Artibus et Historiae no. 35 (XVIII)

1997, ISSN 0391-9064

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VIRGINIA WOODS CALLAHAN - Alciato's Quince-Eating Bride, and the Figure at the Center of Bellini's Feast of the Gods

In the foreground of Giovanni Bellini's "Feast of the Gods", painted in 1511—1514 for the studiolo of Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, sit an embracing couple and other divinities; in this central pair the female figure has remained mysterious. Anthony Colantuono identified her as an image of the Earth. Paul Holbertson recently maintained that his candidate (Pomona) should have been recognized by the fruit she holds, as well as those in the bowl in front of her. But those fruits (which have not previously been identified) are quinces; and the quince was associated since classical times with epithalamic themes. Alciato's popular Renaissance emblem of the quince tree (Cotonea) derived directly from Plutarch's constant trading on the epithalamic character of the quince, which was con­ductive to a bride's good temperament, speech, and disposition. The bride whom Bellini shows through this device as preparing for her (renewed) nuptials with Pluto is therefore clearly to be identified as Persephone; and that circumstance also resolves the vexed question of the season which Bellini intended to represent: it is early autumn, as Persephone prepares to descend for her annual six-month residence in Hades, as the consort of Pluto, whose name means wealth (an indirect reference, perhaps, to the patron himself?). Such a possibility gains interest from the fact that Alfonso's son, Ercole II d'Este, was in fact the Ferrarese patron of Alciato.

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