LÉON DAVENT

active Fontainebleu and Paris, 1540–1556

A Group of Men Gathered around a Camel (after FRANCESCO PRIMATICCIO and/or LUCA PENNI) ca. 1540–45


etching; 326 x 452 mm (12 7/8 x 17 7/8 inches)

Bartsch, vol. 16, p. 331, no. 53; Herbet 15; Zerner (Master LD) 59

WATERMARK
small circle attached to a chain line

PROVENANCE
Pierre Mariette the Elder, Paris (Lugt 1786b, with the date 1647)

LITERATURE
cat. Los Angeles/New York/Paris, p. 86, fig. 24 with an illustration of the preparatory drawing on p. 87, fig. 25
Rainer Michael Mason (ed.), Le Beau Style. Gravures maniéristes de la collection Georg Baselitz, exhibition catalogue
Cabinet des estampes du Musée d’art et d’histoire, Geneva, 2002, no. 42

The attribution of the inventor of this somewhat mysterious composition is not fully resolved. The print is inscribed Bol inventeur a Fonteinebleau. “Bol” stands for Bologna or Bolonais which is a contemporary reference to the Bolognese-born artist Primaticcio. A drawing in Windsor Castle shows a fairly exact rendering of the composition in reverse. On stylistic grounds, however, it has been attributed to Luca Penni. Suzanne Boorsch therefore suggests that Penni prepared this drawing after a now-lost design by Primaticcio for Davent to etch (cat. Los Angeles/New York/Paris, p. 87).

The print is usually referred to under a merely descriptive title. Zerner proposes Joseph faisant fouiller les bagages de ses frères as the possible identification of the scene—the story of Joseph being sold by his brothers (Genesis 37, 23–28): the brothers “saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. … Then Midianite traders passed by; and [the brothers] drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver; and they took Joseph to Egypt.” What remains unclear in this interpretation, however, is which of the figures is Joseph, the thematic center of the story—unless one identifies him with the downcast-looking young man on one of the horses in the right middle-ground. While not given prominence, he nevertheless towers above the frieze of figures that crowd the foreground of the scene.