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16th century, School of Fontainebleau
A fragment from an allegorical scene, Sotheby’s
Fontainebleau is a commune in France, famous for its historic palace and incredible forests, which played host to the French royals for centuries. The incredible palace (below) was a centre of artistic excellence during the 16th century, with figures such as Sebastiano Serlio, Rosso Fiorentino and Philibert de l’Orme working on the site.
The work of these artists and countless others is together known as the “School of Fontainebleau”–perhaps the most well-known example of this group is the painting below.
The style of this royal court school is instantly recognisable from its ornate, Mannerist appearance–think nudity, embellishment, riddles and symbolism–as well as the frequent references to the famous hunting forest. The art is playful (often borderline sexual), elegant and exaggerated.
The charming fragment of a larger work from Sotheby’s shows all these elements, as well as aspects of courtly life and the specific famous features of Fontainebleau (the forests, boar and deer).
Florentine School, circa 1480/90, The Angel Gabriel
Looks like it was originally a panel from a predella (long rectangular scene under an altarpiece: image below) depicting the annunciation, although it could also have been part of a similar composition in a different context, as part of an item of furniture (e.g. a cassone chest or a bed).
The annunciation is the story of the Angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary to tell her she would conceive the son of God. Such scenes typically depict an angel carrying lilies, appearing to Mary in a scene of imagined domestic life. Gabriel’s hand signals are highly symbolic and Mary is variously depicted in the different stages of the tale–as shocked, fearful, modest and accepting.
Other common symbolism includes the ray of light from heaven (the conception) and elements designed to invoke purity/virginity, e.g. reflections and clear glass bottles.
The artist is unknown (as with the vast majority of works from this period), although pupils of Fra Filippino Lippi have been mentioned (Raffaellino del Garbo). Below is an annunciation scene by Lippi, in the form of two tondi.
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Marie Antoinette (1938)