1486-1551 | Italian
Allegory of Fortune
Oil on panel
This impressive allegorical painting by the Sienese painter Domenico Beccafumi is among the precious few surviving examples of Renaissance secular paintings produced in Siena during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Generally painted in groups of three, these panel paintings usually depicted heroes or heroines from antiquity, as well as allegorical, literary and mythological figures with roots in Greco-Roman tradition. One such trio composed by Beccafumi consists of two paintings now at the National Gallery (London) and a third in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj (Rome). These were commissioned around 1517–1519 for the bedroom of Francesco di Camillo Petrucci in Siena. The present panel, which depicts the allegorical figure of Fortune, is similar in both style and composition to this trio, though it was likely painted several years earlier. It was almost certainly intended to form part of a trio; it is recorded at a sale in Florence in 1934, at which time it was sold with two panels of identical size and format. Only known to depict male figures, these two panels have sadly since been lost.
Considering that many of these secular works have disappeared over the centuries, the survival of this Beccafumi — and the fact that it remains in private hands — is all the more astounding. The panel depicts the allegorical figure of Fortune. Here, she is represented in typical fashion as a nude female figure balanced on a wheel (sometimes called the Rota Fortunae), her billowing drapery indicating that she is as changeable as the wind. The appearance of the Virgin and Child in the cloud at the upper right is an unusual addition to the iconography, perhaps pointing to how faith and fortune are intertwined.
Confirming the attribution of Allegory of Fortune to Beccafumi, the art historian Piero Torriti calls special attention to the similarity of the protagonist in the present work with several female figures in Beccafumi’s oeuvre: the Lucretia at Oberlin; the woman at the right of the Cerealia in the Martelli collection, Eve in the Descent into Limbo, and female figures in various frescoes by the artist. A particularly apposite comparison is found in a red chalk drawing in the collection of the Louvre (Paris), a study for one of the women in the Betrothal of the Virgin, a Beccafumi fresco in the Oratorio di San Bernardino in Siena. As Torriti has written, “the painting here under study can be directly attributed to the great Beccafumi and therefore its unexpected discovery represents an important contribution to the history of Sienese art of the sixteenth century.”
In addition to painting panels and frescoes for both secular and religious patrons, Domenico Beccafumi designed several compositions for the famous commesso, or inlaid, pavement of the Siena Cathedral. First contributing to the decorative floor in 1519, Beccafumi participated in the artistic project initiated nearly two centuries earlier, joining the ranks of renowned Sienese artists including Sassetta, Matteo di Giovanni, Neroccio de' Landi and Bernardino Pintoricchio. Notably, among the earlier designs of the Siena Cathedral pavement are the Allegorical Wheel of Fortune (Ruota della Fortuna), laid in 1372 and Allegory of the Mount of Knowledge, designed by Pintoricchio, which includes a wind-swept depiction of Fortune herself. She stands on a sphere and boat with a broken mast and holds in her hands a cornucopia and sail. As in the Beccafumi panel, a single cloth wraps around her nude body, ever blown by changing winds.
Canvas: 31 1/2" high x 19 1/4" wide
Frame: 39 1/4" high x 27 3/8" wide
Domenico Beccafumi, Milan, 1967, by D. Samminiatelli, p. 170
S. Spinelli Collection, Florence, 1928
Galleria Luigi Bellini, Florence, 1934
Dr. Giacomo Ancona, Florence, 1930s
thence by descent to Phyllis Ancona Green, widow of Mario Ancona, Los Angeles until 2012