A high renaissance murder mystery
Sometime in early 1930s, the National Gallery purchased this strange object. It appears to be two vertical panels — perhaps once small doors of some object — now remounted in red velvet to make a comic-book-page-like picture of four. What the original object was we are not told — perhaps it was something analogous to the renaissance portable altar. As the story represented in it is one of a hopeless lover (Damon, hopelessly in love with Amaryllis) — did the “altar” contain the portrait of the sponsor/ hopeless lover’s love? If so, I wonder: did it work? Would any woman be able to resist a man who went to such lengths to declare his love for her? Probably not — we’re all here precisely because, in the end, women must turn out unable to resist; but for poetry’s sake one hopes she did: successful lovers are not as attractive as hopeless ones.
The Gallery paid 14,000 pounds for the painting — an equivalent of today’s 3.9 million American dollars in gold — a huge sum even by today’s inflated standards. They paid it because at the time the work was thought to be Giorgione’s, but only the following year a scholarly reattribution was published, identifying the author as Andrea Previtali. The reattribution, still accepted today, knocked out a huge hole in the valuation and a huge brouhaha followed — waste of nation’s money! Though just why it should, I don’t know: there are no deaccessions at the National Gallery; as its holdings will never be liquidated for profit (or loss) what does it matter what price the museum pays? Think about it, anything that is forever must, by definition, be priceless because even a ha-penny multiplied by infinity is infinity itself. Besides, surely, if a painting is good enough to be a Giorgione, it must certainly be good enough to command a Giorgione-like price? (If not, why not?)
What interests me in this painting — other than the fact that it is perfectly respectable — one of the better paintings in the miniaturist genre — indeed, one of the best Previtalis anywhere (if, indeed, it is one), is that it is just possibly another crime-mystery clue. I mean, take a look above: there is Damon committing suicide — in the mountains. And here — his bloodied body is discovered — by the sea.
Has someone moved the corpse? Why? Or was it perhaps not really a suicide? I have the hunch that a careful analysis of evidence just might reveal multiple stab wounds; some perhaps where the shepherd could not have stabbed himself (like his back); and that — the ship at sea above will turn out to be the murderer’s get-away vehicle.