Saint Romanus and Saint Babilas

On display in:

Billiard Room Corridor

Order image © All images subject to copyright

Attributed to

Bevilacqua, Giovanni Ambrogio (active 1481-1512)

previously attributed to Milanese School
previously attributed to Macrino d' Alba (Italian, active 1495-1515)
previously attributed to Lombard School

Date

1484-1490

dated stylistically

Place of production

  • Lombardy, Italy

Medium

  • presumed oil on poplar

Type of object

  • paintings
  • altarpieces

Accession number

872

Oil panel painting, a lower register left side panel from a larger altarpiece, with Saint Romanus on the left and Saint Babilus on the right standing before fictive architecture.

Saint Romanus wears a mitre, a white tunic, and a dark-green cope with a red and gold embroidered border. He holds a book in his right hand. Saint Babilas wears a mitre and a red cope with a dark-green lining over a white tunic. He raises his right hand in a blessing. Both saints hold croziers which have figures of the Annunciation, held by Romanus, and the Baptism, held by Babilus, in the curls of the ornamental tops, rendered in gilt low relief.

Three infant martyrs kneel at the feet of Babilus. They wear red hose, white or black slippers and jerkins which are either red or dark-green. The palm-branches in their hands bear flowers.

The floor is tiled with a geometric pattern. In the background, there is an ornate square pillar decorated with acanthus scrolls and an ionic capital supporting a beaded architrave. Beyond, there is a plain blue-green background.

Commentary

Two panels at Waddesdon (see also acc. no 873) once belonged to a large polyptych altarpiece from Milan dedicated to Saint Francis and the Virgin. They were painted by a little-known artist whose work demonstrates both the taste for excessive ornamentation at the Sforza court, and new innovations brought to the city by visiting artists. This panel originally formed the left-hand side of the lower register.

Saint Romanus, on the left, was a 7th-century bishop of Rouen. Saint Babilas, on the right, was a 3rd-century bishop of Antioch. He was particularly venerated in Milan, where there is a Church dedicated to him. He is shown with three infant martyrs (Urbanus, Prilidianus or Barbado, and Apollonius) whom he instructed in the Christian faith. Both saints hold a bishop's crozier surmounted with, on the left, the Annunciation and, on the right, the Baptism, rendered in gilt low relief, reminiscent of fine goldsmith work.

The central section of the altarpiece from which these panels come shows the Virgin Mary and Christ Child seated on a throne, surrounded by musical angels (now Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon). The side-panels of the upper register also contain pairs of full-length Saints: Saint Bernardino of Siena, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Francis and Saint Jerome (now Musée National d'Histoire et de l'Art, Luxembourg). The patterns on the background entablature and pillars are repeated in all five panels. The lost upper sections of the altarpiece probably showed God surrounded by angels (see Vertova, 1969).

Elements of the fictive architecture recall Bramante's innovative architecture in the re-modelled Church of Santa Maria presso Santo Satiro, Milan, completed in 1484. Similar designs were probably also carved into the wooden framework surrounding the panels, also covered in gold leaf. The lack of reference to Leonardo's revolutionary technique dates the work prior to 1490. The perspectival technique is more akin to a large reliquary of statuettes, rather than a convincing building inhabited by real people. The altarpiece may possibly relate to payments made in 1487 from the Operai of the Cathedral of Milan although there is a lack of evidence to support this suggestion. It was probably made for a Franciscan convent or for patrons devoted to Saint Francis.

The Luxembourg panels were attributed to Bevilacqua in 1957 (see Vertova, 1969). Giovanni Ambrogio Bevilacqua, called il Liberale, was one of several Lombard painters who broke away from the Gothic style. He did, however, rely heavily on copying motifs from other painters. He was the son of a woodcarver from Milan. He was a member of the Guild of Painters in 1481. He painted devotional altarpeices and church frescoes in Milan and the surrounding area. His signed and dated frescoes in the church of S. Vittore at Landriano of 1485 have stylistic similarities in the faces of the Saints and architectural details with the two panels at Waddesdon. Bevilacqua remained committed to the taste for expensive ornamentation that dominated the Sforza court, but he did try to keep abreast of the innovators who came to Milan, such as Leonardo and Bramante. After 1500, when the French occupied Milan, Bevilacqua returned to producing more traditional devotional scenes associated with local piety.

Phillippa Plock, 2012

Physical description

Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)

1077 x 574 sight
frame 1410 x 870

Signature & date

not signed or dated

Inscriptions

SANTUS ROMANUS
Inscription
lower left, on orphrey of chasuble

SANTUS BABILIAS
Inscription
lower right, on orphrey of chasuble

Labels

MILANESE SCHOOL
15th century
Label
on frame, lower centre

History

Provenance

  • Owned by Mrs Baring from the Revelstoke branch; bought by Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922) from Mrs Baring via Durlacher Brothers, London, for £400 for both paintings, receipt dated 15 August 1905, as by Macreno d'Alba; inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); accepted by The Treasury Solicitor in lieu of taxes on the Estate of Mr James de Rothschild in 1963; given to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1990.

Collection

  • Waddesdon (National Trust)
  • Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Waddesdon Manor, 1990
Bibliography

Bibliography

  • Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; p. 322, cat. no. 162; as Lombard School
  • Luisa Vertova, A Dismembered Altar-Piece and a Forgotten Master, The Burlington Magazine, 111, 1969, 70-79; 112-121; pp. 70-72, 76, 112, 121, ill.; as by Bevilacqua dated to 1484-1490