Recently art history blogger, Art History Today, has been reporting on an attempt to attribute the so-called “Malmesbury Judgment of Paris” to Raphael. In the past the painting has been variously attributed to Giorgione or a follower of Giorgione. I am content to leave attribution questions to others but I would like to add a piece of evidence here that might be of interest.
The clothing of the young Paris who sits on the ground surveying the charms of the three nude goddesses bears a remarkable similarity to the clothing of another young man in a mysterious painting that has also been variously attributed to Giorgione or a follower of Giorgione.
According to Teriseo Pignatti and Filippo Pedrocco, two of the most renowned Italian art historians, the earliest existing Giorgione painting is the so-called “Rustic Idyll.” Actually, they argued in their 1999 catalog that it was one of four small panels for a cassone done at the very outset of Giorgione’s brief career. They listed the “Rustic Idyll” as number 1 in their catalog. One of the other panels is obviously “Leda and the Swan.” The other two are harder to identify and are called “the Astrologer,” and “Venus and Cupid in a Landscape.”
Since each painting is about 12x 19 cm and depicts figures in a landscape, the two scholars call them a “homogeneous group,” and argue that they “were originally part of a decorative scheme for a piece of furniture or a jewel box.” Pignatti and Pedrocco did point out the disagreements among scholars about attribution, dating, and subject matter. Some relegate the paintings to Giorgione’s workshop, or even to “an anonymous painter of furniture.”*
Ten years later Wolfgang Eller argued strongly against a Giorgione attribution of the “Rustic Idyll,” and dated it c. 1525.
Both the painterly execution of the figures and the composition of the painting are of weak quality; it cannot even be attributed to Campagnola. The light effects are too rough and unsophisticated for Giorgione. The seated position of the young man appears tense and unnatural like that of a football fan that experiences the sixth goal against his team. The artist was an anonymous furniture painter under the influence of Giorgione.**
Eller said much the same thing about the three other panels.
However, two years later Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo argued on stylistic grounds that the “Rustic Idyll” and the “Leda” were by Giorgione, and that the other two were by a follower who might have been working alongside of him. Pozzolo assumed that since the other three panels represented classical subjects, the mysterious “Rustic Idyll” must also have such a subject.***
Despite the disagreement about attribution it seems obvious that the young man in the “Rustic Idyll” is wearing the same clothing as the young man in the “Malmesbury Judgment of Paris." He wears a red top over a white undershirt. His pants are also white. His hair is similar in length and style to the young Paris in the Judgment. If the young man in the “Rustic Idyll” is Paris, then the woman must be the nymph Oenone, and the infant must be their child. Later, Paris would desert Oenone and the child after being awarded the beautiful Helen of Troy as his prize for choosing Venus in the famous beauty contest known as the Judgment of Paris.
The similarity between the two men in the “Rustic Idyll” and the “Malmesbury Judgment of Paris” should be taken into consideration by scholars and students when trying to settle the questions of attribution, dating, and subject. It would appear that either the same person did both paintings, or that both followed a common model.
Let me add one more note of confusion to this controversy. In Margaret King’s study of Venetian humanism she devoted considerable attention to the prolific Fifteenth century humanist, Giovanni Caldiera, one of whose most well known works was the “Concordance of the Poets, Philosophers, and Theologians.” She noted that the “first book of the Concordance presents a series of mythological images and episodes drawn ultimately from ancient poetry, and translates them into analogous Christian images and doctrines."****The story of Paris provided one episode.
In many other cases, moral and spiritual analogues of ancient myths jar strangely with the originals. Where Paris, asked to judge among three goddesses, awards the golden apple to Venus, Caldiera sees the apostle Paul presented with the three theological virtues, choosing love.
Strange as this concept appears to our eyes, Caldiera could even Christianize the rape of Leda by Jove in the guise of a swan.
Hopefully some student will look into Caldiera’s "Concordance" and perhaps decipher the meaning of the four cassone panels.
I apologize for the poor quality of the cassone images. Very good reproductions can be found in the Pignatti and Pedrocco catalog, as well as in dal Pozzolo's 2009 study. ###
*Pignatti, Terisio and Pedrocco, Filippo: Giorgione, Rizzoli, NY, 1999.
**Eller, Wolfgang, Giorgione, Petersberg, 1997. pp. 198-9.
***Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo: Giorgione, Milan, 2009. p. 145.
****Margaret L. King, Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance, Princeton, 1986. pp. 113-114. King provided the following biographical information:
Giovanni Caldiera, c. 1400-d. by 1474. Born to a wealthy and established Venetian family, Caldiera first studied , then taught medicine at Padua in the 1420s and 1430s. He subsequently returned to Venice to undertake the practice of medicine, achieving in later years the dignity of prior of the Venetian College of Physicians. ( p. 345)