Florentine or Roman, Four Cupids attaching a Shield of Arms to a Garland of Laurels

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
Four Cupids attaching a Shield of Arms to a Garland of Laurels
Medium and support
Oil on wood
Overall diameter: 60.5 cm
Florentine or Roman
Catalogue Number


The function of this panel is uncertain, as is its original form. It is now, unusually, a nonagon, but it would require technical examination to determine whether this is original or the result of later trimming. It may have been a decorative shield but, as Dr Donal Cooper has pointed out, it may be a desco da parte (a birth tray).1 Deschi, however, are usually double-sided and the present writer has not yet been able to examine the back of this panel. Of course, even should the back prove to be unpainted, the front and back of the panel could at some point have been separated, so the absence of a painting on the back would not necessarily disprove the birth-plate hypothesis. But, if a separation has occurred, the other side has not (or not yet) been identified.

The panel presumably records and celebrates the marriage alliance of two families represented on the coats of arms that the cupids are busily attaching by gilded ribbons of the garland of laurel leaves. The vivacity of the cupids may imply that the marriage has produced a child and their lively, if not fully controlled action, suggests a date towards 1520. That at the front left is based on a figure from a famous antique relief, the so-called Throne of Saturn, of which versions exist in Ravenna and the Louvre. Both were known from the Quattrocento onwards and an engraving of that in Ravenna was published by Marco Dente da Ravenna in 1519. The cupid at front right probably reveals the painter’s knowledge of the Amorino with the Caduceus of Mercury, designed in 1517–18 by Raphael for one of the series in the vault of the Loggia di Psiche in the Villa Farnesina, Rome. If this relation is accepted, it would provide a further terminus post quem for the present picture. The poses of the cupids in the upper half also suggest that they may derive from Raphaelesque designs but this writer cannot pinpoint any precise relation.

The figure construction is fairly rudimentary and the execution is not of a high order, but the picture is lively and attractive and might have been painted by a minor artist revolving in one of the more distant orbits around Raphael, either in Florence or Rome. The present writer is not aware of any other pictures attributable to the same hand.

by Paul Joannides


  1. Dr Donal Cooper, private communication, 2020.


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