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Tempera painting - Julius Caesar and the Crossing of the Rubicon
  • Julius Caesar and the Crossing of the Rubicon
    Granacci, Francesco, born 1469 - died 1543 Ghirlandaio, Domenico, born 1449 - died 1494
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Julius Caesar and the Crossing of the Rubicon

  • Object:

    Tempera painting

  • Place of origin:

    Siena (painted)

  • Date:

    1493-1494 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Granacci, Francesco, born 1469 - died 1543
    Ghirlandaio, Domenico, born 1449 - died 1494

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tempera and gold on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2005

  • Museum number:

    E.372-2006

  • Gallery location:

    On display at Longleat House, Wiltshire

Francesco Granacci (1469-1543) trained in Florence, with Michelangelo, in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448/9-1494), and the two then studied sculpture in the Medici garden at S Marco under the supervision of Bertoldo di Giovanni (ca.1420-1491). Granacci was an important member of the Ghirlandaio’s workshop during the 1490s before going to Rome in order to assist Michelangelo in painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. According to Vasari, Granacci was often employed by the Medici to design scenery and festive decorations.

This panel shows an episode from the life of Julius Caesar, narrated in Suetonius’ Lives of the twelve Caesars , retelling the crossing of the Rubicon by Cesar and his troupes. While the story took place in the 1st century B.C., the figures and the setting are presented in a Renaissance fashion, which drew upon the Antiquity especially in the representation of armours. This panel was most likely made to celebrate a patrician wedding and illustrates therefore a heroic virtue such as political leadership that was much sought after by the Renaissance elite. The present painting forms a pendant with E.373-2006 as they represent the lives of two heroes respectively Greek and Roman, the two civilisations that dominated the Antique Western World.

Physical description

A large rectangular panel depicting a series of events from left to right: a camp's scene with a man playing the flute among shepherds and soldiers, the same musician is then shown crossing the river followed by soldiers by foot and astride, in the middle of the composition a group of figures is gathered around a man wearing a blue cloak above his armour, while at the far right, a group of cavaliers is heading towards the gates of a walled city.

Place of Origin

Siena (painted)

Date

1493-1494 (painted)

Artist/maker

Granacci, Francesco, born 1469 - died 1543
Ghirlandaio, Domenico, born 1449 - died 1494

Materials and Techniques

Tempera and gold on panel

Dimensions

Width: 73.5 cm, Width: 170 cm

Object history note

Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2005. On permanent loan to Longleat House.

Historical context note

Historical significance: This panel, along with E.373-2006, may have formed a set of spalliere - decorative wainscoting typically made for ornate bedchambers during the 15th century in Italy - for the Palazzo Piccolimi in Siena. These two panels are on loan to Longleat House, Warminster, where they form part of the Neo-Renaissance decor in the State Drawing Room designed by Crace in 1877, as a setting for the 4th Marquess of Bath's collection of Italian pictures.

Formerly attributed to the Perugian artist Bernardino Pinturicchio (ca.1452-1513), the Master of the Griselda Story, Bartolomeo di Giovanni and Domenico Ghirlandaio's workshop, this panel is now attributed to Francesco Granacci (1469-1543) while he was working in the workshop of his brother-in-law, Domenico Ghirlandaio.

The panel depicts an episode from the life of the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, as narrated by the ancient Roman author Suetonius in The Lives of the twelve Caesars (I:xxxi-xxxiii). The painting follows Suetonius' description with, on the left, Cesar's encampment and the sudden apparition of a beautiful man, here dressed in a yellow tunic and playing the trumpet, beheld by shepherds and soldiers. The apparition crosses the river, which Caesar interpreted as a sign from the Gods, justifying his own decision to cross the Rubicon with his troops. Once on the opposite bank, Caesar, standing in a blue cloak, and central to the composition, gathers together the plebeians' tribunes and harangues his soldiers, shedding tears and tearing his cloak as he beseeches them to follow him in his conquest of Rome, the episode represented on the far right-hand side of the painting. This began a civil war in 49 BC, from which Caesar emerged as the unrivalled leader of the Roman world. In 15th century Italian narrative paintings, it was common for more than one consecutive event from the same story to be represented.

The present panel was attributed by Luke Syson to Francesco Granacci, who worked in Siena with Davide Ghirlandaio and Bastiano Mainardi on now lost mosaics for Siena Cathedral in 1493. Granacci was an important member of Ghirlandaio's workshop from the 1490s until the end of the century. Another work attributed to Granacci, St John the Baptist bearing witness, dated ca. 1506/07, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, presents stylistic similarities with the present panel, but with richer and more lavish details.

According to Tatrai, this picture, as well as E.373-2006 and the three panels depicting the Story of the Patient Griselda in the National Gallery, London, were commissioned for the double wedding, on 11-17 January 1494, of Antonio and Giulio Spannocchi, sons of Ambrogio Spannocchi, papal banker to Pius II Piccolomini, to Alessandra Placidi, from Siena, and Giovanna Mellini, from Rome. The names of the heroes represented, Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) and Alessandro Magno (Alexander the Great), match the names of the groom Giulio and the bride Alessandra.

Francesco Granacci (1469-1543) trained in Florence in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448/9-1494) with Michelangelo, and both later studied sculpture in the Medici garden at S Marco under the supervision of Bertoldo di Giovanni (ca.1420-1491). Granacci was an important member of Ghirlandaio's workshop in the 1490s, and later visited Rome to assist Michelangelo in painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. According to Vasari, Granacci was often employed by the Medici to design scenery and festive decorations.

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 cornicione (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

Attributed to Francesco Granacci, ‘Julius Caesar and the crossing of the Rubicon’,1393-94, spalliera panel, tempera on panel. Formerly attributed to Bernardino Pinturicchio, Master of the Griselda Story and Bartolomeo di Giovanni

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

L. Syson, B. Santi and C.Strinati, ed., Siena e Roma. Raffaello, Caravaggio e i protagonisti di un legame antico, exh. cat. ed. by Siena, 2005, pp. 199-203, cat. 2.18-20.
J. Dunkerton, C. Christensen and L.Syson, 'The Master of the story of Griselda and Paintings for Sienese Palaces', in National Gallery Technical Bulletin, vol. 27, 2006, pp.6-7.
Catalogue of the renowned collection of works of art fomed by that distinguished connoisseur Alexander Barker Esq., Christie, Manson and Wood, London 6,8-11 June 1874, lot 82.
V. Tatrai, 'Il maestro della vita di Griselda e una famiglia senese di mecenati dimenticata' in Acta historiae artium Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae,, 1979, pp. 27-66.
C. Paolini, D. Parenti and L. Segrebondi eds., Virtù d'amore: pittura nuziale nel Quattrocento fiorentino, Firenze, 2010, pp. 135-136, fig. 7b.
Cl. Daniotti, 'Tra fabula e historia: sulla ricezione del mito di Alessandro il Grande nel Quattrocento', Schifanoia, 42-43 (2012), pp. 227-240
Ajmar-Wollheim, Marta and Flora Dennis, At Home in Renaissance Italy, London: V&A Publishing, 2006.

Production Note

Formerly attributed to Bernardino Pinturicchio, Master of the Griselda Story and Bartolomeo di Giovanni

Materials

Tempera; Panel

Techniques

Painting

Categories

Paintings

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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