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May (Gemini)
Bassano, Francesco
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Bassano, Francesco

Bassano del Grappa, Veneto (Italy), 1549 - Venice (Italy), 1592

See author's file

May (Gemini)

s XVI - XVII century. Oil on canvas. On display elsewhere

Although there is no extant set of the twelve months of the year painted by Jacopo, it is possible that he invented this series. Certainly, the inventory taken in Bassano del Grappa following his death in 1592 mentions sketches of the twelve months from January to December (two different versions of some, such as May and June), and a further seven of unspecified months. In 1648, Ridolfi referred to a series painted by Jacopo for Emperor Rudolf II, which pleased the ruler so much that he offered the painter the post of court painter. It seems that we may deduce from Ridolfi that the series must have been executed in the mid-1580s, and it has been identified as possibly a set housed partly in Prague (Castle Gallery) and partly in Vienna (Kuntshistorisches Museum), which is signed by Leandro. Leandro´s months, in which Ballarin notes the influence of Paolo Fiammingo, include the relevant signs of the zodiac and, like the Seasons and Elements, are depicted by means of everyday scenes characteristic of the various times of the year. The Months are, in fact, merely an extension of the Seasons, as they borrow many elements from the latter. There were also notable precedents by Northern European artists.

The Prado series of months/signs of the zodiac, unknown to specialists, is signed by Francesco and displays the same conservation problems as Leandro´s (indeed, only seven of the original canvases remain). Nevertheless, it provides valuable information regarding the origin of the project, as it shows that several months from both series, such as May/Gemini and October/Scorpio, are derived from a common source, probably the sketches recorded in the inventory of the bottega after Jacopo´s death.

There is documentary evidence that these paintings arrived at the Spanish court in 1591 among the diplomatic gifts sent periodically by Ferdinando de Medici. It is more difficult to trace how they came into the hands of Ferdinando, who had collected Francesco Bassano´s oeuvre since he was a cardinal and owned several works by the artist at the Villa Medici in Rome. We also know that, through agents in Venice such as Bishop Annibale Rucellai, he was aware of the developments relating to the Bassanos and of Philip II´s interest in them. Furthermore, Francesco enjoyed a reputation in Florence even before he visited the city in the company of Carletto Veronese shortly before 1587. On 25 May 1581, he wrote a letter to the Florentine patrician Nicole Gaddi (1537-1591) which has captured the interest of specialists since early times, as he stated that his father non disegna piu, ne pue operar molto con gli penelli si per la vista, come anco per esser di molti anni. Less attention has been paid to the following paragraph, in which he informed Gaddi that he was sending dodici Mesi dell’anno to adorn the patrician´s palace, good-sized canvases with large figures para mostrar l’arte a modo mio. The significance of this reference is considerable, for Gaddi was one of the most important 16th century Florentine collectors and also acted as an artistic intermediary between Francesco and Ferdinando de Medici. Bearing in mind these credentials, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that Ferdinando could have obtained the twelve months from Gaddi. Indeed, three facts would bear out this assumption: the Prado version is the only set done by Francesco Bassano; the canvases are of a considerable size (approximately 150 x 245 cm) and thus match the description given by Francesco in his letter; and, more importantly, they were not listed in the inventory taken of Gaddi´s paintings after his death in 1591. Since Gaddi had parted with the months before that date, which is precisely the year they arrived in Spain, it is reasonable to think he could have sold them to Ferdinando de Medici.

The vicissitudes they experienced before arriving at the Prado, which caused their number to dwindle to seven, and their dispersion at the end of the 19th century explain the differences in format and state of conservation. For example, Scorpio has been trimmed at the top, whereas Capricorn has a ten cm. addition along the left margin (Text drawn from Falomir, M.: Los Bassano en la España del Siglo de Oro, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2001, pp. 236-238).

Technical data

Related artworks

December (Capricorn)
Oil on canvas, s XVI - XVII century
Inventory number
Bassano, Francesco
May (Gemini)
s XVI - XVII century
Height: 152 cm.; Width: 245 cm.
Royal Collection (Palacio del Buen Retiro, 1794, nº 555).

Bibliography +

Florit, J. M., Inventario de los cuadros y otros objetos de Arte de la quinta real llamada 'La Ribera' en Valladolid, Boletín de la Sociedad Española de Excursiones, XIV, 1906, pp. 153-160 [156, 158].

Inventarios reales: testamentaria del Rey Carlos II : 1701-1, II, Museo del PradoPatronato Nacional de Museos, Madrid, 1975-1985, pp. 319, n. 519.

Espinós, A.; Orihuela, M.; Royo Villanova, M., ''El Prado disperso''. Cuadros depositados en Madrid. IV. Universidad Complutense. Facultad de Ciencias Físicas, Boletín del Museo del Prado, II, 1981, pp. 66-67.

Barghahn, Barbara Von, Philip IV and the Golden House of the Buen Retiro in the Tradition of Caesar, I-II, Garland PublishingInc., New York-London, 1986, pp. 320,323-324,361;il.1182,1191.

Fernández Miranda y Lozana, Fernando, Inventarios Reales Carlos III 1789-1790, I, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1988, pp. 299, n. 555.

Pérez Sánchez, A. E., Patrimonio artístico de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Universidad Complutense, Madrid, 1989, pp. 26-27, 406-407.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. 662,663,664,666,667,669,670.

Schroth, S., The private picture collection of the Duke of Lerma. Tesis Doctoral, University of New York, New York, 1990, pp. 163-164, 202, 224, 271.

Nodari, F., Disegni di Francesco Bassano, Paragone, 535-7, 1994, pp. 48-80 [66-67, il. 50].

Checa Cremades, Fernando, Tiziano y la monarquía hispánica: usos y funciones de la pintura veneciana en España (siglos XVI y XVII), Nerea, Madrid, 1994, pp. 299-300, n. 132.

Goldberg, E. L., Artistic relations between the Medici and the Spanish courts, 1587-1621, The Burlington Magazine, 138, 1996, pp. 529-540 [535-536].

Museo Nacional del Prado, Los Bassano en la España del Siglo de Oro, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2001, pp. 125-133.

Pérez de Tudela, A., La decoración pictórica del Alcázar de Madrid durante el reinado de Felipe II. En: El legado de Borgoña. Fiesta y ceremonia cortesana en la Europa de los Austrias (1454-1648), Fundación Carlos de Amberes, Madrid, 2010, pp. 109-141.

Ruíz Manero, J. M., Los Bassano en España, Fundación Universitaria Española, Madrid, 2011, pp. 141-147, n.2Fd ; 497, il. XXI.

Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Buen Retiro, 1794. Núm. 555.
Otra [pintura], Copia de Basan, con la Estacion del Inbierno, de vara y tres qtªs. de alto y tres menos quatro dedos de ancho, marco viejo...700

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 2528.
Bassano. / 2528. Germinis. / Alto 5 pies, 5 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 8 pies, 9 pulg.

Inscriptions +

Signed. Front, left side


There are no temporary exhibitions related to this work

Location +

Madrid - Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Deposit)

Update date: 16-01-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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