(Valdibiana 1486 - 1551 Siena)
Allegory of Fortune
Oil on panel
32 3/4 x 20 3/8 inches
(83.2 x 51.8 cm)
Spinelli Collection, Florence; their sale, Galleria Bellini, Florence, April 23-26, 1934, lot 132, as manner of Baldassare Peruzzi
Galleria Bellini, Florence.
Dr. Giacamo Ancona, Florence, 1930s, and after 1939, San Francisco; thence by descent to his son:
Mario Ancona, San Francisco; thence by descent to his children:
Mario Ancona III and Victoria Ancona, San Francisco, until 1995; thence to:
Phyllis Ancona Green, widow of Mario Ancona, Los Angeles (1995-2012)
Donato Sanminiatelli, Domenico Beccafumi. Milan 1967, p. 170 (under paintings attributed to Beccafumi)
Among the precious survivors of Renaissance secular paintings for domestic interiors are several unusual and particularly attractive panels painted in Siena at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries. These paintings depict exemplary figures from antiquity --heroes or heroines, as well as allegorical, literary, and mythological figures. For the most part, these panels have survived in groups of three, although it is possible that some of these works were painted either as part of larger series or as individual projects. One such trio by Beccafumi consists of two paintings now at the National Gallery, London (Marcia and Tanaquil) and a third in the Galleria Doria-Pamphilj, Rome (Cornelia). These were commissioned around 1517-19 for the bedroom of Francesco di Camillo Petrucci in Siena and were most likely placed together as elements in the wall decoration (spalliere) or installed above the back of a bench or cassapanca. Another, earlier (ca. 1495-1500), set of three -- Guidoccio Cozzarelli’s Hippo, Camilla, and Lucretia (Private Collection, Siena) survives with its original wooden framework –a kind of secular triptych. Judith, Sophonisba, and Cleopatra in the collection of the Monte dei Paschi, Siena, are by an anonymous artist close to Beccafumi called the “Master of the Chigi-Saracini Heroines.” Girolamo di Benvenuto’s Cleopatra, Tuccia, and Portia are dispersed (homeless, Prague, Chambery), and Brescianino’s Faith, Hope, and Charity are in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena.
The present painting first appeared in the Spinelli sale in Florence in 1934, at which time it was sold with two panels of identical size and format. Each was catalogued as being by the “manner of Baldassare Peruzzi” and of unidentified subject. Of these, the painting depicting a male figure turned to the right has recently reappeared in a private Italian collection, while the location of the third work, portraying a cloaked figure turned three-quarters left, remains unknown. Our panel depicts the allegorical figure of Fortune. Here she is represented in typical fashion as a nude female figure balanced on a wheel (sometimes called the Rota Fortunae), her billowing drapery indicating that she is as changeable as the wind. The appearance of the Virgin and Child in the cloud at the upper right is an unusual addition to the iconography. The subjects of the two pendant male figures are as yet unidentified, but presumably would represent related allegorical figures.
As revealed by the catalogue illustration, our panel had been considerably overpainted at the time of its sale in 1934. Subsequent cleaning has made it far more legible and permitted its quality and authorship to be appreciated. As it at present appears, and has now been confirmed by Prof. Piero Torriti upon first-hand inspection (letter of December 5, 2011) the Allegory of Fortune is an early work by Beccafumi, of the same type (and of similar size) as the three panels mentioned above that were commissioned from the artist by Francesco Petrucci. But while those can be dated to ca. 1517-19, our panel would most likely have been painted several years earlier. Presumably, but not necessarily, the other two male figures sold from the Spinelli collection in 1934, would have been painted by Beccafumi as well.
The three panels are clearly related to another trio given to Beccafumi. This is the group comprising Sophonisba and Cleopatra, both in the Musée Bonnat in Bayonne, and Judith with the Head of Holofernes, in the Wallace Collection, London. The London and Bayonne panels were considered early works of Beccafumi by Berenson (1897, 1932, 1968), Adolfo Venturi (1933) and, Gibellino-Krascenninnicowa in her 1933 monograph on the artist. Subsequently, Pope-Hennessey (1940) rejected the attribution, as did Sanminiatelli (1967), and Baccheschi (1977). However, more recently, the attribution to Beccafumi has been revived by Bagnoli (1990) and convincingly confirmed by Torriti in his catalogue raisonné of Beccafumi’s works (1998).
The connection of these two sets of three panels is close enough –formally, stylistically, and physically—to posit whether they once comprised a larger series. However, the unresolved subject matter of the ex-Spinelli panels, and their iconographic relationship to the three representing ancient heroines, makes such a suggestion at present speculative. They are, however, works of a single moment in the artist’s career and have manifest bonds in their portrayal of the subjects as well as the treatment of the landscape and sky. Torriti dates the Bayonne-London panels ca.1508-10 and the Allegory of Fortune should be considered of approximately the same date.
In confirming the attribution of the Fortuna to Beccafumi, Torriti calls special attention to the similarity of the protagonist in our picture with several female figures in Beccafumi’s oeuvre: the Lucretia (a fragment most likely from a full-length painting similar to the Fortuna) at Oberlin; the woman at the right of the Cerealia (painted for Petrucci) in the Martelli collection, Eve in the Descent into Limbo, and female figures in various frescoes by the artist. A particularly apposite comparison is found in a red chalk drawing (Paris, Louvre, inv. N. 10788), a study for one of the women in the Betrothal of the Virgin, a Beccafumi fresco in the Oratorio di San Bernardino in Siena. However, these are for the most part similarities of type rather than style—for which the Trinity Triptych (Pinacoteca, Siena) of 1513, different as it may be in subject, provides a valuable comparison.
While the repaint and damage documented in the 1934 photograph has been largely mitigated, some abrasions to the paint surface of the Fortuna remain. These gratefully interfere only slightly with the elegance and mystery of this allegorical figure representing the changeability of fortune and the unpredictability of life. In summarizing his opinion, Torriti has written that “the painting here under study can be directly attributed to the great Beccafumi and therefore its unexpected discovery represents an important contribution to the history of Sienese art of the sixteenth century.”