tooanxiousforrivers submitted to medievalpoc:
Achilles on Skyros
Oil on canvas, 39.5”x52.5”
Seen at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
This painting depicts an early scene from the myth of Achilles. His mother, Thetis, attempted to hide him on the island of Skyros, disguising him as one of the king’s daughters. According to the description that accompanied this piece in the museum, it is Ulysses and Diomedes shown here as having come to Skyros to find Achilles. They do so by presenting the daughters with a gift of jewelry and other typical feminine fare. However, they also include a sword, spear, and shield, which Achilles instinctively brandishes, thus revealing himself.
I was surprised to see that this same artist, just a few years prior to this work, created another painting of the same scene with a completely different envisioning, including the racial makeup of the subjects. It is part of the collection at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and can be seen here. Not being well versed in art history, I have to ask, is this type of thing common practice?
Oh, definitely. It’s not uncommon to see as many as five or six versions of the same subject by the same artist, often using the same base sketches of the same models. It has to do with the manner and the reasons paintings were commissioned and produced in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Often, the Master of the studio would do the composition and outline, apprentices would fill it in, and the Master would come back and do the faces and hands, or finer detail work.
Popular and common subjects like the Adoration of the Magi, The Finding of Moses, the Annunciation, and a whole host of biblical, mythical, and literary themes would be produced for specific patrons or institutions that paid for them to be made. Some of these paintings look completely different, and some of them are nearly identical.
Here are two paintings by Paolo Veronese, each one depicting the subject of “Judith and her Maid with the Head of Holofernes”.
They look almost completely different, but they’re basically the same thing.
In addition to this, it’s also common to see copies of paintings by other artists than the original, sometimes even a century or more after the death of the original artist. When I post something that is “after” a certain artist, it usually means it is considered to be copied from an earlier artwork. Sometimes it is a less-than perfect copy by another artist in the studio, and sometimes the work is so good it’s indistinguishable from a Master’s work, and these paintings are often just listed as “The Studio of Peter Paul Rubens” or “Follower of Hieronymus Bosch”.
Here’s a good example. Here you have the original painting of Saint Maurice in full plate armor by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Workshop; Germany c. 1520:
And here you have a copy from his workshop, produced under another artist most likely:
And now you have an image obviously derivative (note the same red hat with white plumes) in the Missal of Cardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg, by Nicolas Glockenden I c. 1524:
And another from the same book, which is an even more faithful copy:
If you want to learn more about this, you can start with searching for articles and books about the Guild of Saint Luke, The Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass, The Guilds of Florence (to learn more about their roles in the sociopolitical climates of the Middle Ages), or why artists often were in the same guilds with apothecaries and spice merchants!