Monday, July 20, 2009

Federico Zuccaro, court artist, dies July 20, 1609


Federico Zuccaro (c.1543-1609), also spelled “Zuccari” and "Zucchero" was an Italian painter of the Mannerist school. Zuccaro got his training on various church projects throughout Italy. In 1574 he traveled to England, where he quickly earned commissions to paint the royalty and nobility of the Tudor Court. Of his proposed painting of Elizabeth I, we have only the sketch, seen below.

Zuccaro’s other commissions included Mary, Queen of Scots, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Lord Admiral Howard.

One of Zuccaro’s most interesting legacies is his “Allegory of Calumny,” a recreation of a lost painting by the Greek master, Apelles, based on a description of that lost work in Lucian.

Zucarro's Calumny allegory

Calumny is like slander; it is said that this work got Apelles in trouble, and in similar fashion, got Zuccaro exiled from Rome.
There is also a 16th century engraving by Giorgio Ghisi of the Calumny of Apelles, and paintings by Mantegna and Boticelli. Apelles was the celebrated painter in ancient Greece. His painting of grapes was said to be so realistic that birds tried to eat the painted fruit. This anecdote is alluded to in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis (601-606):

“Even so poor birds, deceived with painted grapes,

Do surfeit by the eye and pine the maw;
Even so she languisheth in her mishaps
As those poor birds that helpless berries saw.

The warm effects which she in him finds missing
She seeks to kindle with continual kissing.”

Roman satirist Lucian gave the only eyewitness description of Apelles’ Calumny, from which the Renaissance painters managed their recreations, though mediated through Alberti (Leon Battista Alberti “On Painting” 1435):

“Invention is praised when one reads the description of Calumny which Lucian recounts was painted by Apelles. I do not think it alien to our subject. I will narrate it here in order to point out to painters where they ought to be most aware and careful in their inventions. In this painting there was a man with very large ears. Near him, on either side, stood two women, one called Ignorance, the other Suspicion. Farther, on the other side, came Calumny, a woman who appeared most beautiful but seemed too rafty in the face. In her right hand she held a lighted torch, with the other hand she dragged by the hair a young man who held up his arms to heaven. There was also a man, pale, ugly, all filthy and with an iniquitous aspect, who could be compared to one who has become thin and feverish with long fatigues on the fields of battle; he was the guide of Calumny and was called Hatred. And there were two other women, serving women of Calumy who arranged her ornaments and robes. They were called Envy and Fraud. Behind these was Penitence, a woman dressed in funeral robes, who stood as if completely dejected. Behind her followed a young girl, shameful and modest, called Truth. If this story pleased as it was being told, think how much pleasure and delight there must have been in seeing it painted by the hand of Apelles. [Alberti, On painting, Book 3]

The donkey-man is often described elsewhere as King Midas. This theme, Apelles allegory of calumny, was most famously painted by Botticelli, though only he portrays Envy, Malice, and Deceit as women.

An essay by modern author, Richard Dutton, “The Comedy of Errors and The Calumny of Apelles: An Exercise in Source” argues that the allegory of calumny as transmitted from Apelles, to Lucian, to-Alberti, to Boticelli, Zuccaro, and others, served as inspiration for the plot of Comedy of Errors.

The main point is that the ruler or judge is so overcome with bad information that his ears have grown ridiculously long. Slander is the enemy of Truth.

Federico Zuccaro, court artist, died July 20, 1609.
(Note, this date is by the Continental or Catholic Gregorian calendar, then 10 days out of sync with the British who were still using the Julian.)

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