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The Trojans building the Temple to Venus at Eryx and making offerings at Anchises’ grave

The Trojans building the Temple to Venus at Eryx and making offerings at Anchises’ grave
oil and distemper on canvas, unframed
23 3/8 x 33 5/8 in. (59.4 x 85.6 cm.)
Commissioned by Alfonso I d’Este (1476-1534), Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, Castello Estense, Ferrara (in the Camerino dell’Alabastro), by circa 1521, and by descent to his son
Ercole II d’Este (1508-1559), son of Alfonso I d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519), and by descent to his son
Alfonso II d’Este (1533-1597), the 5th and last Duke of Ferrara, and by inheritance to
Cesare d’Este (1562-1628), Duke of Modena (fourth son of Alfonso I d’Este and cousin of Alfonso II d’Este) until 1608 when appropriated by
Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1577-1633), in the Camera dei Bronzi at the Palazzo Borghese on the Campo Marzio, and by inheritance to his cousin
Marcantonio II Borghese (1601-1658),1st Prince of Sulmona, and by inheritance to his nephew
Giovanni Battista Borghese (1639-1717), 2nd Prince of Sulmona, Prince of Rossano, in whose inventory of 7 April 1693 (probably) descrubed under no. 192 (since mistakenly associated with a painting by Niccolo dell’Abatte at the Villa Borghese) as 'f. 452 2Sotto al detto un quadro longo con paesi e Marine con figure e vascello del No 2 del Dosi de ferrara con cornice dorata' (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Città del Vaticano, / Fondo Borhese, busta 7504)), and (probably) by inheritance to his son
Marcantonio III Borghese (1660-1729), 3rd Prince of Sulmona, and (probably) by inheritance to his son
Camillo Borghese (1693-1763), 4th Prince of Sulmona, and (probably) by inheritance to
Marcantonio IV Borghese (1730-1800), 5th Prince of Sulmona, and (probably) by inheritance to
Camillo Filippo Ludovico Borghese, 6th Prince of Sulmona (1775-1832), the husband of Napoleon’s sister, Pauline Bonaparte (1780-1825), and remained in the Borghese collection, Rome, until 1803/19, when acquired by
Pascal Madrazo (see ‘…. Viene della famosa Galeria de la Casa Borghese en Roma’; see also, D. José Rojas, ed., Diccionari geográfico-estadistico-histórico de España y su posesiones de Ultramar por Pascual Madoz, X, Madrid, 1847, p. 860), and by inheritance to
José da Madrazo y Agudo (1781-1859), and by inheritance to
Federico Madrazo y Kuntz (1815-1894), from whom (probably) purchased in 1861 by
José de Salamanca y Mayol (1811-1883), 1st Count of los Llanos, 1st Marqués of Salamanca.
(Probably) Private collection, S. de R., south of France, circa 1900, until recently.
Catalogo de la galleria de cuadros del Sr. D. José Madrazo, Primer Pintor de Cámara de S. M. C. Director de su Real Museo de Pintura y Escultura, é individuo de las Academias de Nobles Artes de Madrid, Roma, Dresde, S. Petersburgo y Nápoles, etc., etc., etc., Madrid, 1856, p. 25, no. 77, as ‘reparan los Troyanos sus naves en la ribera del mar junto á un grupo de árboles….En la parte opuesya edificant un temple á Venus Idalia por órden de Acestes sobra una altura, , y en faldadel monte hay gente de ambo sexos prosternada ante el sepulcro de Anchises. A la orilla de mar se ve parte de la nueva población.’. (En.:lib. 5). Alto, 0 met. 56; ancho 1 met. 83. G. Borghese.
R. Berzaghi, 'Una segnalazione per le "Storie di Enea" di Dosso Dossi', Prospettiva, CXXXIX/CXL, July-October 2010, p. 135, no. 77.
P. Humfrey, 'More on Dosso's Aeneas frieze', Artibus et Historiae, no. 81, XLI, 2020, pp. 137-156, fig. 8.

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Lot Essay

Recently rediscovered, this exceptional canvas by Dosso Dossi constitutes an essential contribution to our understanding of one of the most important commissions of the Italian Renaissance: the painting program for Alfonso d’ Este’s Camerino in the Castello Estense at Ferrara. The composition depicts events recounted in Virgil’s epic poem, The Aeneid, specifically Book V, which takes the Trojans to Sicily. Swayed by Juno, the women burn much of the Trojan fleet in protest of not yet having a permanent home. Following Nautes’ advice, Aeneas decides to forge ahead to Italy with those who are fit, but only after founding a city to be ruled by Ascetes for those Trojans who will remain. Prior to Aeneas’ departure, offerings are made at the tomb of his father Anchises, which is portrayed in the foreground of our painting, and a temple to Venus is dedicated at Eryx, of which Dosso shows the construction in the distance. The artist’s talent for creating scenes that have a downy, dream-like quality shines through here, as evidenced by the softly-contoured figures nestled in a lush, delicately-lit landscape. In fact, the present lot corresponds to the right section of a painting now in the National Gallery of Art, which traditionally has been titled Aeneas and Achates on the Libyan Coast (Book III), but may now be recognized as representing the Trojans building a ship in anticipation of their departure from Sicily.

Together, the canvases formed one of ten large-scale paintings portraying scenes from The Aeneid commissioned by Alfonso d’ Este for his famed Camerino, a private study in the ducal apartments, later known as the Camerino d’Alabastro on account of the room's fine marble decorations. The poem, a celebration of Aeneas as determined leader and founder of Rome, was no doubt selected as a source because of its capacity to mirror the Duke’s own accomplishments. Dosso’s paintings created a frieze that encircled the Camerino, beneath which were hung five bacchanals. The latter constitute some of the most significant and treasured works in the history of art, namely: Giovanni Bellini’s Feast of the Gods of 1514 (fig. 1; National Gallery of Art, Washington), Titian’s The Worship of Venus of 1519 (Museo del Prado, Madrid), Titian’s Bacchus and Aradne of 1520-23 (National Gallery, London), Titian’s The Andrians of circa 1523-24 (Museo del Prado, Madrid) and Dosso Dossi’s Bacchanal Rout of Men (untraced). On 4 March 1521, Dosso received payment for painting mouldings for the Camerino, possibly indicating when the Aeneas frieze was installed. This hypothesis would support a dating of 1519-20 for execution of the ten canvases, which Amalia Mezzetti ('Le “Storie di Enea” del Dosso nel “camerino d’alabastro" di Alfonso d’Este', Paragone, XVI, no. 189, 1965, p. 82), Alessandro Ballarin (Dosso Dossi: La pittura a Ferrara negli anni del ducato di Alfonsi I, Cittadella, 1994-95), and more recently, Peter Humfrey (in P. Humfrey and M. Lucco, Dosso Dossi, Court Painter in Renaissance Ferrara, A. Bayer, ed., exhibition catalogue, New York, 1998, p. 151) have suggested for other works in the cycle.

The decorations were dismantled at the end of the sixteenth century. Following the death of Alfonso’s heirless grandson Alfonso II d’Este (1533-1597), the duchy devolved to the papacy and the bacchanals were removed from the Camerino and taken to Rome in 1598 by Pope Clement VIII’s nephew Pietro Aldobrandini. Dosso’s frieze remained in situ for another ten years until Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew to Clement VIII’s successor, Pope Paul V, was able to acquire the canvases, possibly with the intention of using them to decorate a camerino of his own in the Villa Borghese in Rome. The pictures were later listed in the 1693 inventory of Prince Giovanni Battista Borghese’s collection, when they were recorded as hanging in four separate rooms in the Borghese Palace in Campo Marzio.

Recent research by Renato Berzaghi has filled in the gaps in our knowledge of the fate of Dosso’s Aeneid frieze. The scholar has demonstrated that the cycle was preserved through 1856, when they were recorded among the possessions of José de Madrazo y Agudo (1781-1859), former court painter and one of the early directors of the Prado, Madrid, who had purchased them directly from the Borghese, probably sometime between 1803 and 1819. The frieze was subsequently acquired by José de Salamanca y Mayol (1811-1883), 1st Count of los Llanos, 1st Marqués of Salamanca (see Provenance). Critically, the paintings were meticulously described in the catalogue of Madrazo’s collection, thus providing crucial details about the frieze’s content and dimensions, and rectifying our understanding of the program as a whole. In light of this, the paintings may be described as follows: 1. Neptune calming the storm raised by Aeolus (Book I), untraced; 2. The Trojans on the African coast prepare to feast on the deer slain by Aeneas (Book I), Barber Institute, Birmingham. 3. Aeneas and his family escaping the burning of Troy (Book II), untraced; 4. The plague at Pergamea on Crete (Book III), sold, Sotheby's, New York, 29 January 2021, lot 116; 5. Aeneas and the Harpies on Strophades (Book IV), recently acquired by the Museo del Prado, Madrid (fig. 2); 6. The Sicilian games (Book V), sold, Sotheby's, New York, 29 January 2021, lot 116; 7. The Trojans preparing to leave Sicily (Book V), National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the present canvas; 8. Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl enter the Underworld (Book VI), Private collection, Rome; 9. Aeneas meets Tityos in the Underworld (Book VI), untraced; 10. Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl enter the Elysian Fields (Book VI), National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

We are grateful to Dr. Peter Humfrey for generously sharing his research with us for this catalogue note.

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