Lot 16
  • 16

Biagio d' Antonio

150,000 - 250,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Biagio d' Antonio
  • Scenes from the story of Io
  • tempera on poplar panel


Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby's, 25 January 2001, lot 51, where acquired after the sale by the present owner.


The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Structural Condition The artist's panel is slightly bowed and has evidence of worm holes and a cradle which has been partially removed in the past from the reverse. There are also several areas of filling on the reverse as well as two horizontal and two vertical cross batons and a butterfly insert in the lower left as viewed from the reverse. The panel would now appear to be secure and stable and the various structural issues in the past including what would seem to be a number of repaired splits have been resolved. Paint Surface Inspection under ultra-violet light shows a number of retouchings, the most significant of which are: 1) Two horizontal lines running in from the right vertical framing edge, one of which is approximately 40 cm in length and is 23 cm above the lower horizontal framing edge, and the other of which is approximately 7 cm above the lower horizontal framing edge. 2) An intermittent line which runs across the water from the right vertical framing edge. 3) A diagonal line running down from the left vertical framing edge which is approximately 30 cm above the lower horizontal framing edge. This runs across the cow in the lower left of the composition and there are further retouchings on, around and below the cow, including several very thin curved lines which appear to cover scratches in the paint surface. 4) A large area of retouching in the centre of the composition which runs over the curved roadway and into the hills either side of the road and across and into the figure of Io. 5) Retouchings in the upper left corner and just below the upper horizontal framing edge, and a number of other scattered retouchings across the paint surface. The varnish layers are rather uneven, particularly over areas of retouching, and revarnishing would be beneficial to ensure a a more even surface coating. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in reasonably good and stable condition having undergone quite extensive conservation in the past. The only work that might now be required is revarnishing.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This engaging panel from the Florentine Renaissance was painted by Biagio d’Antonio, probably during the 1480s. Its size and shape suggest that it was used in a domestic setting as a spalliera which would have been attached at shoulder height to a cassone, or marriage chest. Its secular subject matter is taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses and tells the story of Io, the princess whose fate was sealed when she caught the lustful eye of Jupiter. Ovid's humorous and ironic accounts of the ancient gods' whimsical use of humans as their playthings is portrayed here by Biagio in a style that balances his classical and measured compositions with the freer approach applied to the many richly-decorated figures which populate the design.

The beginning of the story, in which Jupiter transformed himself into a cloud to seduce the young Io, is not shown in the present panel, most likely because it was depicted on a companion spalliera. Here Biagio's pictorial interpretation of the narrative runs from left to right and is mostly faithful to the second part of Ovid's original. In order to deceive his wife Juno, Jupiter transformed Io into a heifer, seen here at left, but Juno, aware of the ruse, demanded to be given the cow as a gift. When she charged the hundred-eyed Argus to watch over the heifer, Jupiter sent his loyal servant Mercury to rescue Io, seen upper left. After lulling Argus to sleep with music from his hand-pipes, Mercury decapitated him and set Io free (not shown here). Argus' eyes were then placed by Juno in the peacock's tail (where they remain to this day), shown here centre left. Io, still in the form of a heifer, is subsequently seen panting on the bank of the Nile fleeing from Juno's persecution. She is depicted looking up begging for forgiveness from the queen of the gods, seen upper right beside Jupiter, who also pleads on Io's behalf. Io was indeed eventually forgiven and is seen restored to her human form on the right side of the bank where she is welcomed back into her family.

Biagio was one of the most interesting painters working in the ambit of Domenico Ghirlandaio. His artistic personality was previously often confused with that of other painters from Faenza, including Andrea Utili and Giovanni Battista Utili, but we now have a clear record of his life and artistic progression thanks to the work of Everett Fahy and Roberta Bartoli.1 Biagio received his first training in Florence and his early works, including the Nativity in Dijon, betray the influence of Fra Filippo Lippi, while his Madonna Adoring the Christ Child from 1470 and in the Chigi-Saracini Collection in Siena, point to the unmistakable style of Verrocchio.2 In 1481 he was in Rome assisting Cosimo Rosselli in the decoration of the Sistine Chapel, frescoing the background scenes of the Last Supper and a considerable portion of the Crossing of the Red Sea.3 It is in Rome that Biagio would have met Ghirlandaio, who was also working in the Sistine Chapel, and who was to have a lasting effect on his style. From the late 1480s onwards Biagio seems to have worked mostly in Faenza and his works in the Pinacoteca Comunale in that city show to what extent his style relied on Ghirlandaio's idiom, particularly in the harmonious and classical designs, but also in the rich colouring and playful details found in the background and his interest in still life, both features which can be appreciated in the present work.


1. E. Fahy, Some Followers of Domenico Ghirlandaio, New York 1976, pp. 204–11; R. Bartoli, Biagio d'Antonio, Milan 1999.
2. Bartoli, op. cit., p. 181, cat. no. 6, reproduced p. 29; and p. 196, cat. no. 40, reproduced in colour p. 65.
3. Ibid., pp. 200–02, cat. nos 48 and 49, details reproduced in colour pp. 66 and 71.