The present panel is the work of the Master of the Campana Panels, an anonymous artist possibly of French origin, who was active in Florence at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Previously identified by Everett Fahy as the Master of Tavarnelle after one of his most imposing works, the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints Martin and Sebastian in the parish church of Santa Maria in Morocco, Tavarnelle in Val di Pesa (see E. Fahy, op. cit, 1976), the artist's current placeholder name derives from four of his most distinctive panels, all formerly in the collection of Giovanni Pietro Campana in Rome. Now in the Musée du Petit-Palais, Avignon, these panels narrate the classical legends of Pasiphaë Falling in Love with the Bull, Minos Attacking Athens, Ariadne Rescued by Theseus, and Ariadne Abandoned by Bacchus (see A.P. Mirimonde, 'Cinq "cassoni" mythologiques de la collection Campana', La Revue du Louvre, 1978, no. 2, pp. 89-97). Although these panels were previously thought to have originally decorated cassoni, their scale indicates that they were actually spalliere (panels attached to furniture or set into walls).
Traditionally interpreted as Venus and a Poet and related to a passage from Lorenzo de' Medici's Ovidian poem, 'Ambra' (Cleveland, op. cit., p. 429), the present panel is now understood to represent a scene from the story of Cimon and Iphigenia, which is recounted in Boccaccio's Decameron. On the fifth day (first story), Panfilo tells the tale of Cimon, the son of a wealthy merchant from Cyprus. Exceptionally handsome but so devoid of intelligence and manners that he was considered a hopeless imbecile, Cimon is sent to the countryside where his coarse ways will no longer embarrass his family. There he discovers the beautiful Iphigenia and, moved by his unrequited desire for her, returns home to begin his education in order to be worthy of her love. Four years later, Cimon has become the most refined and graceful man in all of Cyprus, but to his dismay, learns that Iphigenia's father has promised her to a young nobleman from Rhodes. Emboldened by his love, Cimon abducts Iphigenia at sea and, after a series of adventures, the young lovers return to Cyprus where they are married.
The scene represented here occurs early in the story, when Cimon first encounters the recumbent Iphigenia:
As he was walking through the wood, guided as it were by Fortune, he came upon a clearing surrounded by very tall trees, in a corner of which there was a lovely cool fountain. Beside the fountain, lying asleep on the grass, he saw a most beautiful girl, attired in so flimsy a dress that scarcely an inch of her fair white body was concealed. From the waist downwards she was draped in pure white quilt, no less diaphanous than the rest of her attire.... On catching sight of this vision, Cimon stopped dead in his tracks, and, leaning on his stick, began to stare at her, rapt in silent admiration, as though he had never before set eyes upon the female form. (G. Boccaccio, The Decameron, trans. G.H. McWilliam, 2nd ed., London, 1995, p. 368).
Federico Zeri (written communication, 29 March 1977) agreed with Everett Fahy's attribution of the present panel to the Campana Master, noting the influence of Botticelli in the reclining female figure and of Piero di Cosimo in her suitor. He further suggested that this panel may have adorned the inside lid of a cassone and related it to a group of panels depicting scenes from the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Four panels from this series are known: Eurydice and her maids (Madame Chantal de Nora collection, Geneva), Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underword (formerly with Bottenwieser, Berlin), Aristaeus Pursuing Eurydice (Musée des Art Décoratifs, Paris) and The Death of Eurydice (National Gallery of Art, Dublin). These last two scenes originally formed a single panel, but were separated from one another at some point in their history (see F. Zeri, 'Una conginzione tra Firenze e Francia: il Maestro dei cassoni Campana', in Diario di lavoro 2, Turin, 1976). As is the case with the Avignon panels, it is likely that this group was designed as spalliere.
The Master of the Campana Panels' French roots are most visible in the present panels' distinctively northern landscape, particularly in the treatment of the architecture.