National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Image: Artistic Exchange: Europe and the Islamic World

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Florentine, 1494 - 1557
The Gathering of Manna
1540/1555, oil on panel, 111.8 x 95.3 cm (44 x 37 1/2 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
Image: Bacchiacca
Florentine, 1494 - 1557
The Gathering of Manna, 1540/1555
oil on panel, 111.8 x 95.3 cm (44 x 37 1/2 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection

A giraffe is conspicuous among the more than one hundred living creatures populating Bacchiacca's fantastic rendition of the Sinai desert. Like many of the humans, the giraffe is borrowed from another work of art, a practice common among sixteenth-century mannerist artists. The head and shoulders repeat those of the giraffe in an equally fantastic representation of Vulcan and Aeolus (National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa) by the Florentine painter Piero di Cosimo (1462–1521).

Piero's accurate giraffe derives from the live one presented to Lorenzo de' Medici in 1487 by ambassadors from the Mamluk sultan Qa'itbay. The animal survived for a short time in Lorenzo's menagerie at the family's villa at Poggio a Caiano. During the early fifteenth century, Muslim rulers had sent a number of giraffes to the most powerful rulers in Asia, where the animal was considered auspicious.

Among various vessels in Bacchiacca's painting are several in semi-precious stone. Examples carved in antiquity, like that in the Gallery's Chalice of the Abbot Suger, and during the early Islamic period were highly prized by the richest Italian collectors, including the Medici. The ewer held over the vat at the right has a traditional Islamic shape and closely resembles the Venetian marbleized glass imitations of semiprecious stone introduced about 1500. Such pseudo-antiques blown in recognizably old and Islamic shapes accommodated the budget of the middle class as well as the taste of the rich.

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