17th century oil on canvas painting depicting Vertumnus in the form of an elderly woman, allegory of winter. High quality work by an artist of the generation of Ottmar Elliger the Younger (1666-1735).
A recent cleaning of this work allowed us to discover what seems to be the corner of a red cape at the bottom right corner. This leads us to believe that at some time in its past this portion of canvas might have been salvaged from a larger painting, the lost portion perhaps corresponding to the representation of Pomona, goddess of fruit trees, gardens and orchards in Roman mythology.
The representation of the two characters together was very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries.
A wax seal on the back of the canvas bears the coat of arms of the town of Lisieux (Normandy).
Vertumnus, whose name means "to turn, to change", was most likely a king of Etruria who, because of the care which he had taken of his fruit orchard and gardens, became a divinity after his death. What is certain is that his cult passed from the Etruscans to Rome where he was considered the god of gardens and orchards. His attributions differed from those of Priapus: he especially watched over the fertility of the earth, the germination of plants, their flowering and the ripening of fruits.He had the privilege of being able to change form at will like Proteus, and he used this ability to make himself loved by the nymph Pomona, whom he chose for his wife. This happy and immortal couple aged and rejuvenated periodically without ever dying. Vertumnus gave her faith to the nymph and dedicates her inviolable fidelity.
In this fable the allegory is transparent; it clearly represents the year cycle and the uninterrupted succession of seasons. Ovid seems to support this conception of Vertumnus, since he says that this god successively assumed the figure of a plowman, a reaper, a wine grower, finally an old woman, thus designating spring, summer, fall and winter.
Source: Benezit,Dictionary of Artists; Enciclopaedia Britannica (1911) ; Pierre Commelin, Mythologie grecque et romaine, Ed. Dunod,1999.
17th Century French school 'Vertumnus: Allegory of Winter' oil on canvas
Additional InformationArtist: Unknown (unsigned).Medium: Oil on canvas.Condition: Very good condition, recent cleaning.Dimensions : 65 x 51 cm. / 25 ½ x 24 in.Frame: 79 x 64 cm. / 31 x 25 1/4 in. Gilt wood, very good condition.Origin: France.
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