The Renaissance lingered longer in Florence, where its roots were deepest. The present lot is an intriguing Allegory that testifies to the survival of Bronzino's enamelled brilliance well into the seventeenth century. The corner of a marble table sets an evocative stage for a mask and a statuette. The vivid mask is the single note of colour amidst the shadows. The gilt-bronze statuette is a famous Venus by Giambologna (1529-1608), the multi-faceted genius who served the Medici court for thirty years. Masks and the goddess of love had fascinated Florentine artists since the 1540s, when Bronzino first combined them in his Allegory of Venus (London, National Gallery).
The symbolism is straightforward, even if the painter has added an original twist, as we shall see. Masks are ancient emblems of the theatre and, by extension, of the other arts of imitation: painting and sculpture. Its proximity to the statuette recalls the customary representation of painting as a liberal art personified by a beautiful woman. The allegory was a Florentine idea, possibly due to Giorgio Vasari, that was ratified in Cesare Ripa's conologia published in Rome in 1603. Ripa stipulates that the personification of Pittura should be accompanied by a mask, and he takes pains to relate the intellectual beauty of painting to the physical allure of women.
The present Allegory respects this theme, while offering some ingenious variations. The association of a mask that, unusually, has painted features, with a Giambologna masterpiece recalls the Renaissance competition, or paragone, between painting and sculpture. One of the strongest arguments on behalf of sculpture was its ability to show things from all sides, not merely the front. The painter's response is to depict Venus's back. Hiding her face is a conciliatory gesture, however, since it allows sculpture to share in the time-hallowed comparison of painting to mute poetry and poetry to painting that speaks -- ut pictura poesis. (Most artists ignored Ripa's pedantic advice to convey this lesson by binding Pittura across the mouth.) One final point: the stone plinth behind the marble table is too imposing to be merely incidental. Its monumentality qualifies it as the third of the sister arts, Architecture. Comparing the proportions of human beauty to the perfection of the classical orders was a favourite pastime of Renaissance theorists. Nowhere is the theme expressed more pleasingly than in the present picture in which we find the curvature of Venus's spine correlated to the profile of the classical cornice.
The present picture was first published by Sandro Bellesi in his book, Cesare Dandini. Noting Dandini's penchant for allegorical figures who hold statuettes, Professor Bellesi assigned this 'Mask and Statuette on a Table' to the artist's school. A fully autograph attribution was suggested in the catalogue of the Giambologna retrospective recently organized in Florence. On the other hand, Dandini's allegories, though finely executed, are not characterized by the kind of warmth, inventiveness and intellect displayed in the present picture. Such qualities, as well as comparable flesh tones and undulating contours, can be found in the contemporary works of Giovanni Mannozzi, called Giovanni da San Giovanni.
We are grateful to Dr John Spike for the above catalogue entry.