Italian, 1494 - 1557
The Gathering of Manna, 1540/1555
oil on panel
overall: 111.8 x 95.3 cm (44 x 37 1/2 in.) framed: 141 x 123.2 x 8.3 cm (55 1/2 x 48 1/2 x 3 1/4 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
Object 7 of 7
Various explanations are given for Francesco d'Ubertino Verdi's nickname, Bacchiacca. It is tempting to see a connection with abbacchiare or bacchiare, Tuscan words used to describe harvesting of nuts or olives—this painter "harvested" figures, motifs, and landscape elements from many sources. In this one painting is a crag from a Lucas van Leyden print, a bare-breasted woman derived from a Raphael, heads based on Michelangelo drawings, and a kneeling figure from one of Bacchiacca's own paintings.
This is not appropriation by an artist unwilling or unable to devise something new, however. Bacchiacca was a court painter to Cosimo de' Medici in Florence, where patrons would have delighted in puzzling out his sources. Admirers of the then current mannerist style, which depended on complexity and artifice over naturalistic representation, they would also have appreciated his pictures' copia and varietas (plentitude and variety). More than eighty people crowd this scene along with domestic goats and cattle, exotic cats, and even a giraffe. (Bacchiacca would never have seen a giraffe but copied paintings of the one that had been given to Cosimo's forebear Lorenzo the Magnificent.)
Among all these creatures only the quail relate to the biblical story. A day after the birds arrived to alleviate the Israelites' hunger, God provided manna from the sky. Here Moses—in bright pink, light emanating from his head—commands his people to gather the almost invisible bread. Perhaps this painting was part of a campaign to depict Cosimo as a new Moses, one who would provide the Florentines with prosperity—an abundance suggested even in the fullness of Bacchiacca's composition.
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