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Girolamo di Benvenuto (Siena 1470-1524)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Girolamo di Benvenuto (Siena 1470-1524)

A desco da parto: Diana and Actaeon

Girolamo di Benvenuto (Siena 1470-1524)
A desco da parto: Diana and Actaeon
tempera, oil and gold on poplar panel, hexadecagonal
26¼ x 26¾ in. (66.6 x 67.9 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 30 May-1 June 1921, lot 1, as 'Attributed to Matteo Balducci', when acquired by the family of the present owner, and by descent.
C. de Carli, I Deschi da Parto e la Pittura del Primo Rinascimento Tosscano, Turin, 1997, pp. 198-99, no. 59, illustrated.
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Lot Essay

This panel originally served as 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. The story of Diana and Actaeon was a favourite of Renaissance artists and their patrons, who relished the opportunity to represent nude and beautiful women in a moralizing context. The primary source for the account is in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (3: 138-253), in which the poet relates how one day while hunting with his friends, the young prince Actaeon accidentally stumbled upon the virgin goddess Diana, who was bathing with her nymphs in a secret grotto. Blushing as her nymphs tried in vain to conceal her from the mortal’s gaze, Diana splashed water into the prince’s face, saying ‘Now go, feel free to say that you have seen the goddess without veils—if you can speak’. As further punishment, however, Diana transformed Actaeon into a stag, thus condemning him to a horrible death, as he would soon be devoured by his own hunting dogs.

In the 1921 Galerie G. Petit sale catalogue, the present panel was attributed to Matteo Balducci. The desco da parto may have been unknown to Bernard Berenson, as it does not appear in any of his lists; however, an inscription on the reverse of a photograph in the archives of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence similarly ascribes the work to Matteo. Cecilia de Carli frst recognized Diana and Actaeon as a late work by the Sienese painter Girolamo di Benvenuto in 1997 (loc. cit.). As De Carli observed, the forceful modelling and plasticity of Diana and her nymphs is strikingly similar to that of the figures of Venus and Cupid in Girolamo’s Judgment of Paris desco da parto of circa 1500 in the Louvre, Paris (inv. M.I. 587). In this later style, Girolamo was moving away from the polished and slender figures favoured by his father, Benvento di Giovanni, for whom he had worked for decades, in favour of a new aesthetic he encountered through the Sienese works of Perugino and Pinturicchio from the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries.

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