a Medici painter of mythology and landscape
(with lateral scenes, central action, and apparition
above), the artist combines various mythological stories
seen from different viewpoints with everyday details:
for instance the lute player in contemporary dress
with a broad-brimmed hat, and the two young figures
embracing, shown from behind at the right edge.
Within the context of Tuscan art, this type of
interpretation of the myth recalls the eccentric works
of Piero di Cosimo, an artist gifted with a similarly
original and imaginative approach. The small, sketchlike figures and colours dissolved by light are, however,
closer to the paintings of the Ferrarese Dosso Dossi,
whose works Cecco Bravo could have seen in the
collections of the Medici and other Florentine nobles.
It is also possible that he actually visited Ferrara during
a supposed trip to the North of Italy before 1650,
although this seems highly unlikely given the succession
of commissions and payments that the artist received at
this time for frescoes and altarpieces painted in Tuscany.
The fluid, transparent impastos in the Wedding of Venus
and Vulcan, evident in the veils of bluish mist in the sky
and the billowing folds of the figures’ robes, evoke the
sfumato of Leonardo. Cecco Bravo would have been
familiar with this technique through the works of
Furini, a painter renowned for the sensuality of his art
and to whom the younger artist clearly pays homage
with the inclusion of the two embracing nymphs in
floating veils who sit facing each other on the far left.
If the elegant poses of the gods and the satyr on the
right dressed in a sumptuous fur seem inconceivable
without the precedent of Furini, then Cecco Bravo’s
own signature can be seen in the physiognomies
of the figures and the agitated brushstrokes in the
trees and landscape (which occupies as much of the
composition as the staffage). The artist’s interest in
landscape can be linked to Giulio Parigi’s drawing
classes at the Academy, which presented “a new and
beautiful way of creating with the pen the softest
landscapes,”11 and more specifically to the atmospheric
landscape drawings of Stefano della Bella (1610-1664),
particularly those now in the Gabinetto dei Disegni
e delle Stampe degli Uffizi.12 It also relates to the
paintings of Filippo Napoletano in Florence at the
time, rather than the wild landscapes (with gnarled,
intertwined trees) introduced to the city by Salvator
Rosa in the 1640s.
Fig. 2 / Stefano della
Bella, Nocturnal
Carousel, Florence,
Fondazione Cassa di
Risparmio di Firenze.
The work most probably dates towards the end of
1630s, when the artist abandoned the somewhat
exaggerated and expressive style of his early
career, still evident in his Casa Buonarroti frescoes,
executed in 1636. In this next stage of his activity, he
began producing works that are more balanced in
composition and lighter in palette, in close observation
of Furini’s manner. Cecco Bravo subsequently made
a decisive move towards a more idealized type of
painting which grew progressively more expressionistic
in tone following his trip to Venice in 1649-1650.
The refinement and sophistication of the subject adds
further support to the dating proposed here. In the
present author’s opinion, the choice of this scene was
directly linked to Alfonso Parigi’s staging on 8 July 1637
of The Wedding of the Gods, choreographed by Agnolo
Ricci. Written in musical verse by Abbot Giovanni
Carlo Coppola (Gallipoli, 1599 – Muro Lucano,
1652), the play was performed for the first time on
this occasion in the courtyard of Palazzo Pitti, during
the official celebrations of the wedding (two months
earlier) between Grand Duke Ferdinando II de’ Medici
and his cousin Vittoria della Rovere, Princess of Urbino.
The extravagant wedding celebrations began on 5
July and continued for more than ten days before
concluding with a grand dance on horseback – a
scene immortalized by Stefano della Bella in an oval
painting, Nocturnal Carousel, on black stone, datable


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