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Elijah in the Desert
(c. 1545–47), Daniele da Volterra
Mehringer brings two paintings by Daniele da Volterra to the fair, which are probably the only two pictures by the artist remaining in private hands. Both this and the panel Madonna with Child, the Infant St. John and St. Barbara can be traced back to the Casa Ricciarelli, Daniele’s home in Volterra, and both are ‘notified’ by the Italian state and may not be exported permanently.
This Sienese-trained artist, who subsequently spent most of his career in Rome, is best known for his fresco cycles. Unusually, this richly hued and celebrated image of Elijah is painted on canvas as opposed to panel. It depicts Elijah in the wilderness, contemplating a large and wonderfully realistically rendered loaf of bread and a humble earthenware jug of water. The story of his miraculous sustenance by an angel is related in the Book of Kings, but in the context of the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent it was evidently intended to represent an Old Testament prefiguration of the Eucharist. Daniele portrays Elijah as a monumental presence, whose easy reclining attitude is closely related to various figures in the work of Michelangelo, without slavishly copying any of them. He fills the entire foreground of the image to its very edges, but beyond him is a perhaps unexpectedly evocative stretch of landscape that includes classical ruins.
Selected by Susan Moore.