- Giorgio Vasari
By descent in the family until sold, London, Christie’s, 27 November 1970, lot 38;
Anna Moffo Sarnoff;
By whom sold, New York, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, Inc., 22 January 1976, lot 78;
There acquired by Alexandre Villiers;
L. Corti, Vasari. Catalogo completo, Florence 1989, p. 87, cat. no. 66, reproduced (as Vasari);
F. Härb, The Drawings of Giorgio Vasari, 1510-1574, Rome 2015, p. 364, figs. 214.1 and 214.2 (as Vasari).
As Charles Davis pointed out in 1981, the ears of corn in one panel and the root vegetables in the other clearly identify the present paintings as Allegories of Summer and Winter. Almost certainly they once formed part of a set of the Four Seasons, although no pendants representing Spring and Autumn appear to survive. As Davis further noted, a drawing by Vasari for a ceiling decoration in the Art Institute of Chicago (fig. 2) contains sketches of similarly intertwined pairs of putti, one of which appears to be holding ears of corn; there can be little doubt that the putti in the Chicago drawing represent the Four Seasons. Vasari depicted the Four Seasons, in the guise of the Four Ages of Man, also in his house at Arezzo.3
The purpose and exact date of the Chicago ceiling design, however, has not yet been established. No such decoration, most likely intended for a mid-sized room of relatively private character, is mentioned in Vasari’s substantial correspondence or the Ricordanze, the, albeit incomplete, account book of his commissions. Davis suggested that the drawing, together with the present panels and another, now untraced, painting of Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well related to the sketch for the central panel in the Chicago drawing (fig. 3, a detailed study for which is in the Royal collection at Windsor)4 may have been made for a ceiling in Vasari’s house in Florence. That house, which was presented to the artist by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1557, is best known for such celebrated frescoes as the Allegory of Disegno in the Sala delle Arti e degli Artisti, painted in about 1570.5 That Vasari was indeed planning a ceiling decoration in his Florentine house is known from a letter of February 1570 from his friend and adviser, Vincenzio Borghini, containing a pictorial programme for such a decoration. This programme, however, was largely theological in character, thus excluding a direct connection with the Chicago ceiling design. In 1998, Alessandro Cecchi, while initially supportive of Davis’s proposal, put forward another group of four paintings, now owned by the Cassa di Risparmio in Florence and representing various personifications of Virtues, as possibly having formerly belonged to a ceiling in Vasari’s house in Florence.6 Thus, given the lack of sufficient documentary evidence, a definite decision about the purpose of the Chicago ceiling design and its related paintings cannot be made.
The present Allegories of Summer and Winter are splendid examples, in beautiful condition, of the mythological or allegorical paintings that Vasari executed throughout his life, both for his own enjoyment, as in his houses at Arezzo and Florence, and that of his numerous patrons in Venice, Rome, Naples and Florence. Hidden from public view for nearly forty years, they are a welcome addition to the known corpus of Vasari’s paintings.
We are grateful to Dr. Florian Härb for his help with the preparation of this entry.
1. See Härb, under Literature, pp. 206-07, under cat. no. 61, reproduced.
2. See, for instance, Härb, ibid., cat. nos. 329, 337, 340, 347, 349, 353, 356 and 400, all reproduced.
3. See Härb, ibid., cat. no. 140, reproduced.
4. See Härb, ibid., cat. no. 188, reproduced.
5. See Härb, ibid., cat. no. 368, fig. 368.1, reproduced.
6. See A. Cecchi, “Le case del Vasari a Arezzo e Firenze,” in: R.P. Ciardi (ed.), Case di artisti in Toscana, Milan 1998, pp. 72–73, figs. 45–48, reproduced.