Lot 6
  • 6

School of Fontainebleau, circa 1550

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Pandora
  • oil on canvas, oval


Conte Bassi collection;
His sale, Milan, Genolini, 7-9 November 1898, lot 131 (as Abate Francesco Primaticcio).


D. Cordellier (ed.), Primatice, maître de Fontainebleau, exhibition catalogue, Paris 2004, p. 349 under cat. no. 183, and note 6 (where Sylvie Béguin's attribution to Nicolò dell'Abate based on a Primaticcio design is reported);
S. Béguin in S. Béguin and F. Piccinini (eds.), Nicolò dell'Abate, storie dipinte nella pittura del Cinquecento tra Modena e Fontainebleau, exhibition catalogue, Milan 2005, p. 457, under cat. no. 251 (as Nicolò dell'Abate and collaborator);
N. Forti Grazzini, "Pour Nicolò dell’Abate en France: la Sophonisbe retrouvée,"in Peindre en France à la Renaissance II. Fontainebleau et son rayonnement, Milan 2012, pp. 49-61, reproduced plates 11 and 12 (as an artist very close to Nicolò dell'Abate with Nicolò's possible collaboration; the subject is identified as Sophonisba).


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work is in lovely condition. There is a slight grainy texture to the figure, but this is certainly the least one can expect for a work of this period. The canvas has what appears to be an Italian lining. The surface is good. Under ultraviolet light, one can see small isolated spots of retouching in the figure; the only ones of any note are in the top of the forehead and in her left shoulder. In the background, there is a diagonal restoration in the elaborate carving in the lower left and other old retouches beneath this in the floor to the right and left of the figure. There is a restoration in the background to the right of her left thigh. There are a couple of other retouches in the dark color across the top edge. The picture looks well as a result of its restoration and should be hung as is.
"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 seductive Pandora was painted in Fontainebleau, just outside Paris, during the 1550s, and has not appeared at auction since 1898. The painting was traditionally ascribed to Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570) and sold as such in the Bassi sale (see Provenance), but has more recently been attributed to his close associate Nicolò dell'Abate (circa 1509-1572). Together the two artists were at the forefront in the developments of the febrile artistic center which developed in Fontainebleau in the first half of the sixteenth century.

Many of Europe's leading artists were drawn to Fontainebleau and the court of Francis I, initially to decorate the king's château, on which construction began in 1528, after Francis' release from imprisonment in Madrid, where he was held by the Emperor Charles V. The first artist of note to arrive in Fontainebleau was Rosso Fiorentino in 1530, followed by Primaticcio in 1532 and Nicolò in the very early 1550s. Both Francesco and Nicolò were to remain in Fontainebleau more or less continuously until their deaths in the early 1570s. The Mannerist style which had developed after the High Renaissance in most of the major artistic centers in Italy, from Venice to Rome, via Bologna and Florence, was to flourish in Fontainebleau and develop into an innovative and idiosyncratic style, which made relied heavily on the fantastical and the mythological. The Italian Mannerist idiom was to become more concentrated at Francis' court and the elongated forms and affected gestures ever more exuberant and deliberate, as evidenced in the present Pandora.

Nicolò was already an artist of repute by the time of his arrival in France and had been patronized throughout his native Emilia. If he was perhaps initially subordinate to the older Primaticcio, the relationship quickly developed into one of equal collaboration. Increasingly Primaticcio would focus on producing designs which Nicolò would execute, as may have occurred with the present work, as Sylvie Béguin first noted on a Witt Library mount. In the 2004 exhibition dedicated to Primaticcio (see Literature), her opinion that the painting is by Nicolò was cited once more. Dominique Cordelier compares the design of the present work to a figure in a drawing of Lot and his Daughters in the British Museum, London (inv. no. 1946-7-13-46).1 More recently, Forti Grazzini (see Literature) has proposed that the work was painted under the watch of Primaticcio and Nicolò but mostly by a close associate. He suggests a date of execution between 1556-1560, during the reign of Henry II, shortly after Franceso Salviati's visit to Paris and while Nicolò was working with Primaticcio on the Stories of Ulysses in Fontainebleau. Forti Grazzini goes on to identify the figure not as Pandora but as Sophonisba, the Carthaginian lady who drank poison rather than be enslaved and humiliated by the Romans.

In Greek mythology Pandora, whose name means "all-gifted" or "all-giver," was fashioned from clay by the god Hephaestus and was sent to earth by Zeus to become the wife of Epimetheus. Her traditional attribute of the pithos, a large urn, has in recent times been substituted for a box, giving us the expression "Pandora’s box." When she opened her urn, as she is about to do in the present work, all the evils which have since beset mankind flew out, and the Golden Age came to an abrupt end, leaving only Hope in the urn. It is said that this was Zeus' punishment to mankind for the theft of fire by Prometheus, Epimetheus’ brother. Since there are clear parallels between the story of Pandora and that of the Fall of Man, the early Church took her as a pagan counterpart for Eve.

1. Cordelier, under Literature, p. 349, reproduced.