THE PROPERTY OF A NOBLEMAN
Bought by the ancestor of the present owner when living in Vienna in the 19th century;
Thence by descent.
A.J. Martin, "Hans Fugger und Paolo Fiammingo", in J. Burkhardt (ed.), Die Welt des Hans Fugger (1531-1598), (Materialien zur Geschichte der Fugger, vol. 1), Augsburg 2007 (in print).
Paolo Fiammingo settled in Venice by 1573, and remained there for the rest of his life. He should perhaps be considered as a Venetian rather than a Flemish painter, since Venetian artists such as Titian, Veronese and above all Tintoretto were so profoundly influential in the formation of his style. Nonetheless, he was of a generation of painters of Northern European origin that, though thoroughly italianizzati, were much patronised North of the Alps. These artists include Johann Rottenhammer, Pieter Candid, Lambert and Friedrich Sustris, and Giovanni Stradanus, as well as the Venetian-born Giovanni Contarini.
The present four pictures were identified as by Paolo Fiammingo only in 2000. Their compositions correspond to those of a missing set of the Triumph of the Four Elements commissioned from Paolo Fiammingo in 1580 by the Augsburg Imperial Banker Hans Fugger, via the latter's agent in Venice, Hieronymus Ott, and delivered between 20 August 1580 and 4 February 1581 in the following order: Water, Earth, Fire, Air. This set, now missing, was the first of a number of canvases by Fiammingo made up of several different cycles of mythological and allegorical subjects, commissioned via Ott by Hans Fugger between 1580 and 1592, all of which were destined for Fugger's largest castle, Schloß Kirchheim, near Augsburg.
Extensive but incomplete correspondence between Fugger and Hieronymus Ott, who with his brother Christoph were Fugger's agents in Venice, records the commissions. From this correspondence, other early sources and the 27 known surviving works, it can be concluded that 37 canvases of similar size (170 by 260 cm.) were originally completed by Paolo Fiammingo. Eighteen works are still in possession of the family, eight in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, and one painting is in a private collection. The piecemeal dispersal of the Paolo Fiammingo canvases, which began to leave the Fugger collections as early as the 17th century, and the listing of those that remained without attribution or definitive description in subsequent Fugger inventories, has made it difficult to trace the missing pictures, and has hampered the secure reconstruction of the exact content of the original cycles. It has traditionally been assumed that Paolo Fiammingo's output in the 1580s was largely devoted to Fugger commissions. The survival of several versions of many of the compositions, however, suggests otherwise. It is in any case likely that Paolo ran a workshop of some size.
Other sets of the Elements by Paolo Fiammingo were in circulation at an early date, including one, now missing, belonging to Cardinal Bonelli in Rome, and recorded in his inventory of 1598 but subsequently lost. Another set found its way by 1611 to the monastery of the Real Colegio de Corpus Christi, at Valencia,1 where all four of the canvases remain. There is however a possibility that these two sets are identical, but this needs to be further researched. Equally the present set might be the one belonging to Bonelli. Individual paintings have also come to light, for example in Prague; and recently in New York, Sotheby's, 25 May 2000, lot 57.2
The present set of pictures corresponds closely in style with those canvases in Munich and the ones still in situ in Kirchheim. In particular, they share with them the same distinctive, and thoroughly Venetian colour scheme, with orange and yellow evening skies and strong blues in parts of the sky and the distant mountains.3 These colours are characteristic of the Fugger commissions, but are in contrast with much of Paolo Fiammingo's work, including many of the replicas of the Fugger compositions, in which less Venetian tones of green predominate, and the overall colour scheme is more muted. The present set of pictures are likely to be contemporary with the Fugger set, or to have been painted within a few years of them.
If this set is not the one belonging to Cardinal Bonelli, it is possible that it might be the Triumphi supplied to Fugger for Kirchheim. Each of the pictures appears to be cut down slightly at the edges, so that the former measurements could have corresponded to those of the other Kirchheim pictures. The canvases, however, are of a different weave to these others. The set supplied to Kirchheim appears to have been broken up and dispersed at an early date. Evidence for this is to be found in a list of pictures from Kirchheim drawn up for sale in 1650 which includes '2 Element Stückh' (although an enclosed letter refers to '4 Elemente' (see Fugger Archives, Dillingen, 28, 4 1b).
We are grateful to Dr. Andrew John Martin for his help in compiling this note. Dr. Martin has done extensive research on Paolo Fiammingo's activities for Hans Fugger. He curated the section of the exhibition held in Venice in 1999 entitled Renaissance Venice and the North devoted to Augsburg, Prague, and Venice at the End of the Century in which the Fugger cycles are discussed at length, and is furthermore working on an extensive study on Paolo Fiammingo. His publication on Paolo Fiammingo and the Fuggers, in which he discusses the present canvases, is in print (see Literature).
1. See B.W. Meijer, "Paolo Fiammingo tra indigeni e forestieri a Venezia", in Prospettiva, vol. 32, 1983, pp. 26-27, reproduced figs. 21-24)
2. See inter alia S. Mason-Rinaldi, "Paolo Fiammingo", in Saggi e Memorie, vol. 11, 1978, pp. 62 and 70, nos. 16 and 40, reproduced figs. 4 and 5).
3. See, for example, the canvas representing The Age of Iron, datable to 1581, reproduced in colour in A.J. Martin, "Augsburg, Prague and Venice at the end of the Century", in B. Aikema (ed.), Renaissance Venice and the North, exhibition catalogue, Venice, Palazzo Grassi, 5 September 1999 - 9 January 2000, pp. 652-53.
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