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An Allegory with Venus, Mars, Cupid and Time

Guercino (Cento 1591 – Bologna 1666)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

circa 1624 - circa 1626

Materials

Oil on canvas (oval)

Measurements

1270 x 1753 mm (50 x 69 in)

Order this image

Collection

Dunham Massey, Cheshire (Accredited Museum)

NT 932333

Summary

Oil painting on canvas (oval), An Allegory with Venus, Mars, Cupid and Time by Guercino (Cento 1591 – Bologna 1666), circa 1624-26. Venus in blue and white drapery, with auburn hair and bare breasts, pulls on a cord with one hand and with the other raises a net in which she has ensnared an infant Cupid. He lies on his back, supported by a green velvet cushion trimmed with gold. Behind Cupid, Mars in armour and a red cloak grips the hilt of a sword and looks over his shoulder at Time. Winged and with a white beard and thinning hair, he leans over Cupid wagging his finger, covered with reddish-brown drapery.

Full description

The painting belongs to Guercino's early period and must have been executed in the 1620s. The composition, while plausibly described in the old inventories as the three ages of man - Cupid was the offspring of Mars and Venus, Saturn (Chronos) the putative father of Venus - is explained in different terms in an item in Guercino's account book for 26 March 1656, referring to a later picture whose subject was evidently similar to that of NT 932333, "...E questo è io pagamento delli due quadri nell nuo de' quali era espresso Venere, e Marte, con Amore ed il Tempo [see above], e nell'altro Galatea con due Tritone; e tali quadri furono ordinato dal Sig. Co. Ferdinando di Vertembergh a Vienna - scudi 625'. (Malvasia, Felsina Piltrice, 1841, Vol.II, p.337). These two pictures seem to have disappeared. Guercino painted this subject twice: in the present picture (of which there are a number of repetitions, towards the beginning of his career, around 1624-26; and again towards the end of his career, in 1656, as one of a pair of pictures painted for Ferdinand, Graf von Werdenberg to present to the Emperor. Nobody else appears to have done so, nor has any literary source for the subject ever been identified. The fact that Guercino was the only person to paint it suggests that there was none, and that he therefore painted it to a programme proposed by his original patron; only the fact that he painted the second version for a remote client in a foreign country might suggest otherwise. There may be an as-yet unidentified Latin source. The present picture was painted before Guercino's celebrated Libro dei Conti, or Account Book, begins. The 1656 version is recorded there, however, as: "A Venus with Mars, Cupid, and Time" - save that in the original Italian, the name 'Love' is - as always - used instead of 'Cupid'. Its pendant was a picture of Galataea drawn by two Tritons, with Cupids (now in the Residenzgalerie, Salzburg) - the Italian for these last being amorini, or "little loves". Love, it is clear, was the linking element between the two pictures, and not only love, but its dangerous consequences. For just as the sea-nymph Galataea, who was loved by the Cyclops Polyphemus but loved the shepherd Acis, was inconsolable after the giant had crushed the latter with a boulder, so Venus, when she was dallying with Mars, was trapped with him under a net by her cuckolded husband, Vulcan, and exhibited thus to all the other gods and goddesses. Cupid's similar trapping under a net by Venus, and the admonitory figure of Time, in the presence of Mars, together with the present picture, seem to be intended as a warning allusion to this episode. We do not know what the painting commissioned by Count Werdenberg looked like, but it would seem from the two drawings for it to have been a more benign image. In both, Venus holds a docile Cupid to her breast - suckling in the one, sated and sleeping in the other - whilst Time and Mars look concernedly on. Perhaps the coupling with the Triumph of Galataea - though this too seems devoid of any depiction of her lover, or of allusions to his grim fate - shifted the moral to that picture. Mars and Venus were the subjects of many paintings by Guercino (there is a fine early Mars at Tatton Park) , and there is evidently some relationship in theme between this picture - and even in composition, in the case of the Werdenberg picture - and the Venus, Cupid and Mars in Modena. The present picture was accurately but baldly described in the two sales of 1737 and 1754 that it seems to have passed through in England before it reached Dunham Massey, as Venus, Cupid, Mars and Time, Emblematical, but in the inventories of Dunham Massey itself from 1769 onwards it was called: "an oval Picture representing the different stages of human life". This is slightly curious, because it shows three ages, not four (Youth is lacking, since both Venus and Mars represent Maturity); the 1737 sale had in fact also included a painting ascribed to Guercino specifically called The Four Ages, which is not identifiable with any known picture by him. The version in Cosway's sale in 1791 was similarly called 'The Four Stages of Human Life'. It is fortunate that this picture still preserves its original frame (as oval paintings often do, because it is no light matter to make a new frame of such a shape, to conform with some change in fashion), since the self-evidently heraldic eight-pointed stars on it enabled Diane de Grazia to make a connection with the three-dimensional stars painted by Guercino on a ceiling of the Palazzo Lancellotti in Rome . This is a very gratifying discovery, since it helps to flesh out Malvasia's statement that in 1624 Guercino: ".... avendo anco nel medemo tempo lavorati altri quadri, e particolarmente un tondo per il Sig. Tiberio Lancellotti Romano, una Madonna col puttino, ed un S. Gioseffo, con un'Angelo, che suona" . The "tondo" has long been known, since it is the circular Rest on the Flight imported into England by William Buchanan in 1804, and now in the Cleveland Museum of Art ; but of other framed paintings - as opposed to frescoes on ceilings - painted for Lancellotti, we have up until now known nothing. The unusual shape of the Cleveland picture has often been commented upon - it has been suggested that it might have been painted to match some Quattrocento tondo - so it is of particular interest that the present painting should be an oval. One must presume that the choice was the client's, but it may well have some relevance that, towards the end of the date-range proposed for this picture (between 1624 and 1626), Guercino was preparing designs for the eight lunettes immediately below the domical vault of Piacenza Cathedral (1626-27). Certain of the drawings for these, particularly - significantly -that for the Rest on the Flight with an Angel in the National Gallery of Art in Washington , are composed as much as ovals as lunettes. Not very much appears to be known about Tiberio Lancellotti, but he came from a Roman patrician family in whose members a love of art was evidently engrained. The Palazzo Lancellotti was begun by Francesco da Volterra (c.1591) for Cardinal Scipione Lancellotti (1526/7-1598), and finished by Carlo Maderno for his nephew Cardinal Orazio Lancellotti (1570/71-1620) . The door of the palace, also commissioned by Cardinal Orazio, was designed by Domenichino - his only executed work in architecture. The two panels from keyboard instruments painted by Annibale Carracci, one in the Angerstein purchase that founded the National Gallery, and the other left to it by Holwell-Carr were left by Fulvio Orsini (d.1600) to Orazio Lancellotti . Tiberio Lancellotti completed the interior of his uncle's palace with frescoes by Guercino and Lanfranco, in quadratura settings by Agostino Tassi, who is reputed to have procured the commission for his "friends" and to have ensured that they were well paid. . It seems probable that the Abate Lancellotti who wrote in L'Hoggidi (Venice, 1627) an enthusiastic account of artistic patronage in Rome under the Barberini , was also a relative. Given the easy later circumstances of the family (Tiberio bought a fief in Naples, that was raised to a marquisate, and later a principality, in the 18th century) it is hard to see why this picture by Guercino should have already been sold some time before 1737, but the Rest on the Flight not, apparently until 1804 . It is an intriguing possibility that the 1737 sale, which contained a quite exceptional number of superior-sounding Italian pictures for any sale in London before the end of the 18th century, contained a core of paintings from the Lancellotti collection. In which case, the other Guercinos in the sale could make up the altri quadri that Malvasia says that he painted for Tiberio Lancellotti. They were an "Abraham sacrificing Isaac", "The Four Ages", and "His Ritratto, by himself" - none of which is readily identifiable with any painting known today . Nor do we know whether the picture was bought by Harry Grey, 4th Earl of Stamford (1715-68), or George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington (1675-1758), at or after John Blackwood's 1754 auction. It would not have been a very characteristic purchase for Lord Warrington, who seems to have been primarily interested in native view-, animal, and portrait-painting, or merely in copies of Old Masters. On the other hand, his son-in-law, the 4th Earl of Stamford, seems to have been less of a collector than his son, the 5th Earl (1737-1819), who travelled in Italy with his friend and neighbour Sir Henry Mainwaring, when they had themselves painted by Mengs and Batoni respectively, and each commissioned a painting of Aeneas and his fidus Achates from Nathaniel Dance (Tate Gallery; and Mere Hall sale, Knutsford, Christie's, 23 May 1994, lot 238 [in 1758 inv. (mentioned in g-b re.G.G)]. The 4th Earl is better known for creating one of the great landscape parks of the 18th century, at his own ancestral home, Enville Hall, and seems to have devoted himself primarily to Enville, keeping Dunham Massey and its collections distinct, as a Booth property and heirlooms. Nonetheless, it is surely significant that, only four years after Blackwood's sale of this picture, and four months before the death of his father-in-law had given him Dunham Massey and a great increase in wealth, the 4th Earl of Stamford should have been recorded as the buyer of five pictures, four of them Italian, at Fauquier's sale on 12 April 1758 . Notes: (i) Luigi Salerno, I Dipinti del Guercino, Rome, 1988, p.191, no. 109, lists four, of which the only one in a public collection is in the Hermitage. Another was sold recently, at the Hôtel des Ventes at Vannes, 4 December 1992, with a bizarre ascription to the Circle of Adriaen van der Werff (cf. Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot, 13 Nov. 1992, no.41, p.XXII). It may be worth mentioning, as part of the probable provenances of the versions recorded in Britain, that one featured in a private sale held by Richard Cosway in 1791; another (very possibly the Cosway picture) in the Hamilton Palace sale (24 June 1882, lot 335); and that a copy ascribed to Mattia Preti was amongst the pictures sent back from Italy by the 3rd Lord Berwick in 1833. (ii) cf. C.C. Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, ed. Zanotti, Bologna, 1841, vol.II, pp.270 & 337. (iii) Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica, Rome [inv. F.N.119 (22556)] and Gabinetto dei Disegni, Civiche Raccolte d'Arte, Milan [inv. B-1415-2; 3896-2]; cf. exh. cat. Il Guercino: disegni, Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna, 1991 [1992], nos. 148 & 149. (iv) Exh.cat. Il Guercino Dipinti e Disegni Il Guercino e La Bottega, Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna, 1991, no.69. (v) The arms of the Lancellotti are azure, five mullets [=stars] or, with in chief a label with four pendants gules. cf. Luigi Salerno, I Dipinti del Guercino, Rome, 1988, p.168, no.84; exh. cat. Il Guercino [: dipinti], Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna, &c., 1991, pp.XLVIII-L & n.46. & col.pl.p.LII. Diane de Grazia's observation is reported only in the second edition of this catalogue [199?], in the entry on this picture, p.182. (vi) Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, [1678], ed. Giampietro Zanotti, 1841, vol.II, p.261 (vii) European Paintings of the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1982, no.133. (viii) Exh.cat. Il Guercino:Dipinti, Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio, Bologna, 1968, no.56, esp. p.140. (ix) Exh.cat. Guercino:Disegni, 1992, no.58. (x) cf. Anthony Blunt, Guide to Baroque Rome, 1982, p.182. (xi) inv.nos. 93 & 94; Michael Levy, The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Italian Schools, The National Gallery, 1971, 65-67. (xii) According to G.B. Passeri, Vite de'Pittori, Scultori et Architetti dall'Anno 1641 sino all'Anno 1673, ed. J. Hess, Leipzig & Vienna, 1934, p.1, but note the caution expressed in exh.cat. Guercino [:dipinti], 1991, p.L, n.47. (xiii) Cited by Francis Haskell, Patrons and Painters, New York & London, 1963 [reprinted 1971], p.3 n.1. (xiv) Although not mentioned there by Ramdohr in 1787, Irvine does seem to have procured both it and the Annibale Carracci painted keyboard panels from the Palazzo Lancellotti, if not directly (cf. William Buchanan, Memoirs of Painting, 1824, vol.II, p.155; and Hugh Brigstocke, William Buchanan and the Nineteenth Century Art Trade, London, 1982, p.340). (xv) The list is in the volume of transcripts from London auction catalogues made by Richard Houlditch, and now in the National Art Library (vol.I, pp.99-108). The pictures cited are lot 89 on the 1st day, and lots 75 and 94 on the 2nd day. The sale is identified as that of Sir Thomas Sebright and Mr Bacon. The latter is not readily identifiable, but the former was most probably the just-deceased 4th Baronet (1692-1736), who is noted as a bibliophile (for which reason, apparently, his portrait is included amongst the whole-lengths painted by Aikman for Lord Hobart at Blickling), but not - before now - as a picture-collector. It was his son, also Sir Thomas, 5th Bt, who so enraged Hogarth by bidding over £400 for the pseudo-Correggio of Sigismunda in Sir Luke Schaub's posthumous sale in 1758, though he did so on behalf of Schaub's widow. (xvi) Houlditch transcriptions, vol.II, pp.91-93, lots 9, 22, 28 & 38. (adapted from author's version/pre-publication, Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995) [Addendum: The date of this painting is usually assumed to be after Guercino left Rome in 1623 but since an earlier full-size sketch emerged at auction in 2013 (ex-Manganoni collection) and a related pen and wash drawing of a different composition with only three figures at auction in 1990, it seems that Guercino had been working on the composition two to three years earlier.]

Provenance

Tiberio Lancellotti, Palazzo Lancellotti, Rome; ?Sir Thomas Sebright, 4th Bt (1692 - 1736), or ?Mr Bacon; ? their sale, London, 1737, 3rd day, lot 85 (as 'Mars, Venus, Cupid and Time, Emblematical'); ?[John] Blackwood's sale, 1754, 2nd day, lot 41 (as the same, sold 30 gns): ?bought Harry Grey, 4th Earl of Stamford (1715 -68) - recorded at Dunham Massey from the posthumous inventory taken in 1769 onwards (as 'an oval Picture, representing the different stages of human Life. Guercin'); thence by descent to John Foley Grey, 8th Bt, Enville Hall, Staffs; his sale, Christie's, 1931, lot 113, bought by Roger, 10th Earl of Stamford (1896 - 1976), by whom bequeathed to the National Trust with the house, estate and all the contents of Dunham Massey by Roger Grey,10th Earl of Stamford (1896 - 1976)

Credit line

Dunham Massey, The Stamford Collection (National Trust)

Makers and roles

Guercino (Cento 1591 – Bologna 1666) , artist

Exhibition history

In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.48

References

Salerno 1988 Luigi Salerno, I dipinti del Guercino, Rome, 1988, no. 109, p. 191 Gore 1978: F. St. John Gore, 'Portraits of the Grand Tour', Apollo, July 1978, pp.24- 31 , as in the 1769 inventory 'an oval picture representing the different stages of human life' Guercino in Britain, Paintings from British Collections, exh. cat. (introductory essays by Michael Helston and Francis Russell ; catalogue by Michael Helston and Tom Henry based on the research of Denis Mahon), National Gallery, London, 1991, no.16

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