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Tempera painting - A Human-headed lion in a landscape

A Human-headed lion in a landscape

  • Object:

    Tempera painting

  • Place of origin:

    Cremona (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1460-ca. 1480 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tempera on poplar panel

  • Credit Line:

    Given by M. Yeats Brown

  • Museum number:

    W.48-1913

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

W. 48-1913 and its companion panels (W.46-1913; W.47-1913; W.49-1913) were probably painted in Cremona in Lombardy, famous for its Medieval and Renaissance architecture as well as for a school of painting that flourished in the 15th and16th centuries, particularly under the patronage of the Sforza family. This increase in artistic commissions led to the decline of small family workshops, such as that of the Bembo (who may have painted these works) and the creation of larger corporate institutions. The Cremona school of painting, is notable for its rich use of fantastical elements and brilliant colour.
The V&A panels imitate the Cremonese tradition of decorating with terracotta tiles to articulate architectural membering in ceilings of private palaces. They are very similar to two surviving ceiling panels probably painted by the Bembo workshop in the Raccolta Parmiggiani, Reggio Emilia, and those from the same series now in the Museo del Seminario, Cremona attributed to Bonifacio Bembo. Despite their fragmentary state we can get a sense of the original appearance and context of the V&A panels by comparison with an intact painted ceiling decoration from the period in the former Palazzo Vimercati, now the Banca Popolare Agricola, in Crema. On this ceiling the sides of the supporting beams are decorate with a frieze of paired male and female busts alternating with coats of arms and other heraldic symbols, each painted within a fictive arch.
The human-faced lion represented in W.48-1913 recalls the emblematic fantastical animals from Cremonese ceilings and may have heraldic associations. The figure may be considered more generally within the context of contemporary drawings of domestic and exotic beasts by Antonio Pisanello, Paolo Uccello and Benozzo Gozzoli or of the fantastical human headed pig and stag in Piero di Cosimo's Forest Fire 1495-1505 (Ashmolean, Oxford). These beasts are generally described with reference to Lucretius' De rerum natura (V:821-924) in which the Roman poet describes oddities, deformities and monsters in nature but may simply be a statement of artistic fantasia, poetic licence and whimsy.

Physical description

A fragment of a tempera ceiling panel, showing a human-headed lion in a landscape.

Place of Origin

Cremona (painted)

Date

ca. 1460-ca. 1480 (painted)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Tempera on poplar panel

Dimensions

Height: 29.8 cm estimate, Width: 42.5 cm estimate, :

Object history note

Given by M. Yeats Brown, 1913

Historical significance: Cremona is the capital of the province of Cremona in Lombardy, famous for its Medieval and Renaissance architecture as well as for a school of painting that flourished in the 16th century. In 1334 Cremona was taken by the Visconti family of Milan, passing to the Sforza family in 1441. Sforza patronage favoured the development of architecture and the arts in the city for the next century. The increase in artistic commissions under the Sforza led to the decline of small family workshops, such as that of the Bembo, and the creation of larger corporate institutions. A striking feature of 15th-century Cremonese architecture is the use of terracotta, both as polychrome decoration and as tiles stamped with Classical motifs used to outline arches, cornices and friezes. The Cremona school of painting, is notable for its rich use of fantastical elements and brilliant colour in the work of artists, such as Boccaccio Boccaccino Altobello Melone, Sofonisba Anguissola and members of the Campi family.
W. 48-1913 and its companion panels (W.46-1913; W.47-1913; W.49-1913) imitate the tradition established by the decoration of terracotta tiles used to articulate architectural membering in ceilings as described above. They are very similar to two surviving ceiling panels probably painted by the Bembo workshop in the Raccolta Parmiggiani, Reggio Emilia, and those from the same series now in the Museo del Seminario, Cremona attributed to Bonifacio Bembo. Despite their fragmentary state we can get a sense of the original appearance and context of the V&A panels by comparison with an intact painted ceiling decoration from the period in the former Palazzo of Ottaviano Vimercati, now the Banca Popolare Agricola, in Crema. On this ceiling the sides of the supporting beams are decorate with a frieze of paired male and female busts alternating with coats of arms and other heraldic symbols, each painted within a fictive arches.
The human-faced lion represented in W.48-1913 recalls the emblematic fantastical animals from Cremonese ceilings (repr.Terni de Gregory, fig. 37) and may have heraldic associations. The figure may be considered more generally within the context of contemporary drawings of domestic and exotic beasts by Antonio Pisanello, Paolo Uccello and Benozzo Gozzoli or of the fantastical human headed pig and stag in Piero di Cosimo's Forest Fire 1495-1505 (Ashmolean, Oxford). These beasts are generally described with reference to Lucretius' De rerum natura (V:821-924) in which the Roman poet describes oddities, deformities and monsters in nature but may simply be a statement of artistic fantasia, poetic licence and whimsy.

Historical context note

This panel is one of four from the same series owned by the V&A which originally formed part of a painted ceiling. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Italy, artists were often commissioned to create painted wooden furnishings for the domestic interior, especially for the camera (bedchamber) of wealthy private palaces. Such works were generally commissioned to celebrate a new marriage or the birth of a child and could include a lettiera (bed), spalliera or cornicioni (a painted frieze), a cassapanca (bench-chest) and a set of cassone (marriage chests) among other objects and furnishings. The decoration often included subjects associated with fertility, maternity, childbirth, marriage and fidelity and could include references to the patrons through inclusion of their coat of arms and heraldic colours, or of their personal motto or device.

Descriptive line

Tempera painting, 'A human-headed lion in a landscape (fragment)', one of four panels from a painted ceiling, School of Cremona, ca. 1460-ca. 1480

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 77-8, cat. no. 76 (W.46/9-1913)
W. Terni di Gregory, Pittura artigiana lombarda del Rinascimento,Milano : A. Vallardi, 1981 [originally published 1958], p. 27, fig. 11; p. 67 fig. 41.
Dennis Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo : visions beautiful and strange, New Haven, Conn. ; London : Yale University Press, c2006, pp.135ff.
Ellen Callmann, Beyond nobility, art for the private citizen in the early Renaissance Exh. Cat. Allentown Art Museum, Sept. 28, 1980- Jan. 4, 1981, pp. 14-15.

Materials

Tempera paint; Poplar

Techniques

Painting

Subjects depicted

Lions (animals)

Categories

Paintings

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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