Probably born in Antwerp, Pauwels Franck was registered in the city's Guild of St. Luke in 1561. In the early 1570s, he travelled south to Italy, perhaps spending time in Florence. By 1573, he seems to have settled in Venice, where in addition to his own private commissions, he became a valued collaborator of Jacopo Tintoretto, assisting him with the landscape backgrounds of paintings such as the Saint Roch in the Desert, of around 1580, for the church of San Rocco (in situ). At that same time, Pauwels began working on several series of paintings for his most important patron, Hans Fugger (1533-1598), which were installed in the German banker's Kircheim castle in Bavaria. He eventually opened his own studio in Venice, where he was known as Paolo Fiammingo, and alongside religious commissions such as his series of paintings for the Oratorio of San Nicolò della Lattuga (circa 1582), he excelled in Giorgionesque landscapes populated with mythological figures, such as the present composition. Throughout his career, Pauwels continued to work in a Mannerist style reflecting the influence of Tintoretto, Veronese, and Bassano.
Executed in Pauwels' typically lively brushwork, this horizontal canvas may originally have been set into a piece of furniture, or installed as a frieze running along the entablature below the ceiling of a Venetian home. It is likely to have been part of a series of mythological scenes, all of identical format, although other paintings from this group have yet to be identified.
In the early 20th century, this picture was in the collection of the great connoisseur, Otto Beit at Russborough, where it was catalogued by Wilhelm von Bode as a work of Andrea Schiavone (loc. cit.). In 1958, Bernard Berenson attributed the painting to Lambert Sustris, a Dutch painter who was likely active in Titian's studio in Venice (written communication). We are grateful to Professor Peter Humfrey for suggesting the attribution to Paolo Fiammingo on the basis of firsthand study, and to Professor Mauro Lucco, for confirming this ascription on the basis of photographs (private communication, 14 December 2012).
As von Bode noted, the principle figures in this composition are based on Marcantonio Raimondi's celebrated print after a now-lost drawing by Raphael of The Judgment of Paris. It is not surprising that Pauwels, primarily a landscape painter, would turn to this well-known print for his staffage. Notably, the figures appear in reverse of the print, suggesting that Pauwels was either working from Raphael's drawing, or more likely, from a print after Marcantonio's engraving. Professor Lucco has observed that the figures also show an awareness of Roman sculpture, perhaps reflecting an early visit to the Eternal City, and on this basis he suggests that the present painting may be one of Pauwels' earliest known works, painted circa 1575-1580.
W. von Bode, Catalogue of the collection of the Pictures and Bronzes in the Possession of Mr. Otto Beit, London, 1913, p. 99, no. 138, as 'Andrea Schiavone'.
Sir Otto Beit (1865-1930), Bt., K.C.M.G., and by descent to
Mrs. Arthur Bull; Christie's, London, 25 October 1946, lot 37, as 'Andrea Schiavone' (140 gns. to Wallraf).
About Pauwels Franck, called Paolo Fiammingo
Flemish, ca. 1540 - ca. 1596, based in Venice, Italy