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A beautifully framed Allegory of Chastity attributed to Giuseppe Porta
A beautifully framed Allegory of Chastity attributed to Giuseppe Porta - Paintings & Drawings Style Renaissance A beautifully framed Allegory of Chastity attributed to Giuseppe Porta - A beautifully framed Allegory of Chastity attributed to Giuseppe Porta - Renaissance Antiquités - A beautifully framed Allegory of Chastity attributed to Giuseppe Porta
Ref : 111790
22 000 €
Period :
<= 16th century
Provenance :
Italy, Netherlands
Medium :
Black stone and white highlights on faded blue paper (lined with laid paper)
Dimensions :
l. 5.04 inch X H. 6.1 inch
Paintings & Drawings  - A beautifully framed Allegory of Chastity attributed to Giuseppe Porta <= 16th century - A beautifully framed Allegory of Chastity attributed to Giuseppe Porta Renaissance - A beautifully framed Allegory of Chastity attributed to Giuseppe Porta
Stéphane Renard Fine Art

Old master paintings and drawings

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A beautifully framed Allegory of Chastity attributed to Giuseppe Porta

Provenance (of the drawing) :
Sir Peter Lely (1618 - 1680) - his mark lower right (Lugt 2092) - until its sale in April 1688, when our drawing was bought by William Gibson
William Gibson (1644 - 1702) from the inscription on the verso
Sir Lawrence Gowing (1918 -1991) - label on the original mounting board

Provenance (of the frame) :
Marquis Carlo Camillo Visconti Venosta (1879 - 1942) - from a stamped inscription on the verso of the frame
Cadres Lebrun

This magnificent drawing from the Venetian Renaissance intrigues us in many ways. It depicts an allegorical composition whose meaning partly escapes us: a veiled figure seated on a stone bench (which we have identified as Chastity), seems to be turning away from a woman's bust beside her, below which are two rabbits, a traditional allegory of fertility, but also sometimes of lust.

This drawing, executed on blue paper, undoubtedly belongs to the Venetian Renaissance. The inscriptions on the back of the old mounting board indicate the various attributions considered by its last owner, the British painter and art historian Sir Lawrence Gowing. We have retained the attribution to Giuseppe Porta proposed by art historian John Arthur Gere as the most relevant.

We were incredibly fortunate to find a hexagonal frame of a very similar format for this drawing, the upper corners of which were formerly cut (irregularly). This 17th-century Dutch frame comes from an aristocratic collection in Lombardy, and creates a kind of fascinating chase around this Venetian drawing, which arrived in England (or in Holland, the native country of Sir Peter Lely, its first known owner) around the middle of the 17th century...

1. Giuseppe Porta, an artistic itinerary from Rome to Venice

Born in Tuscany, near Lucca, Giuseppe Porta began his apprenticeship in Rome around 1535 with another Florentine, Francesco Salviati, whose name he adopted in 1551. He accompanied his master to Venice in 1539 to help him decorate the Grimani Palace, and remained in Venice when Salviati left for Rome.

In Venice, he took up wood engraving and helped illustrate books. This engraving activity is one reason leading us to attribute our drawing to this artist, as the way in which the shadows are marked by parallel, sometimes crossed, strokes is very typical of the technique of a painter-engraver.

After spending time in Florence (where he met Vasari) and Bologna, he settled in Padua between 1541 and 1552, where he completed the cycle of the life of Saint John the Baptist in the Palazzo Selvatico. On his return to Venice, he worked alongside the leading Venetian artists of his time on the major decoration projects for the Doge's Palace and the Marciana Library.

2. Related artworks

The main figure in this allegory may have been inspired (with variations in the position of the arms and legs) by the Virgin Mary depicted in by Giovanni Battista Franco’s (1510 - 1565) print entitled "The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist", a preparatory drawing of which (circa 1535) is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (6th photo in the gallery).

This proximity may explain the former attribution of this drawing to Franco, which is no longer accepted today by the specialists we contacted. On the other hand, it is entirely plausible that Giuseppe Porta saw this drawing (or the print made from it) during his visit to the engraving workshops after his arrival in Venice in 1539.

It is interesting to compare this drawing with two others in the Musée du Louvre (last two photos of the gallery). The first, of a similar format (16.1 x 11.2 cm), depicts an allegory of Temperance and was also executed on blue paper; the second, from the Jabach collection, depicts the Virgin and Child and bears witness to the long-standing interest of European collectors in this artist's drawings.

3. A long line of prestigious English provenances

The first documented owner of this drawing was the English painter Sir Peter Lely (1618 - 1680), whose mark was affixed to the lower right of our drawing by Roger North, one of his executors (Lugt 2092).
Peter Lely, "Principal Painter" to Charles II, was a successful portrait painter and art collector of great renown. Before moving to England in the early 1640s, he was a member of St. Luke's Guild in Haarlem, where he trained with Frans Pieter de Grebber. Once in England, he continued to paint landscapes with small figures, before specializing in portraiture. With the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, he became one of the legitimate candidates for the title of court painter, a position previously held by Anthony van Dyck. In the years that followed, and until his death, Lely held a virtual monopoly on fashionable court portraits.

We do not know when Lely began his collection, and it is possible that he was still living in Holland at the time. Lely is likely to have profited from the multiple sales of confiscated English royalist property organized in the 1650s. At the time of his death in November 1680, his collection of paintings comprised over 570 pieces: just over half were by him or his large studio, and the other half included works by Dutch and Flemish artists such as Rubens and Van Dyck, as well as Italian masters of the XVIe century such as Veronese, Tintoretto and the Bassanos, and a few works by French and Spanish masters.
Alongside his collection of paintings, Lely built up a remarkable collection of prints and drawings, which he considered 'the best in Europe'. As with his paintings, Lely's executors organized sales to clear his debts. No catalog of the 1688 and 1694 sales appears to have been printed, but the mark consisting of the letters P.L (separated by a dot) gives an idea of the variety and quality of the works on paper in this collection.

The sale of his collection of paintings and drawings took place after his death, at his former home in Covent Garden, in April 1688. The result of this sale was £6,000, which was used to cover part of his debts. A collection of drawings bearing the P.L mark reveals a significant number by Italian artists of the 16th century, including Parmigianino, Correggio, Raphael, Perino del Vaga and the brothers Frederigo and Taddeo Zuccaro. The mark appears on 17th century landscape and figure drawings by Annibale and Lodovico Caracci, as well as on a small number of drawings by Claude.

The inscription in brown ink on the reverse "Primaticcio 3.3" reveals the identity of the drawing's next owner: William Gibson (1644-1702), the painter and dealer in drawings who also worked in Sir Peter Lely's studio. It is likely that he bought this drawing (along with others), at Lely's 1688 sale, where it was presumably catalogued as Primaticcio.
The price indications, which according to Richardson Jr's annotations had been affixed for the use of Gibson's widow, were described by Richardson Sr as follows : "[...]we see the Master's name, written in his hand, with two figures, which marked the price he estimated for them. The second of these numbers was always 1, 2, 3 or 4, of which the number 1 meant a Chelin [shilling], the number 2, a Penny [half a crown or 2 ½ shillings], the number 3, a Crown or 5 shillings, the number 4, a Sterling Pound [20 shillings], and the first figure, which he put before it denoted the quantity. For example: 2.1, meant two Chelins; 1.2, one Penny; 3.3, three Crowns; 3.4, three Sterling Pounds, and 10.4, ten Sterling Pounds." This inscription gives us an idea of the high value (three Crowns) given to this design by William Gibson at the end of the 17th century...

The British Museum and the Royal Collection at Windsor hold the largest number of drawings from the Gibson collection. The British Museum has 32 and the Royal Collection at least 51. The latter probably has an even greater number, since many of the sheets in the collection are fully glued, and it is not always possible to check the verso, which may or may not validate the price tag. In the case of the British Museum, on the other hand, the code was sometimes found on the reverse of an old mount (inv. SL,5236.99 as School of Agostino Carracci) or on the reverse of an old lining now deposited (inv. 1952,0121.80 as Polidoro da Caravaggio).

The drawings that passed through Gibson's hands are almost all Italian, and most date from the 16th century. Finally, it is worth mentioning that many drawings from the Gibson collection have the top corners cut off (at least 14 leaves from the Royal Collection), like the one we are presenting here, which must have corresponded to a practice possibly representative of one or even several English collectors of the period.

As for the dispersal of Gibson's collection (or stock), we have already quoted Jonathan Richardson Jr. who states that after William Gibson's death, the Duke of Devonshire and Jonathan Richardson Sr. and Jr. were able to purchase many drawings directly from his widow. Note that there was also an after-death sale on March 9, 1704, held in his former home, "the lowermost Great House in the Arched-Row in Lincolns-Inn-Fields".

The third provenance plunges us into the world of twentieth-century English art historians: the last collector to own this drawing, Professor Sir Lawrence Gowing (1918 -1991), was first recognized as a portrait and landscape painter. Self-taught in art history, he went on to make a name for himself as an art educator, writer and, eventually, curator and museum administrator. He has been described as a leading member of the "English establishment".

An inscription on the backboard of the original mount evokes the scholarly atmosphere and curiosity that characterized his relationship with works of art:
Popham (from the grave)
Pouncey (after a rethink) and
Gere (upside down) now
agree that this drawing
is by Battista Franco

This inscription complements other attributions: Salviati (the oldest inscription at top right); Parmesan School; Giambattista Zelotti (RBH, an art historian whose initials we have not identified); Giuseppe Porta called Salviati (JAG, probably John Arthur Gere).

This latter attribution seems to us the most relevant, given the stylistic proximity of our drawing to other artworks by the artist. Also noteworthy is the use of blue paper (although now faded). The use of this paper had been discovered by Francesco Salviati during his visit to Venice around 1540 and his pupil Giuseppe Porta used it on many occasions, as shown by the drawing from the Louvre Museum reproduced above.

We were fortunate enough to find an exceptional 17th-century Dutch ebony veneer frame for this drawing, which is also hexagonal and perfectly sized. A stamped inscription on the back of the frame indicates that it came from the collection of Marquis Carlo Camillo Visconti Venosta (1879 - 1942), a member of this prominent Italian family from Lombardy.

Main bibliographical references :
Mattia Biffis - Salviati a Venezia - Un artista immigrato nell'Italia del Cinquecento - Artemide 2021 (on Peter Lely brands) (on the William Gibson collection)
Edina Adam & Michelle Sullivan - Drawing on Blue - J. Paul Getty Museum 2024

Delevery information :

The prices indicated are the prices for purchases at the gallery.

Depending on the price of the object, its size and the location of the buyer we are able to offer the best transport solution which will be invoiced separately and carried out under the buyer's responsibility.

Stéphane Renard Fine Art


Drawing & Watercolor Renaissance