‘The Triumph of Chastity’, Christie's Old Masters

Alternately referred to as The Domestication of Cupid, Sleeping Cupid and Nymphs, and Love Disarmed, the subject represented most likely relates to a lost painting by Francesco Primaticcio or an artist in his circle at Fontainebleau. Indeed, the elongated figures with relatively small heads and dainty extremities, palette and subject matter all correspond to works that were created in France for Francis I to decorate his hunting lodge at Fontainebleau.

At the center of the present composition, Cupid is being blindfolded by beautiful young maidens, who lift away the bow and arrows that he uses to make both mortals and the gods fall in love. Like so many creations of the bellifontain movement, the present painting is a poetic fantasy inspired by mythology. In this case, the textual source was likely Petrarch's poem, The Triumph of Chastity, which describes how the young Cupid is bound and chastised by a 'host of holy women', who remove his bow and quiver, break his arrows, and pluck the feathers from his wings (P. Rosenberg and M.C. Stewart, French Paintings 1500-1825: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 1987, pp. 27-30). Two larger works present this composition in an expanded form, with another female figure on the right and the Temple of Vesta and other figures on the left. The first is conserved in The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, inv. 1967.3 (CPLH), and has been attributed by Sylvie Beguin to an artist working in the circle of Primaticcio, Ruggiero Ruggieri or the Master of Flora (S. Beguin and A. Chastel, Fontainebleau, Art in France, 1528-1610, exhibition catalogue, Ottawa, 1973, II, pp. 69-70). A variant also exists in the Wawel Castle State Art Collections, Krakow (inv. 2170), which has been dubiously attributed to Spranger and is certainly more Flemish in style and execution. Rosenberg and Stewart (loc. cit.) have identified the woman with the exposed breast on the left as the goddess Diana the Huntress, while the larger figure on the right, with her intricately-braided hair, may be Juno. Although the exact visual source for these compositions is unknown, they may have been inspired by prints or drawings after a lost composition by Primaticcio for the Galerie d'Ulysse at Fontainebleau (ibid.).