SOLD BY THE J. PAUL GETTY MUSEUM TO BENEFIT FUTURE PAINTING ACQUISITIONS
The Abduction of Ganymede shows Zeus, in the guise of an eagle, carrying off Ganymede, a young Trojan prince known for his beauty. The composition is based on a presentation drawing that Michelangelo made for his friend Tommaso de' Cavelieri in late 1532. The work was immediately famous and inspired copies in all media: painting, drawing, engraving and the decorative arts. The copies break down into two types: vertical compositions, which show Ganymede and the eagle above and a landscape with a dog below, and horizontal compositions, which show only the youth and the eagle. It is generally agreed that the prime version of the composition is the drawing in the Fogg Museum, Harvard, which is from the former, vertical, group.1
The present work is one of three extant painted versions of The Abduction of Ganymede; the other two are at Hampton Court, London and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.2 All three undoubtedly derive from an engraving by Nicolas Beatrizet dated 1542 or copies of it by Giulio Bonasone, published in Achille Bocchius’ Symbolicarum Quaestionum… (Bologna 1555, Book III, nos. lXXVIII and lXXIX). Beatrizet’s print reverses the composition and changes some of the elements of the landscape below, most notably including only one rather than two dogs and eliminating Ganymede’s bundle of clothing and shepherd’s crook from the ground below. The paintings repeat these changes, but the specific elements of the landscapes – the buildings and trees – vary greatly.
The Abduction of Ganymede has been attributed to Francesco Francia, Maerten van Heemskerck and, most recently, to Jan Swart van Groningen. The treatment of the landscape and the colouring certainly suggest a northern artist, and the date on the print provides a terminus post quem for the painting.
1 There is considerable debate about whether the Fogg drawing is by Michelangelo or a pupil. There is also a question of whether Michelangelo himself made two versions of the original design, or whether the horizontal composition was an adaptation by a follower. See P. Joannides, Op. cit., pp. 229-231.
2 A number of copies that may or may not correspond to these works cited in old sale catalogues include two from Cardinal Fesch, February 7, 1820, no. 3 and March 17-18, 1845, lot 521 and the Osmitz sale, March 11, 1913, lot 46. G. Kempter, Ganymed. Studien zur Typologie, Ikongraphie und Ikonologie, Cologne and Vienna, p. 196, nos. 151 and 153, also refers to paintings from the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden and in the Neues Palais, Potsdam.
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