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I've been in touch with the Rijksmuseum who tell me that the scene on the sarcophagus was inspired by an "Adoration of the Shepherds" that was attributed in the first half of the 17th c. to Raphael but now to Girolamo da Treviso. It is in Christ Church Picture Gallery, unfortunately their website seems to be down but I've found an engraving after it: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_image.aspx I've looked further and apparently there are four versions of the painting by Da Treviso; the one in Oxford, one in Dresden (can't find it there) and two more, whereabouts unknown. Vasari writes that Girolamo traveled to England to work as a military engineer for Henry VIII and that he also worked as a painter there. Girolamo was working as an engineer for Henry when killed by a cannon shot during the siege of Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1544. This is interesting in connection with our Ferguson painting as it puts him both in England and France. The print is engraved by Cornelis Bloemaert, son of the famous painter Abraham. who moved to Paris and settled in Rome before 1633 where he was pretty famous. In other words: I'm not so sure that the painting was the absolute source; perhaps the print was, which would have been far more widely accessible. But that's speculation.
As to the Flight into Egypt group, a thought: the "attendant" needn't belong to it, he might belong to the blind boy and girl, guiding them across the stream?
The whole symbolism in this painting seems garbled. The River God on top of the sarcophagus harks back to revered old times; Borromeo is the figurehead of the counter-reformation here, as such the images of the Roman river god and God the Father come together in this figure. At least that's what I assume the figure intends to convey but I could be wrong.
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Apr 10, 2012