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Painting Title King Dawit II of Ethiopia
Collection Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Artist Italian (North Italian) School
Date Earliest possibly about 1590
Date Latest possibly about 1610
Description This is one of a series of small portraits of illustrious men and women dating from around 1600 which belonged to the Liverpool collector William Roscoe (1753-1831), author of The Life of Lorenzo de' Medici (1796) and The Life and Pontificate of Leo the Tenth (1805). Collections of portraits of historical and contemporary celebrities became widespread during the Italian Renaissance, and Roscoe's portraits reflect his interest in the history of this period. Dawit II (1497-1540), Christian king of Ethiopia, fought against the Muslim invasion of his country.
Current Accession Number WAG 3284
Inscription front lc 'DAVID MAX. ABISSINVS. AETIOPV REX'
Subject portrait (King Dawit II of Ethiopia)
Measurements 22.8 x 16.8 cm
Material oil on panel (hardwood {walnut})
Acquisition Details Bequeathed by Mrs A. M. Roscoe 1950
Provenance Scuola of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary, attached to the Church of SS. Filippo and Giacomo, Venice; Gustavus Brander sale Christie's 11-12 December 1789, part of lot 22; William Roscoe by 9 July 1820; by descent to Mrs A. M. Roscoe.
Principal Exhibitions Third Exhibition of Objects Illustrative of the Fine Arts, etc., Liverpool Mechanics' Institution, 1844.
Publications Roscoe, H., The Life of William Roscoe, London, 1833, vol. 2, p. 379; Fastnedge, R., and Donaldson, A. F., 'A Note on an Early Portrait of Politian', Liverpool Bulletin, vol. 3, nos. 1 and 2, 1953, pp. 4-14; Compton, M., Walker Art Gallery: Foreign Schools Catalogue (Text), Liverpool, 1963, pp. 132-133, p. 137; Morris, E., and Hopkinson, M., Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool: Foreign Catalogue, 2 vols, Liverpool, 1977, pp. 150-152, p. 155 (Text), p. 199 (Plates); Klinger, L. S., The Portrait Collection of Paolo Giovio, Princeton, 1991, vol. 2, pp. 63-64; Guzzo, E. M., 'Per la Storia del Collezionismo a Verona: Nuovi Documenti sulle Quadrerie India, Giusti, Muselli, Canossa e Gherardini', Studi Storici Luigi Simeoni, no. 54, 2004, pp. 393-401; Bertelli, P., Un Ritratto Ritrovato di Ferrante Gonzaga, e la serie degli Uomini Illustri della Scuola della Beata Vergine del Rosario di Venezia, Mantua, 2013.
Notes

Inscribed on back 'No. 58'. This is one of a group of thirty-nine small portraits in the Walker Art Gallery (WAG 3276-WAG 3314) representing famous men and women, mostly of the Italian Renaissance. They were in the possession of the Liverpool historian and collector William Roscoe by 1820, when an inventory of his household furniture was taken (Liverpool Record Office, Roscoe papers, 920 ROS/3906; the inventory records forty portraits, so one of the group has since disappeared). When they were lent to an exhibition at the Liverpool Mechanics' Institution in 1844 (lent by Mrs W. S. Roscoe and hung alongside cat. no. 32 in room 3, Portrait of Roscoe), the catalogue stated that they had been presented to Roscoe by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, but there is no evidence to corroborate this. More reliably, wax seals on the backs show that before Roscoe owned them, most of the portraits had belonged to the merchant, naturalist and antiquarian Gustavus Brander (1720-1787), and before him to the Scuola of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary at the church of SS. Filippo and Giacomo, Venice. It is not known when they left the Scuola, nor if Brander acquired them directly from there, nor who owned them between Brander and Roscoe. Christie's catalogue of the sale of Brander's collection, 11-12 December 1789, states that it contained forty-three of these portraits (sold together as lot 22), so clearly not all of them ended up with Roscoe; and a small number of Roscoe's portraits do not appear to have come from Brander's collection. Thirty of them are inscribed 'No. 58' in ink on the back of the panel; three are inscribed 'No. 185'. They vary in quality and appear to be the work of a number of different hands.

Fastnedge & Donaldson (1953), followed by Compton (1963) and Morris & Hopkinson (1977), stated that most of the portraits were copied from the large collection of portraits of famous men formed by Paolo Giovio (1483-1552) in his villa at Como. Roscoe's son believed they had actually belonged to Giovio (Roscoe, 1833). Giovio's collection has been dispersed and is not fully recorded, but a number of groups of copies are known: those made by Cristofano dell'Altissimo for Duke Cosimo de Medici are now in the Uffizi, Florence; watercolour copies painted for the Archduke Ferdinand are now in the Munzkabinett at Vienna (see Kenner, F., ‘Die Porträtsammlung des Erzherzogs Ferdinand von Tirol', Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, vol. 14, 1893, pp. 37 ff.; vol. 15, 1894, pp. 147 ff.; vol. 17, 1896, pp. 101 ff.; vol. 18, 1897, pp. 135 ff.); copies drawn by Tobias Stimmer were used for the wood engravings which illustrate the edition of Giovio's Elogia virorum literis illustrium published in Basle in two volumes in 1575 and 1577, and Theobald Muller's book on Giovio's collection published in Basle in 1577; Bernardino Campi made a set of copies, now lost, for Donna Ippolita Gonzaga at the same time as the Altissimo set; Cardinal Federico Borromeo commissioned another set about 1619, which survives in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan; some copies of jurists were executed for the Marquis of Mantua; and an inventory of 1598 records another lost set. However, Linda S. Klinger (letter, 12 January 1984) pointed out that the Liverpool portraits may not have been based directly on Giovio's collection, but may have been copied at second or third hand using one of the sets of copies already in existence; she also noted that "very few of the (Liverpool) paintings actually are like Giovio's." In fact, the Liverpool portraits include sixteen subjects not listed by Klinger as having been represented in Giovio's collection (L. S. Klinger, The Portrait Collection of Paolo Giovio, vol. 2, Princeton, 1991). Guzzo (2004) linked the Liverpool paintings with a group of four portraits of the same size and format at the Pinacoteca Comunale in Ravenna (QA0167, QA0180, QA0185 and QA0201), and he suggested that the Liverpool and Ravenna portraits might have been copied from examples in the portrait collection assembled – and mostly painted – by the artist Bernardino India at Verona (WAG 3290, showing Marcantonio Flaminio, was certainly based on a prototype owned by India). Bertelli (2013) drew attention to a further group of twelve similar portraits at the Museo Correr in Venice (nos. 0711-0722), and to other individual examples on the art market and in private collections, which might originally have formed part of the same series as WAG 3276-WAG 3314; among these was a portrait of Ferante Gonzaga bearing the seal of the Scuola of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary and inscribed on the back with the name 'India' (in 2013 it was with Gallerie Antiquarie Falcinella, Mantua).

At some stage the inscriptions on the fronts of the Liverpool portraits have been standardised. Traces of earlier and larger inscriptions, or tablets for inscriptions, can be seen in a number of cases.

According to Linda Klinger (letter, 6 February 1984), the portrait of King David II owned by Giovio was in a private collection in Como in 1984. Like the woodcut in the Basle edition of the Elogia, it showed the king holding a golden cross, which he presented to Pope Clement VII in 1524. On the back of WAG 3284 there are wax seals of the Scuola of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary in Venice, and of Gustavus Brander.

Rights Owner National Museums Liverpool (Walker Art Gallery)
Author Joseph Sharples
 

 

 

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