Gift of Charles M. Pratt
These two large rectangular panels are part of a series of which at least one more panel, depicting The Return of Ulysses, is known. Because of their elong- ated rectangular shape and their mythological subject, these panels have long been thought to be front sections of Italian cassoni or storage chests, yet this theory seems unlikely given that they are really much too large for this portion of a typical cassone, and furthermore that none of the panels shows the keyhole carved in most cassone of this kind. The stories depicted on the panels are continuous narratives portraying several scenes from Homer’s epic tale. The first shows Ulysses and his comrades gouging out the giant’s single eye and then, to the right, Ulysses’ men fooling the Cyclops into allowing them to pass by covering themselves with sheep skins. Further to the right, Polyphemus discovers that he has been deceived and hurls a giant boulder at the departing ships. To the left, the goddess Athena in the sky wreaks devastation on the walled city of Troy. Below to the left, Ajax Oileus is blasted by an angry Poseidon. The stories of the second panel begin with Ulysses kneeling before King Aeolus, the keeper of the winds, who pro- vides the crew with good sailing winds and bags of storm winds to keep below decks. When a jealous crewmember accidentally opens one of the bags, the resulting storm blows them off course and onto the island in- habited by the Laestrygonians, who kill several members of the crew and then drive Ulysses’ men back to sea with a barrage of stones. To the far right, in the middle ground, Ulysses’ men arrive on the island ruled by the en- chantress Circe, who turns one of them into a wild boar.
There has been much study and many opinions given as to the identity of the author of these unusual panels. The consensus regarding the authorship and the date is that it is the work of an as yet unknown painter who trained with the Florentine artist Lorenzo di Credi around 1500. Based on other works by the same hand, he is known by the painting of the Assumption of the Magdalene in the Johnson Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.