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Giovanni di Ser Giovianni Guido, Scheggia (San Giovanni Valdarno 1406-1486 Florence)
Giovanni di Ser Giovianni Guido, Scheggia (San Giovanni Valdarno 1406-1486 Florence)

Desco da parto: Two boys at play

Giovanni di Ser Giovianni Guido, Scheggia (San Giovanni Valdarno 1406-1486 Florence)
Desco da parto: Two boys at play
tempera and oil on panel
25 in. (63.5 cm.) diameter
Stefan von Auspitz, Vienna, by 1910.
Adolf von Beckerath, Berlin; (+), Rudolph Lepke, Berlin, 23-26 May 1916, lot 311, as 'Manner of Piero della Francesca'.
Emil Weinberger, Vienna; (+), C.J. Wawra & Glückselig, Vienna, 22-24 October 1929, lot 451, as 'Central Italian (Sienese) School, c. 1480'.
Kurt Walter Bachstitz, The Hague, by 1938; (+), Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 27 March 1952, lot 11, as 'Domenico di Michelino'.
with The Arcade Gallery, London, by 1953.
C. Brandi, Quattrocentisti senesi, Milan, 1949, p. 210, as 'Sienese School'.
L. Collobi Ragghianti, 'Domenico di Michelino', La Critica d'Arte, VIII, no. 5, xxxi, 1 January 1950, p. 374, note 22, as 'Domenico di Michelino'.
E. Callmann, Apollonio di Giovanni, Oxford, 1974, pp. 58-59, under no. 14, without attribution.
C. de Carli, I deschi da parto e la pittura del primo Rinascimento toscano, Turin, 1997, pp. 120-121, no. 25, as 'Florentine School, c. 1450'.
J.M. Musacchio, The Art and Ritual of Childbirth in Renaissance Italy, New Haven and London, 1999, pp. 130-131, fig. 123 as 'Giovanni di Ser Giovanni'.
E. Fahy, L'Archivio storico fotografico di Stefano Bardini: dipinti, disegni, miniature, stampe, Florence, 2000, pp. 40, 190, no. 296, fig. 296, as 'Attributed to Giovanni di Ser Giovanni, Lo Scheggia'.
C.C. Wilson, 'Leo Planiscig and Percy Straus 1929-1939: Collecting and Historiography' in Small Bronzes in the Renaissance, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 267, note 31, as 'c. 1460-1480'.
London, Knoedler, Great Masters of the 14th-18th Century from the Collection of N.V. Bachstitz Gallery, 's-Gravenhage, 1938-1939, no. 1, as 'Andrea da Firenze'.
Allentown, Pennsylvania, Allentown Art Museum, Beyond Nobility. Art for the Private Citizen in the Early Renaissance, 28 September 1980-4 January 1981, p. 7, no. 5, pl. II, as 'Florentine School, c. 1460-80' (catalogue entry by E. Callmann).

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Lot Essay

The present panel originally decorated the reverse of a desco da parto, or birth tray. Immensely popular during the Renaissance, these ceremonial objects were both decorative and functional, as they were used to carry fruit, sweetmeats and wine to mothers after they had given birth. Though cherished, they were often damaged, particularly on the reverse, which typically became abraded due to repeated contact with surfaces. Accordingly, the present panel constitutes a remarkable survival from the mid-fifteenth century. Like many deschi from this period, it may have originally been twelve-sided. At some point in its history, the original moldings were removed and the panel was separated from its obverse.

Nude boys frequently appear on the reverses of birth trays as well as on cassone panels, and in many cases they are shown fighting one another in a manner similar to that seen on the present panel. A desco formerly in the Martin Le Roy collection (Callmann, op. cit., fig. 108), for instance, represents two boys fighting bare-handed beneath two coats of arms from the Ridolfi and Strozzi families. On that tray, the verso represents a Triumph of Love. Jacqueline Musacchio has observed that the universal nature of these images must have had a meaning that is no longer recognizable, perhaps relating to an adage (Musacchio, op. cit., p. 158). Undoubtedly, the scene represented here was imbued with symbolic significance, one that most likely related to fecundity. The two nude boys face one another in complementary poses on a verdant field. In their hands, they hold conical objects, which have been read by various scholars as either horns or poppies. Musacchio has argued that they are symbols of fertility and lineage, linking the present desco to another birthing tray representing two nude boys at play beneath three coats of arms, attributed to the workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni, (North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh).

Previous attributions to Francesco di Antonio, Domenico di Michelino and to the Sienese fifteenth-century school are rightly rejected by Callmann. Noting the sophisticated understanding of anatomy and musculature, she instead suggests that this desco was painted at a 'comparatively late date despite the traditional flower meadow' (op. cit., p. 7). Stylistically, the panel is much closer to that of another reverse of a desco da parto in the Palazzo Davanzati, recently published as by Scheggia (A. Bayer, et al., Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, exhibition catalogue, New Haven and London, 2008, pp. 157-158, no. 71). There, two nude boys stand on a similarly verdant field and wrestle each other, grabbing their opponent's hair and genitals.

The coats of arms were probably repainted before the Weinberger sale, as Callmann has noted. Those on the right, which are traditionally those of the bride's family, belong to the Masi family, who in 1386 moved from the Tuscan town of Montecatini to Florence, where they resided in the Via de' Ginori.

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