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Deifobo Burbarini (Siena 1619-1689)
Deifobo Burbarini (Siena 1619-1689)

Juno placing the eyes of Argus on the tail of a peacock

Deifobo Burbarini (Siena 1619-1689)
Juno placing the eyes of Argus on the tail of a peacock
oil on canvas
62 ½ x 100 3/8 in. (158.8 x 255 cm.)
with Central Picture Galleries, New York, 1963.
Private collection, Los Angeles, from the 1960s until 2014, when acquired by the present owner.

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Lot Essay

This monumental mythological painting by Deifebo Burbarini illustrates an episode in the story of the nymph Io, narrated by Ovid in his Metamorphoses (I, 721-24). Io, a mortal priestess of the goddess Juno, has been seduced by Jupiter, who subsequently transforms her into a heifer in an attempt to shield her from Juno’s wrath. Juno, not deceived by her husband’s trickery, orders the many-eyed giant, Argus Panoptes, to stand watch over Io and prevent Jupiter from visiting her. In response, the god sends his son, Mercury, to lull the giant to sleep by song and music, eventually slaying him as he sleeps. Io is freed and Juno, overcome by anger at the loss of her priestess to Jupiter and grief at the death of her servant, Argus, plucks the one hundred eyes from his head and places them for eternity on the tail of the peacock. In this composition, Juno can be seen at center delicately positioning the eyes on the tail of the bird with tweezers, assisted by handmaids who steady the creature and support the severed head of the giant. Beyond, Mercury is shown escaping the scene.

The authorship of this picture was first recognized in 2016 by Marco Ciampolini, who identified the vivid use of color, the solidity of the figures and the sweetness of their expressions as characteristic of Deifebo Burbarini’s full maturity, and extolled the painting as the artist's masterwork. Prior to that in the 20th century, the work had been mistakenly given by Federico Zeri to Burbarini’s master, Raffaelo Vanni, according to an annotated photograph in his photo archive at the Università degli Studi, Bologna. Zeri, however, was familiar only with the painting in its pre-restoration state, prior to the removal of both a varnish that obscured the pigments’ chromatic brilliance, as well as later pictorial additions, which had evidently been applied after the picture’s completion to mask the macabre anatomy of the severed neck of Argus and the blood pooled beneath. Strong comparisons can be made to works that Burbarini painted in the late 1650s, such as The Coronation of the Virgin, executed between 1654 and 1658 for the oratory of San Rocco in the contrada of Lupa, Siena (F. Mastrangelo, ‘L'officina dei colori: La decorazione dell'oratorio dei Santi Rocco e Giobbe in Vallerozzi’, in I Gemelli: Quaderno della Contrada della Lupa, 8, March 2012, pp. 130-32). In that painting, the Raphaellian angel with the lute corresponds closely to the maid supporting Argus's head in the present canvas. Furthermore, two pendant canvases showing Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Mary Magdalene in the church of San Niccolò al Carmine, Siena, demonstrate a marked resemblance to this picture: the face of Saint Catherine is almost identical to the laurel-wreathed woman figure to the right of this canvas, and the Magdalen’s features are akin to those of Diana (Marco Ciampolini, Bernardino Mei e la pittura barocca a Siena, exhibition catalogue, Florence, 1987, p. 202, fig. 104).

Of the Sienese baroque painters, only Ventura Salimbeni had treated the story of Argus prior to Burbarini, on the commission of the celebrated poet, Giambattista Marino. Unlike Burbarini, in his rendition, Salimbeni elected to depict the moment of greatest brutality: the slaying of Argus by Mercury (Giambattista Marino, La Galeria del Cavalier Marino distinta in Pitture e Sculture, Venice, 1620, p. 37; M. Ciampolini, Pittori Senesi del Seicento, Siena, 2010, p. 807).

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