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The Four Seasons - Winter
(Jacopo Vignali)

Description

JACOPO VIGNALI
Winter
Oil on canvas, with Tuscan gilded cavetto frame
160 x 220 cm. (63 x 86.5 in.)
Winter is seated upon a draped, lion-clawed stool in front of an imposing marble
fireplace. The folds of his aged, melancholy face are bordered by his fur-trimmed hat,
and his soft grey beard. His thick woollen cloak, and gathered trousers are remarkable
similar to those worn by Aeolus in Maarten de Vos’s composition and both costumes
possibly derive from the statues of conquered Dacians incorporated into the Arch of
Constantine. Morosely warming his hands by the fire, Winter is attended by three
youths and two little boys, and as a warmly wrapped old man is the standard Ripean
personification of the season. However, Vignali depicts him not only as an allegorical
figure, but also as the main character in a gentle drama about age and desire which is
analogous with the season.
Again, possibly borrowing from Salviati’s design for L’Inverno, Vignali split his
composition in two, allowing himself to illustrate the season as both an allegory and a
genre scene. Instead of classical architecture however, Vignali employed a curtain
drawn in the background by a curious servant (a device he used as early the 1620s in
the Casa Buonarroti frescoes).105 The snowy street scene thus revealed is
distinguished by a Doric colonnade, which is nearly identical to the one in Salviati’s
design. Amongst the steps and columns, Vignali painted a lively scene of youths and
maidens dressed in comparatively light garments, gathering snow and pelting each
103 Pagliarulo, op. cit., p. 186.
104 M. Gregori, ‘Linea della natura morta fiorentina’, in Il Seicento Fiorentino: Arte a Firenze da
Ferdinando I a Cosimo III, exhib. cat., Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, 1987, vol. I, pp. 48-49, no. 20, illus.
105 Mastropierro, ibid, pp. 44-41, no. 5.
other with snowballs, in direct contrast to the snug gloom of Winter’s sumptuous, if
crowded interior.
Winter turns from the fire, to see a youth approaching him, who doffs his widebrimmed
straw hat and offers a small brace of partridges. At Winter’s feet in the left
foreground, a small boy sprawls tenderly stroking a cat, whose flattened ears belie its
true desire: the freshly killed game being plucked just inches away by a small, curlyhaired
boy wearing a brilliant blue smock. Arranged around this little boy is a
wonderfully detailed still life of game and winter vegetables, including a hare, another
pheasant, two large white turnips and a cauliflower. The room’s sole light source
appears to be the glow from the fireplace and Vignali uses this strong lateral light to
model the cold marble forms of the fireplace herms, whose faces mirror that of the old
man. Any additional light in Winter is that painted as reflecting off the shimmering
snow in the background. Vignali’s juxtaposition of the glowing sculptures in the left
foreground with the snow-rimmed capitals, pediment and balustrade of the colonnade
in the background, gives his composition cohesion, while also complementing his two
very different treatments of classical motif.

Winter is arguably the only picture in the Matthiesen Four Seasons in which part of
the still life may have been meant to carry some narrative or moral symbolism. Winter
is surrounded by his young servants, and looks directly at the boy offering him
partridges. If read in context of the other boys’ actions – the stroking of the cat,
plucking of feathers, stoking the fire, the snowball fight – the old man’s gaze turned
upon the boy could be interpreted as nostalgia for his youth and vitality. Alternatively,
if Vignali deliberately included the partridges to carry moral symbolism, Winter’s
introverted gaze could express the bitter comfort material wealth affords an old man
who has squandered his soul in its pursuit.106 Moreover, because Vignali contrasted
the silvery ludic scene of the background with the tightly arranged stasis of the
foreground, by revealing it with a drawn curtain – a flimsy barrier for so obviously
architectural a space – it is tempting to interpret the background scene to illustrate the
old man’s memory of winter, rather than its reality.
Vignali’s approach to architecture and the play of light upon the buildings, is
somewhat similar to works by Filippo Napoletano, whose paintings Vignali may have
seen in the Medici collections, possibly even Napoletano’s series of the Four Seasons,
which are now in Poggio a Caiano.107 The background figures, particularly the girls,
are arranged in poses which are very typical of Furini, an artist whose work both
Vignali and Lippi particularly admired.108 Furini’s paintings of The Three Graces (c.
1633), and The death of Rachel in Childbirth (1632), were possibly both in the
collection of Don Lorenzo de’Medici by 1632, and may have inspired some of the
poses in Vignali’s background.109 The crouching figures are possibly borrowed from
106 ‘Just as the partridge lays eggs and hatches young birds, who will never follow it, so the impious
man possesses wealth to which he is not entitled and which he must leave behind when he is least
inclined.’ See J. Labourt, Les Lettres de Saint Jerome, Tom. III, Paris, 1951, p. 290.
107M. Chiarini, Artisti alla corte granducale, Florence 1969, exhib. cat., pp. 24-25, figs 23-26; and L.
Salerno, I Pittori di Vedute in Italia (1580-1830), Rome 1991, pp. 32-34.
108 G. Pagliarulo, ‘Dipinti Fiorentini dl Seicento per la Compagnia si San Paolo di Notte’, in Paragone,
no. 471, 1989, p. 61.
109 M. Gregori and R. Maffeis, Un’Altra Bellezza, Francesco Furini, Florence, Palazzo Pitti, 2007-
2008, pp. 182-187, cat. nos. 16 and 17, illus.
the Marsyas group, which Vignali could have studied during his youthful period in
Rome, or even in Florence.110
Winter’s face, with its palpable expression of the decline, is quite similar (albeit in
reverse) to that of Rosselli’s Saint Luke (fig.xxx) in the Cappella Usimbardi in Santa
Trinita (c. 1628).111 However, this particular grey-bearded type also appears in
Vignali’s aforementioned altarpiece in Arezzo, the Assumption of the Virgin with
Saints Gregory, Stephen, Agnes and Filippo Benezzi (c. 1635) in the Church of SS.
Annunziata, in the frescoes in the Casa Buonarroti (1621-1628), and in the very
Cigolesque Saint Sylvester baptising Constantine (1624) in the Palatina.112 Other
Cigolesque details are Vignali’s use of draperies (Winter’s red cloak, the drawn
curtain) as unifying elements between the fore, middle, and backgrounds, and the
placement of the boy’s upturned, shod foot at left to the very edge of the canvas,
which extends the scene beyond the picture plane.
The children are typical of Vignali’s plump cheeked, bushy haired child figures,
particularly the boy in the blue smock The youth with the partridges stands in the
same pose as the figure cutting ice, or ice-fishing in Vignali’s Winter tapestry.
Moreover, the pose of the boy stroking the cat is repeated by a putto in the strapwork
border of the same tapestry. As the borders for this series may have been designed by
Lippi, this could explain why this particular figure appears closer in style to Lippi
than Vignali.
The cat, game and vegetables in the foreground are painted in tiny dry brushstrokes
that articulate every feather and whisker, and the turnips and cauliflower appear to
have been painted in the most tangible way possible. Each root and floret is captured
with a refulgence which amusingly recall the arrangements of elaborately wrought
metalwork often featured in narrative pictures of the period, such as Furini’s The
death of Rachel in childbirth.113 Alternatively, the possibility that these still lifes were
painted by another hand, such as the aforementioned anonymous still-life painter
associated with Vignali’s studio, or even possibly Giovanni Martinelli, should be also
considered.

Measurements
160 x 220 cm. (63 x 86.5 in.)
Type
Oil on canvas
Provenance

Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Delano, “Steen Valetje”, Barrytown, New
York;
Sold from the estate of Mrs. Lyman Delano, at “Steen Valetje”: O. Rundle
Gilbert, 31 May – 3 June, 1967, where acquired by;
Ira Spanierman, New York
Gianelli Collection, Stabio, Switzerland
With Bruno Scardeoni, Lugano, by 1981
Private collection, Switzerland

Where is It?
Acquired through The Matthiesen Gallery by a private client
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Subject
Allegory
School
Italian - Tuscan
Catalogue
Price band
Sold or not available