Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
A design for the decoration of a ceiling
The left half of a drawn design for a ceiling (the right half is RL 6004).
Although this design for a ceiling is inscribed with Primaticcio’s title of Abbot of St Martin (to which he was appointed by Francis I as a source of revenue), it does not appear to be in his hand, but rather by an able follower who could emulate his elegant figure style. The planned work appears to have been a project for a member of the Lenoncourt family, whose arms appear at the centre of the design and who were allied to the powerful Guise faction. Cardinal Robert de Lenoncourt was a renowned patron of the arts and the dedicatee of the first French translation of Serlio’s architectural treatise, but the arms are surmounted by a coronet rather than a cardinal’s hat and he cannot be the patron here. The patron was a member of the Order of St Michel, since his arms are encircled by the collar worn by those elected to that order.
The panels of the ceiling are decorated with figures personifying virtues and vices, among them Charity (in the upper octagon) and Religion (in the bottom left circle). The man biting himself at top right may depict Jealousy, while his neighbour, with a tortoise, may indicate Sloth. Other figures seem to denote the liberal arts, including Architecture (bottom right) and Mathematics or Geography (bottom left). A number of the motifs defy interpretation, and there is no obvious correlation between the architectural framework and the distribution of the iconography, which appears to be random. The scheme, however, was obviously considered viable enough to pursue: the black chalk rubbed on the back and indentation of outlines with a stylus show that the figures have been traced onto another sheet or sheets.
The design must have been split into two since at least the seventeenth century, when the collector Jerome Lanier added his name (‘Jerom’) to the back of both halves. The two sheets were reunited in 2011.
Catalogue entry adapted from 'The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein', London 2011