- Museum number
A River God, a nymph seated with two dogs, and a nymph standing in the background
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash, heightened with white, on light brown prepared paper, squared for transfer
- Production date
Height: 240 millimetres
Width: 353 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- To rebuild and decorate a ruined medieval castle in the forest of Fontainebleau as his primary residence and the centre of court life, the French king François I sought the services of leading Italian artists. With the arrival of Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540) in 1530 and Primaticcio in 1532, an international team of Italian, Flemish and French artists and craftsmen was assembled to execute a series of decorative ensembles. In this collaborative milieu a distinctive style, referred to as the School of Fontainebleau, was forged that set elegant Mannerist compositions within rich and dense compartmentalized schemes of high stucco relief and painted ornament, harnessing a classical vocabulary to a playful and erotic sensibility.
Primaticcio was born in Bologna and worked with Giulio Romano (?1499-1546) on the decoration of the Palazzo del Tè in Mantua, but spent his entire mature career in France working for a succession of French kings on various projects for the Château de Fontainebleau. While very few of these interiors survive, the innovative designs that influenced a generation of artists are recorded to some degree in the large body of extant drawings and reproductive prints. One of the most spectacular spaces must have been the Appartements des Bains on the ground floor below the Galerie François I, a series of richly decorated rooms devoted to bathing and relaxation, in which were displayed masterpieces from the royal collection, such as Leonardo da Vinci's 'Virgin of the Rocks' (1483-6) and Andrea del Sarto's 'Charity' (1518; both Louvre, Paris).
From descriptions it is known that the fifth room contained a small pool and was decorated with scenes from the story of Jupiter and Callisto.(n.1) The British Museum drawing was the design for the right half of a lunette depicting Diana banishing Callisto after discovering her pregnancy.(n.2) A study for the left half of the lunette is in the Louvre, Paris (fig.1).(n.3) The compositions of the two drawings overlap somewhat, whereby the seated nymph to the right in the Paris sheet is summarily repeated on the left of the London sheet. In a typical Mannerist inversion the central figure of the narrative, the outcast Callisto, is relegated to the background. Primaticcio's attention is focused on the figure of the river god anchoring the right corner of the lunette. Aged and muscular, he is embedded, almost imprisoned, in the rocky grotto that surrounds him, analogous to the figures of the grotto of the Jardins des Pins at Fontainebleau, a portion of whose façade survives today with rusticated atlantes supporting stone arches.(n.4)
Text by P. Stein, 2005 as cited below.
Fig.1 FRANCESCO PRIMATICCIO, 'Diana and her Nymphs at the Bath', pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, heightened with white gouache on beige paper, squared in black chalk, 214 x 345 mm, Musée du Louvre, Paris (inv. 8521).
1 The most recent discussion of the Appartements des Bains is in Paris, 2004, pp.186-92 (essay by D. Cordelier).
2 The precise moment in the story was identified by C. Eschenfelder in 1993 (pp.46-7). Before that, the episode had been described as the more conventional 'Diana Discovering the Pregnancy of Callisto'.
3 The two sheets were connected by Louis Dimier in 1900 (pp.455-6), although the British Museum drawing had already been referred to as 'A Portion of the bath of Diana' in 1860, in the catalogue of the Woodburn sale of drawings from the collection of Thomas Lawrence; Christie, Manson, & Woods, London, 6 June 1860, lot 644, p.47.
4 See Paris, 2004, pp.215-19.
Lit.: J.C. Robinson, 'Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq', London, 1876, no. 235; L. Dimier, 'Le Primatice', Paris, 1900, no. 164, pp. 455-6; C. Eschenfelder, `Les Bains de Fontainebleau : nouveaux documents sur les décors du Primatice`, `Revue de L`Art`, no.99, 1993, no.1, pp.45-52; P. Stein, in exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art and London, BM, 'French Drawings from Clouet to Seurat', 2005, no.3 (with further literature).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2004-2005, Sep-Jan, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 'Primatice, Maître de Fontainebleau, 1504-1570'
2005-2006 Nov-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, Clouet to Seurat/BM
2006 June-Oct, BM, Clouet to Seurat/BM
2018, March-May, BM, G90a, 'Fontainebleau School'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number