Bologna 1552 – 1614 Rome
The Marriage Feast at Cana
oil on copper
18 ⅝ x 14 ¼ inches
47.3 x 36.2 cm
Lavinia Fontana was the first of a number of women artists in Bologna to achieve international renown. She was trained as a painter by her father Prospero Fontana, himself one of the leading mannerist painters in their native city. Though she is best known for her portraiture, the present work is an important addition to the group of refined religious works which she executed throughout her career. Like her father, Fontana created large altarpieces as well as small, highly finished paintings for private devotion like the present work. The composition shown here depicts the marriage feast at Cana, the first of seven miracle stories from the Gospel of John (2:1-11). Towards the end of a wedding feast in Cana, Galilee, it was discovered that the wine had run out. At that moment, Jesus commanded servants to fill jugs with water, which he then miraculously turned into wine.
Aoife Brady and Babette Bohn independently confirmed the attribution to Lavinia Fontana on the basis of a high-resolution digital image. Brady dates this copper to the late 1570s to early 1580s. She suggests that the palette, the architectural surroundings, and the marble floor tiles of the present copper closely relate to Fontana’s Christ in the House of Mary and Martha dated to ca. 1580, the artist’s first documented public commission, painted for the chapel of the Conservatorio delle Putte di Santa Marta. Bohn considers the present work to be “very beautiful and in excellent condition” and notes that “it has some similarities in handling to the…Annunciation [ca. 1576] in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore…but [The Marriage Feast at Cana] is obviously much more complex and ambitious.” Though the composition is reminiscent of works by Prospero and other Bolognese mannerist painters of his generation—suggesting an earlier date—Bohn views this painting as being too sophisticated for it to be placed before 1576 or 1577.
Fontana painted The Marriage Feast at Cana on another occasion which was catalogued by Cantaro (1989, p. 69, no. 4a. 10) and dated to 1577. This is a larger painting on a canvas support which was last recorded in a private collection in Venice. ❖
(Possibly) Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1549-1609), Villa Medici, Rome (with the support listed as canvas on panel ‘Un quadro in tela, messo sopra la tavola, della Cananea, Dipinto da Lavinia Fontana; con ornamento nero, tocco d’oro, con ferro’)
George Farrow, by 1924
Paris, Piasa, 26 June 2009, lot 5 (with incorrect dimensions)
New York, Sotheby’s, 28 January 2010, lot 237 (with incorrect dimensions)
Private collection, London
The loan of this painting has been requested for the Lavinia Fontana monographic exhibition to be held at the National Gallery of Ireland in 2023.