On the Reverse, an Allegorical Landscape
Entry 9, April 20, 2013: Last week I mentioned Daniele da Volterra and his painting, The Battle of David and Goliath, in connection with the two versions of The Triumph of David by Rosselli and Manfredi. Actually, da Volterra has two paintings of David and Goliath in the Louvre; both of them are of David and Goliath, and both of them are on the same piece of canvas. Da Volterra gives front and back views of David at the moment of decapitating the fallen Goliath, and he placed them on the two sides of the same canvas. Thinking about the painting/paintings made me consider writing about da Volterra this week, but ultimately it led me to another two-sided work that I found a mention of in the Louvre book. The curious thing about this two-sided painting, by Marco Marziale (active ca. 1492-1507), is that the two sides don’t appear in the Louvre book; there is only a reference in its title, Portrait of a Man, with an Allegorical Landscape on the Reverse (ca. 1500), to the fact that the canvas contains a second image. The image is not shown.
Although the reverse image does not appear on the Louvre book’s DVD, it was easy to find online; a reproduction is available on Wikipedia, for example. In addition, I eventually found it on the Louvre website; although the English language version of the website does not acknowledge the existence of Marco Marziale, the French language version does, and I found it there, along with some information about the painting on the reverse. This is what the Atlas Database comment says: “On ignore l’identité du modèle dont les armoiries figurent dans le paysage allégorique au revers du panneau. Il reste aujourd’hui très peu d’exemples de cette iconographie qui associe une allégorie complexe avec la représentation d’un blason.” Here’s my translation, along with my apologies: “The identity of the subject, whose coat of arts appears in an allegorical landscape on the reverse of the board, is unknown. The reverse image is one of very few examples of symbolism that associates a complex allegory with the representation of a coat of arms.”
The painting is an extraordinary combination of formal organization and rich diversity of pictorial elements. The coat of arms hangs on a small tree, in leaf, that is growing in an elaborate pot. The tree occupies the center of the painting, or very close to it, and the bilateral symmetry of the painting is emphasized by the positioning on either side of the tree and the coat of arts of a cherub, an angel pictured as a naked infant. This figure of an angel, which becomes a commonplace in Louvre paintings, has appeared very little in paintings previous to Marziale. The angelic companions of Virgin and Child in previous periods are depicted as sober-faced, fully dressed adult figures.
There are other elements that are presented symmetrically: a hoofed animal appears on both sides of the tree, in the middle ground of the painting, and in the foreground there are birds on both sides. But this formality is balanced with diversity, even in repeat elments. The birds and the hoofed animals on either side are of different sizes, and on the right side a large, graceful peacock appears, whereas on the left side there is a number of smaller birds. The landscape also contains a blend of repetition and variation. There are curving paths on either side of the tree, but their twists are not in parallel. The objects in the background are of roughly the same height, and a building on the left repeats very much the strong vertical of the mountain’s image that frames it from behind. But the background on the left is much more filled with details and objects than the righthand side, which is essentially an expanse of water beneath an expanse of sky.
I was curious about whether, if I were in the Louvre, I would be able to see the reverse. Was Marziale’s reverse, missing from the Louvre book, on display, or, perhaps, represented at least by a reproduction? I’m still not sure, although looking for the answer revealed a feature of the Louvre’s website I had not noticed before. Because of problems I had with the Louvre book’s DVD early in the project, I had given up finding online any information about how a particular painting is display in the Louvre. But after finding the Marziale Atlas Database entry, I tried clicking on the name of the room in which the painting is displayed, a piece of information always supplied with the painting, whether in Atlas or in the Louvre book, and what came up was a photo of the gallery, along with two other views. None of these views, unfortunately, answered my question, but I was delighted at seeing other paintings I recognized. I felt closer than I have before to having an experience away from the Louvre that nevertheless gives me a visual impression of a painting’s actual size. I look forward to adding this experience to my examinations in future.