Friday, November 23, 2012

Marie Spartali Stillman - Fiammetta Singing

signed with monogram and dated 79 l.r.
pencil, watercolour and bodycolour
75 by 100cm., 29½ by 39½in.

ESTIMATE 20,000-30,000 GBP
Lot Sold: 25,000 GBP

London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1879, no. 158 (East Gallery)

David B. Elliott, A Pre-Raphaelite Marriage, The Lives and Works of Marie Spartali Stillman & William James Stillman, 2006, illustrated p.99, pl.33

Marie Stillman's watercolour takes its subject from Giovanni Boccaccio's Elegy of Madonna Fiammetta – a monologue describing the jealousy and distress of a woman in love, and how in the first place she had ignored the warnings of the gods which had come to her in a dream, and how later on and following her lnfatuation with a young Florentine called Panfilo she had been visited in her imagination by the goddess Venus who expounded to her on the familiar pattern of love affairs, whether between gods or mortals. The scene represented occurs early on in the story, when Fiammetta dreams of passing through a sylvan landscape, singing happily and feeling utter contentment, but which blissful state is cruelly interrupted when she is bitten by a snake.  

Written in 1343-44 during the time that Boccaccio was engaged on the much larger Decameron, and having returned to Florence, the Elegy reflected the love affair that he himself had previously had with Maria d'Aquino, the natural daughter of the Angevin king of Naples, Robert the Wise, and for whom he devised the love name Fiammetta.

Marie Spartali, who married the American journalist and photographer W.J. Stillman in 1871, was the daughter of a Greek merchant based in the city of London and sometime Greek consul. She was a pupil of Ford Madox Brown in 1864-70, and from about 1867 embarked on a professional career as a painter. Later, she became the close friend of both Rossetti and Burne-Jones, each of whom admired her striking beauty and frequently drew and painted her. The watercolour was presumably painted in Florence, where the Stillmans had settled in 1878. It was first exhibited in 1879, at the third Grosvenor exhibition. In 1877 Marie Stillman had modelled for Rossetti's oil A Vision of Fiammetta (private collection). CSN

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