Edited by Luca Fiorentino

This drawing, preparatory for the painting at the National Gallery of Parma, has been alternately attributed to Domenico, and more recently, Bartolomeo Guidobono1.

It is no easy task to differentiate the two artists’ paintings, and the distinction is equally difficult as far as drawing is concerned. However, we can note a few stylistic elements that tend to suggest Domenico’s hand.

First and foremost is the dreamy, almost fairy-tale-like tone of the entire scene: despite the fact that ‘bloody’ witchcraft (the killing of an innocent) is taking place, the scene has a mocking, irreverent quality, with all the participating animals gathered in the same space. The focus on details is a direct derivation of Bartolomeo’s style, but is here more decorative, with elements juxtaposed in the space.

The witch’s pointed face, the incisive lines demarcating profiles (faces, bodies, draping) and the use of a brush for washes to create shadows or describe the undulation of the cloth on the table (on which a candle stands, its brightness highlighted a risparmio, leaving the ivory paper to shine through) are the main factors suggesting this sheet’s attribution to Domenico Guidobono.

Both brothers often produced scenes of witchcraft or alchemy, as in two canvases depicting Medea rejuvenates Aeson by Bartolomeo, one in a private collection and the other conserved at the Stanford University Museum of Art (Alice Meyer Buck Fund), and the Allegory (Sorceress with her daughter) at the Metropolitan Museum of New York attributed to Domenico2.

Domenico (or Bartolomeo?) Guidobono, Witchcraft Scene. Parma, Galleria Nazionale.
Domenico (or Bartolomeo?) Guidobono, Witchcraft Scene. Parma, Galleria Nazionale.

The drawing in question here is an initial idea for the painting held in the Galleria Nazionale di Parma3. The two works share the same impostazione, arrangement, figures and alchemical tone; naturally the sheet has a few variants, for example, the bird flying over the scene is on the left in the painting and on the right here. The drawing also lacks the snake challenging a cat, the horse’s skull on the left, and the astrology books on the right beneath the globe.

The flying bird could be identified as a heron: the scientific name of this family of birds is ardeidae, stemming from a tale in Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which, when Aeneas defeats Turnus and burns the city of Ardea, a heron takes flight from the ashes.

Remaining in the sphere of hypothesis and considering that interpretation of these subjects is extremely difficult, the sheet, and thus the painting, could be read as a representation of the life and various phases of growth and decline of the human body, or more generally of all living creatures destined to return to ashes. But the link with a human victory like Aeneas’ may also suggest a positive view of the parabola of life through the figure of a heron, interpreted as a phoenix rising from the ashes.

1 On the varying attributions see: Giuseppe Cirillo, Dipinti e disegni inediti del Cinquecento parmense a proposito del nuovo catalogo della Galleria Nazionale, in ‘Parma per l’arte’, V-VI, 1999 – 2000, p. 13 (as Domenico Guidobono);

Mary Newcome Schleier, Bartolomeo e Domenico Guidobono, introduction by Andreina Griseri, contributions by Arrigo Cameirana (ceramics) and Anna Orlando (still life), Turin, 2002, pp. 146-147 entry D3a (as Bartolomeo Guidobono).

The drawing has also been published in Giovanni Copertini, Un disegno probabile di Luca Cambiaso, in ‘Parma per l’arte’, II, 1961, pp. 134, 138, fig. 5.

2 See: Favole e magie. I Guidobono pittori del Barocco, catalogue for the exhibition curated by Clelia Arnaldi di Balme, Giovanni Romano, Mary Newcome Schleier and Gelsomina Spione, Turin, Palazzo Madama Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, May 29-September 2, 2012; for the paintings cited, entries 10 and 18 (author Gelsomina Spione), pp. 56-57, 72-73.

3 See the interesting: M. Newcome Schleier, Bartolomeo e Domenico Guidobono cit., pp. 82-83 entry M23a (as Bartolomeo Guidobono).

The painting, like the drawing in question, has a history of alternating attributions, and in my opinion should be ascribed to Domenico (see note 1 above).

G. Cirillo, Dipinti e disegni inediti del Cinquecento parmense a proposito del nuovo catalogo della Galleria Nazionale, in ‘Parma per l’arte’, V-VI, 1999-2000, p. 13 (as Domenico Guidobono);

M. Newcome Schleier, Bartolomeo e Domenico Guidobono, introduction by Andreina Griseri, contributions by Arrigo Cameirana (ceramics) and Anna Orlando (still life), Turin, 2002, pp. 146-147 entry. D3a (as Bartolomeo Guidobono).

The drawing has also been published in G. Copertini, Un disegno probabile di Luca Cambiaso, in ‘Parma per l’arte’, II, 1961, pp. 134, 138, fig. 5.

Related Art