Anna Eörsi

Puer, abige muscas!

Remarks on Renaissance Flyology


I. The page illustrating the beginning of Genesis in the Visconti Hours marks the beginning of a new period in the history of the depiction of flies.

            Earlier medieval miniatures also abound in fly images. We need think only of the fly as Bealzebub’s attribute, flies as the symbol of evil thoughts or in illustrations for tales or works in natural history. There are also the flies of Villard de Honnecourt’s album and the frequently humorous illustrations of flies found in the margins of medieval manuscripts.[1] The last stage of this “tradition” is well represented by a Genovese moral tract from the end of the fourteenth century. Its pages are richly decorated with crickets and insects, among them flies.[2] (ill. 1) Pächt considers these insects – and justly so – to be among the first naturalistic representations of animals. Nevertheless, in comparison to these too, the flies of the Visconti Hours represent a break from this tradition.

            It appears that the size of the naturally depicted animals in the Genovese tract was determined by the space available and by decorative concerns rather than by their real size. The bugs are seen partly from the side, and partly from above, and there is little to keep us from believing that these flies were not painted on, but rather had just landed on the parchment. Thus it is not any deficiencies in the naturalistic depictions or a lack of shadows that prevent us from using the term trompe l’oeil when talking of these flies, but rather the inconsistent differentiation in their scale compared to the other insects. All the insects on the page are depicted with the same degree of realism.

            Attention to scale is what the illustrator of the prayer book of Giangaleazzo Visconti, Giovannino dei Grassi, introduces in the last years of the fourteenth century.[3] The illustration of Creation has an abundance of animals integrated into its composition. The seven flies (and one stag-beetle) seen from above are considerably larger than the other animals depicted, and they appear to have just settled on the parchment surface. They are large, however, only in comparison to the scenes illustrated; their scale is otherwise in keeping with reality.[4] (ill. 2)

            The fly seen on the page from the Très Riches Heures showing St John the Evangelist is depicted in a similar fashion.[5] (ill. 3) The opening lines of the text are written below the illustration of St John as he is having a vision on the island of Patmos. The fly is painted perpendicular to the first initial “I” as if a real fly had landed on the parchment page. There is a clear separation between the pictorial space and the real space: in the pictorial space we can see the scene on Patmos Island, in the other space – that is, our space – we see the fly.

            These are the first trompe l’oeil flies of modern times (whether or not they have symbolic meaning). They are life-size, and therefore are large in comparison to the scene depicted. In part they emphasise the flatness of the parchment, which provides their spatial setting, and given that the viewer takes them to be real and tries to shoo them away, the flies also prove that depiction is equivalent to the real thing. The illustrator relies on the same illusions and plays on the same instincts as the painters of Hellenistic “rhyparography” (painting of the sordid): the illusion is that the insect is in the same space as we are; the instinct appealed to is our disgust at the fly (as dirt), which we would like to go away, and our joy that it is after all just a painting and thus need not be shooed away – instead we can marvel at the cleverness of the artist.[6] From this point on the fly becomes the trademark of artistic excellence, the ability to produce depictions true to life[7] – despite or independent of the fly’s various, for the most part negative, associations. (It is a paradox that the true-to-life depiction of small insects, which are the easiest to represent in a realistic manner, nevertheless became the non plus ultra of artistic competence.) A sense of humour is also necessary for a painter to use a fly – the symbol of sin and “the hated housemate we should like to keep far away”[8] – to demonstrate his virtuosity.

            In this study I will deal primarily with those flies – also – that demonstrate the painter’s skill and humour, without any attempt at being all-inclusive. But first I would like to make a preliminary comment: when the rough idea for this topic first occurred to me, I decided I would finish with the last sentence of Musca, Leon Battista Alberti’s witty paraphrase of Lucian: “Scipsimus hec ridendo et vos ridete.”[9] I was subsequently honoured to receive Ernõ Marosi’s request that I write a study for an issue of Acta dedicated to the memory of Lajos Vayer. Consequently the above will not be the last sentence; with this article I would like to remember Professor Vayer’s superior skill and his outstanding wit.


II. The earliest surviving fly that I know of found on a panel painting and clearly demonstrating the artist’s skill can be seen in the Christian Museum of Esztergom in the winged altar of an Austrian painter who was influenced by the Master of the Albert altar.[10] (ill. 4) The central panel of this triptych depicts the Death of the Virgin, painted around 1440. Pieces of parchment, one bearing the inscription “Caspar+walthisar+melchior” and the other depicting the Holy Face are affixed to the side of the deathbed with dabs of sealing wax, both casting a shadow on the wood. A tiny-sized fly approaches the inscription, facing the letter “m”. Together with the spider,[11] which is climbing under the apostle’s book lower down in the picture, and the shadow cast by the candleholder, these elements clearly demonstrate the painter’s intention to create an illusion (regardless of his success). Neither the scale of the fly nor the painter’s virtuoso true-to-life depiction is what draws the viewer’s attention to his skill as a painter. Instead it is the “extras,” in particular the inscribed band attached with sealing wax. The fly is just an attribute of authenticity, realness, of truly being there. (The same process that already took place in miniature painting half a century earlier is repeated in the genre of panel painting: attempts to be true-to-life begin with depiction of small things.)

            The earliest surviving fly appearing on a panel painting that can be precisely dated (1446) and demonstrates, among other things, the painter’s skill appears in the portrait of a Carthusian by Petrus Christus.[12] (ill. 5) The fly, which is life size but too large in relation to the figure depicted, has settled on the stone parapet – like-wise intended as an illusion – above the artist’s signature. The deceptive trompe l’oeil fly transfers its own appearance of realness to the figure in the painting, bearing witness to the figure’s existence in the here and now. Both the parapet and the fly belong simultaneously to the space of the viewer and the picture. The fly’s ephemeral existence resting on the stone emphasises the contrast between the brevity of life and the lasting quality of the artist’s fame.[13]

            I consider the claims of many – in reference to this painting – that the painted fly motif in paintings originated in the Netherlands to be unfounded.[14] In fact the depiction of flies in earlier miniatures belie these assertions. Chastel points out also that the fly seen in the painting of Petrus Christus is of a Flemish type, which might further suggest a Netherlandish origin.

            As much as it is bizarre, the fly motif is also easily explained. I do not believe that this motif necessarily spread by way of the usual artistic connections. Under the appropriate circumstances this motif could have been independently arrived at with each artist painting the kind of fly found at home in their own workshops.


III. Circumstances were decidedly favourable for the illusionistic painting of flies in the workshop of Francesco Squarcione during the 1460s, even independent of any possible Netherlandish influences.

            The Aristotelian paradox according to which the depiction of repulsive things can be a source of joy was well known in this area, as the local Humanists had been voicing it for decades.[15] In the letter written by the Greek scholar Manuele Chrysoloras to his nephew, Demetrius, in Rome in 1411, he meditates on how it is possible that when we come across everyday creatures, regardless of how strange, we are not amazed, but “when we see a representation of a horse or ox, plant, bird, human being or even, if you like, of a fly, worm, mosquito or other such disagreeable things, we are much impressed and, when we see their representations, make much of them.”[16] Manuele’s student, Guarino da Verona, shared his opinion that the depiction of vulgar things was the greatest artistic achievement, and their recognition in a painting was a source of joy and delight. In 1426 he wrote the following to Giovanni Lamola from Verona: “I would not esteem the man’s poem and talent any the less for his jokes being highly flavoured. Shall we praise Apelles or Fabius or any painter the less because they have painted naked and unconcealed those details of the body which nature prefers hidden? If they have depicted worms and serpents, mice, scorpions, flies and other distasteful creatures, will you not admire and praise the artist’s art and skill? For my part, I certainly esteem the man as writer: I admire his talent and enjoy his joke ...”[17] Painters who at that time desired to raise themselves from the status of craftsmen would find this discussion relevant, as it contributed to the appreciation for painting they much yearned for.

            At the same time, in part because of the desire to rise from the status of craftsman and in part because of the ideal of remaining true-to-life, Pliny not surprisingly found his way into the folklore of the Squarcione workshop. More will be said about Pliny’s anecdotes about painters who deceived animals, people, and fellow artists with their true-to-life representations.

            It is quite possible that Squarcione’s pupils were familiar with the satiric writings about flies: in 1440 Guarino translated Lucian’s, “The fly” (Muscae laudatio). His translation reached Scipione Mainente and Leon Battista Alberti.[18] Alberti was subsequently inspired to write a humoresque about a fly, which he sent to Cristoforo Landino. In the dignified tone of a classical orator, Alberti conveys to readers the exemplary lives led by flies.[19] The noble-born fly is the most innocent of all creatures; it does not harass, disturb, or irritate anyone; it remains quiet, it shows no envy, and it neither quarrels nor rebels: “To this day hatred, competition, and bickering is unknown amongst flies.”[20]

            Numerous documents attest to the fact that Francesco Squarcione, the first known head of a private art school, was surrounded by lawsuits, hostility, broken promises, and deception. Of course I do not wish to use this to support my argument that one of his students, Giorgio Schiavone, fooled and vexed the others with his paintings of flies and bugs.

            Francesco Squarcione began as a tailor and embroiderer. He opened his school in Padua in 1431 after his travels through Italy and – perhaps – Greece.[21] According to sources an extraordinarily modern education was provided in this institution, which around 1455 was promoted from bottega to studium. The students (supposedly there was a total of one hundred and thirty-seven) mastered their craft through making copies in plaster, as well as copying coins, drawings, and Florentine engravings that were in Squarcione’s possession. The pictorum pater adopted the best students, and thus in part relieved them of their obligations to the guild while also taking advantage of their labour and talent. This led to serious conflicts, and many, amidst scandals and lawsuits, fled their unfair master and his otherwise free-spirited workshop. Amongst the adopted students was Andrea Mantegna (between 1442-48 in the workshop), Marco Zoppo (between 1453-55), Giorgio Schiavone (between 1456-61). We also know for a fact that Dario da Treviso and Niccolò Pizzolo studied with Squarcione. It was at just this time and in this location that it became the fashion for the artist to include the name of his master next to his own on the new cartellino – a practice in no way unique to Squarcione’s workshop, but one that was rather widespread throughout Northern Italy.

            The cartellino itself however was an important element in the set of circumstances that favoured the appearance of the painted fly in the workshop of Squarcione. After all, the cartellino was likewise a trompe l’oeil motif demonstrating the skill and self-consciousness of the painter, an intermediary between fiction and reality, a trick of the eye worthy of ancient painters.[22] It creates the illusion that it belongs to the everyday sphere of the painter and his audience, and this illusion is heightened by the fact that the cartellino is frequently torn and/or bears the traces of having been rolled up, reminding one of the Greek “unswept floor” device. The painted fly is thus an adequate addition to this ensemble of tricks.

            Giorgio Schiavone (Æulinoviæ) was a Dalmatian painter born in Scardona (Skadrin) between 1433-36. From 1456 he studied in Padua. Of the five paintings he made in Squarcione’s workshop signed with a cartellino[23], three include depictions of repulsive insects. In the polyptych now in London, an earwig casting a shadow heads upwards to the right of the cartellino at the front base of the Madonna’s throne.[24] (ill. 6) In the painting in Torino a fly has settled on the back of a putto sitting in the left foreground, while in the painting of the Madonna in Baltimore a fly rests on the front of the stone parapet. (ill. 7-8). These are the three bugs with which, I believe, recalling the world of classical anecdotes, Schiavone, hoped to first and foremost trick his fellow students and master; the fly’s symbolic meaning was not of primary importance.[25] There are some other circumstances in addition to those mentioned above which support this supposition. Making jokes with one another’s works or on the world of classical antiquity was very much in the air in the Humanist and artistic circles of Veneto of the fifteenth century, as was competition –both fictive and real – with each other and with the antique predecessors as well.

            In the artistic life of the age competitions organised based on classical examples played an important role.[26] From Vasari we know that Squarcione inspired his students to greater achievements by encouraging competition between them.[27]

            As for games involving the antique world, the most famous is the case of the boating excursion on Lake Garda in 1464 in which the humanist Felice Feliciano, the engineer Giovanni “Antenoreo,” and two painters, Samuele da Tradate and Andrea Mantegna, took part. In their search for classical monuments and inscriptions, they pretended to be living in ancient Rome. Samuele was named imperator, Giovanni and Andrea played consules. With a crown of myrtle and laurel, the emperor led the others with song accompanied by the lute on a boat decorated in woven cloth and laurel branches.[28]             Squarcione’s teaching methods, considered ultramodern, may be similarly interpreted. Clearly there was no theoretical basis for the copying of classical and other works. I consider it likely there was more playfulness and romantic enthusiasm involved than most think. Classical objects and decorations, and those thought to be that in the studium and in the neighbouring “house of reliefs,” may themselves have been an inspiration for those living amongst them to relive ancient times. Works created here support the idea that, aside from a few classical motifs such as puttos and garlands of fruit (and mutatis mutandis, flies), there was more talk of imitating the antique world than actually took place.[29]

            In Italian literature it has been a commonplace since Petrarch that humanists regarded the painters they admired as the ancient masters reborn; poets especially praised Giotto, Pisanello, Jacopo Bellini, and Mantegna as artists who transcended even the ancient artists (in fact in some cases even deceiving them!) in their true-to-life paintings.[30] As I have already suggested, naturalism, as the most important criterion of good art, is what made Pliny’s anecdotes about paintings that were so true-to-life as to deceive the viewer extraordinarily popular in artistic circles. Amongst the anecdotes, the most famous is the competition between Zeuxis and Parrhasios: the former painted such a convincing painting of clusters of grapes that birds settled on them. In response Parrhasios painted such a true-to-life curtain in front of the same picture that Zeuxis wanted to pull it back. He was thus obliged to acknowledge his defeat, since fooling a fellow artist was a greater feat than deceiving birds.[31]

            This is probably enough proof that Schiavone was in fact playing a joke on his fellow artists with his painted flies. A dragonfly or butterfly would have been perfectly suitable for showing off one’s artistic virtuosity (as we have seen in Schiavone’s Madonna in the National Gallery, London, No. 904). The real challenge, however, is not the artistic representation of animals that in nature are already beautiful, but rather of what are ugly; observation of representations of the latter is a source of joy for both philosophers and common people alike. Flies, however, replaced bees and birds, which were much more common in classical anecdotes, chiefly because they were there in the workshops and really did land on the paintings. Based on this, we can declare with assurance that early Renaissance painters did in fact triumph over their Greek models. After all bees and birds in reality only land on fruit, while flies land not only on fruit, but on paintings as well.[32]


IV. They also land on illuminated codices. Some flies painted onto parchment are thus likewise the result of the same humour, playfulness, and attempts at tricks of the eye.

            It is well known that those very participants in the excursion on Lake Garda as well as some artists trained in Squarcione’s workshop are responsible for the radical renewal of miniature painting in the 1450s and 60s in Padua.[33] The title pages produce trompe l’oeil effects. Buildings from antiquity are imitated replete with authentic and imagined classical motifs; the piece of parchment bearing the written words is itself a part of the illusion: it is as if the paper were torn, and it is not at all apparent where the surface of the parchment lies. This provides for an endless source of amusement and playfulness. It is in this vein that a fly settled onto, for example, an apparently torn piece of parchment in the breviary housed in the Houghton Library, which according to the latest research was made between 1478-80 in the area of Veneto – Padua.[34] (ill. 9) On this title-page to the Common of Saints, it appears that the punctured parchment bearing the text has been suspended from the architecture behind it. On the right side one of the holes serves as the eye of a face in profile, with the nose and mouth defined by the torn edge of the paper. The fly, which is life-size, has settled onto this face, thereby magically turning the grotesque face back into a piece of parchment.

            Another example has stylistic similarities (as well) to the art of Schiavone.[35] As an adornment to the initial “E,” King David is shown praying in a landscape, while a huge fly is depicted from above just behind his head. (ill. 10) I can not agree with Levi d’Ancona, who believes this to be a symbol of the plague. I feel that this fly is also – in keeping with the tradition of Grassi – first and foremost a play on the varying degrees of reality, an artistic trick revealing just where the surface of the paper is after all.[36]

            I agree with those who link the Edinburgh Madonna, with its illusionistic painting of parchment and a fly, to the illuminators’ workshops of Padua – Ferrara.[37]

            Carlo Crivelli, painter of numerous trompe l’oeil flies, also belonged to the wider circle of Squarcione’s workshop, and in fact we have documentary evidence that he and Schiavone were in Zara (Zadar) at the same time in the early 1460s.[38]

            It is highly possible that Marco Zoppo, who was living in Bologna from the early 1460s, may have inspired the idea for that fly which until now has escaped the attention of those dealing with this subject-matter. In the work of an unknown master from Bologna, dated to around 1460-70, the Madonna holds the child Salvator mundi in her lap; with her left index finger she points towards the fly that has settled on the calf of the infant Jesus.[39] (ill. 11) This fly is chiefly a symbol and not a trademark of the artist’s skill. After all, it fairly unambiguously belongs to the sphere depicted; the painter has no desire to trick us into believing the fly has landed on the painting itself. It has, however, dual symbolic meaning: it refers with respect to the sphere in Jesus’s hand to the sins of the world, which he shall redeem, and also to the child’s future death.

            It is not known exactly who or what inspired Giovanni Santi to paint a trompe l’oeil fly on the chest of the Imago pietatis, but it does not appear unfounded in this case either to consider the broad range of influence of the Squarcione workshop.[40] (ill. 12) There are countless possibilities: Santi was enthusiastic about Mantegna, he was influenced by Zoppo, and he could have met with Crivelli in Marche (although naturally the Netherlandish influence cannot be discounted either). His fly on the painting in Budapest has a dual nature: it belongs to the painting as an object, as well as to the subject of the painting. As it generally happens in similar cases, we fall victim to two illusions:[41] first, we think the fly is real and we would like to shoo it away in order to protect the sacred image; when we realise we have been fooled, the fly becomes part of the pictorial sphere: we no longer want to protect the sacred image from the fly, but rather the Imago pietatis from the symbol of sin and death. After all, this fly refers to both the sins of the world and people and also to the fact that Christ, looking suggestively into the eyes of the believers, is in fact dead. Last but not least the fly refers to the real presence of the model, this time not in terms of a portrait, but in terms of the Eucharist.


V. Therefore, just as Mantegna and his friends dressed as emperor and consuls on Lake Garda, Giorgio Schiavone in the workshop of Squarcione replayed the antique anecdotes about tricks of the eye and tricking one’s colleagues with his illusionistic depictions of flies. That this was truly the case appears to be supported by yet another circumstance. We have good reason to think that in this very same time and place, in the workshop of Squarcione, the famous anecdote about Giotto was concocted according to which Giotto fooled his master Cimabue with a painting of a fly.[42]

            The story first appears in the Trattato di Architettura written by Filarete between 1461 and 1464. This part of the text simultaneously serves as early documentation of the paragone debate.[43] Filarete tells the following to his patron, Francesco Sforza, the prince of Milan, after sounding the praises of painting and referring to the Greek artists famous for tricks of the eye: “I too once, in the house of a Bolognese painter in Venice who invited me to take refreshment and put some painted fruits in front of me, was really tempted to take one, but held back in time, for it wasn’t, but indubitably seemed to be so real that if there had been some actual ones there is no doubt people would have been taken in. And we read of Giotto that as a beginner he painted flies, and his master, Cimabue was so taken in that he believed they were alive and started to chase them off with a rag. Whence, this is based on the knowledge of applying colour in the right places, and such miracles are not seen in sculpture.” Filarete certainly should have known well what was going on in Squarcione’s workshop. Not only is Mantegna mentioned in Filarete’s tract, but Professor Gilbert succeeded in identifying the artist who had tricked Filarete with the fake fruit:[44] the Bolognese painter who had been living in Venice shortly before 1461 and had painted realistic fruit in his pictures was none other than Marco Zoppo, one of Squarcione’s adopted sons. That Zoppo was already famous during his lifetime for painting fruits that could deceive the eye is demonstrated in the epigram written by a student of Guarino called Raffaello Zovenzonio: “The fruits which Hercules handed to Hesperides/ Your painted panel gave to me, O Zoppo./ They deceived your own daughter, Marco, and no wonder/ Such fruits would draw Phidias’ hand to them.”[45] The stories about the fictive fruit and Giotto’s deceptive flies are joined together in Filarete’s account: we have every reason to believe that the source for his information was the same.

            The episode in which Giotto fools Cimbaue unquestionably refers to the competition between Zeuxis and Parrhasios. The anecdote actually is about considerable artistic knowledge and skill in depicting nature in a realistic manner. Giotto, who obviously never painted even one fly, had for some time been regarded as the father of true-to-life painting, surpassing even the ancient Greeks: “ ... not infrequently people’s sense of sight was misled by the things that he created into mistaking the painted for real,” wrote Boccaccio.[46] How and when an anecdote is invented reveals as much about the circumstances in which it was contrived as it does about the person it is about. In Squarcione’s circle the fly was the trademark of artistic excellence and a reminder of the tricks of the eye painted in ancient paintings. This is the reason why the story about Giotto was concocted at that time in that particular setting. After all, the essence of what Filarete wanted to say – and what this anecdote was intended to merely illustrate – was that by using colour the painter was more able to create a true-to-life spectacle than the sculptor.

            I cannot agree with Professor Gilbert’s opinion that Filarete’s anecdote and Zovenzonio’s verse prove that Zoppo did really paint still lifes, that is, that it was he who painted the first still lifes of modern times well before Jacopo de’ Barbari. The actual existence of such a painting is unsubstantiated in the written sources alone. [47]

            Interestingly enough, however, the essence of Filarete’s story – complete with fly – is expressed in Derick Baegert’s painting of St Luke dated to around 1470-90.[48] (ill. 13) The subject itself is a quasi self-portrait of the craft of painting: Madonna sits as a model for the northern artists – in contrast to the St Lukes of contemporary Italy. In this context the fly painted in a deceptively real, illusionistic manner near to the fruit on the shelf behind St Luke serves as the stamp of the artist’s craft, related, as it were, to the painter’s considerable talent and ability to imitate real life.[49] As for the paragone, in the background in front of St Joseph, an angel grinds the red pigment for St Luke. In my opinion the angel is not the archangel Gabriel, or rather he does not refer to the angel’s role in the Annunciation, as this would not explain why he is preparing the pigment. Instead this detail is present to emphasise the importance of colours in painting.[50] In other words Baegert’s picture – with fly – draws our attention, just as Filarete’s anecdote does, to the connection between the paragone and trompe l’oeil.

            Continuing with our discussion of the fate of the legend of Giotto’s fly: Vasari does not use this same anecdote of Filarete – with some minor changes – to illustrate the paragone.[51] For him the story serves as a metaphor for the entire Giottesque revolution, which is why he tells this story at the very end of the Vita. In his version the fictional fly lands on the subject’s nose in a portrait painted by Cimabue, as subsequent proof of the now legendary humour of Giotto.

            Among the numerous versions of this type of anecdote, for us that which Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo mentions twice, again in the context of the paragone, is highly relevant. In the chapter on colouring in his Trattato, following the story about Zeuxis and Parrhasios’s contest, we can read: “Andrea Mantegna fooled his master with a painting of a fly settled on the eyelash of a lion.”[52] In the fictitious dialogue between Leonardo and Pheidias in the Idea del Tempio, Lomazzo has Leonardo relate the same story: “It is well-known that when Andrea Mantegna was a painter’s apprentice in Mantua, he painted a fly on the eyelash of the lion in his master’s painting of St Jerome when his master went to eat. The fly was so true-to-life that upon his return the master tried to shoo the fly away with his handkerchief. Then, realising it was a painting, he was so jealous of Mantegna that he dismissed him. Mantegna went to Venice where he charmed Giovanni Bellini with his works.”[53]

            Aside from the fact that, as I believe, one or two talented students in the same workshop where Mantegna served his apprenticeship vexed their masters with trick flies, it seems that there are some seeds of truth to the story about Mantegna. It is probably not a coincidence that Lomazzo mentions a painting of St Jerome: in the circle about which Lomazzo wrote a favourite subject of painters and humanists was St Jerome in a setting full of true-to-life details and animals.[54] One picture of St Jerome survives with a trompe l’oeil fly on the shoulder of the saint, this one painted by Francesco Benaglio, a painter influenced by the workshop of Squarcione.[55] Furthermore, after Mantegna had a falling out with Squarcione, he did in fact go to Venice right to Squarcione’s rival, Jacopo Bellini, who did indeed appreciate his work greatly.

            Dürer also painted trompe l’oeil flies, and he too soon became the hero of similar anecdotes. In his painting the Feast of the Rosegarlands a life-size fly has settled on the left knee of Mary.[56] (ill. 14) The work from the start was conceived in the spirit of competition; this German master then residing in Venice was competing not only with his Venetian colleagues, but was to a certain extent, if you will, “his own rival.” All this I believe is related to the trompe l’oeil fly. It is in part an expression of self-consciousness and is certainly connected to his self-portrait, which bears his proud signature (exegit quinque mestri spatio Albertus Durer Germanus MDVI). This connection was already registered by Johann König in 1609 in his portrait of Dürer in water-colour on parchment based on Dürer’s self-portrait in the Feast of the Rosegarlands. Instead of the signature there is a trompe l’oeil fly on the piece of paper held in the hand of the model.[57] (ill. 15) In the Feast of the Rosegarlands, the fly is also a reference to the Opus quinque dierum. It is like the trademark of detailed technique, careful execution – that which sets this altarpiece apart from his Christ among the Doctors, painted at the same time with speed and wide brushstrokes.[58] In their own way, both are proof of Dürer’s greatness. For experts, the fly in the Feast of the Rosegarlands alludes to the essential difference between his work carried out in “five months” versus “five days”.

            Two years later Christoph Scheurl, the first to mention the picture, called Dürer alter Apelles, and wrote that just as Zeuxis did the birds and Parrhasios Zeuxis, Dürer fooled his dog and the housekeeper: the former with his life-like self-portrait and the latter with a deceptively realistic painted spider-web.[59]

            I found one of the last versions of the anecdote under discussion in Colin Eisler’s 1991 book on Dürer’s animals.[60] Here we read twice that, according to Pliny, Apelles painted such true-to-life flies that everyone who saw them tried to shoo them away. We know that Apelles is considered the greatest Greek painter, famous primarily for his skill as a craftsman and for his ideas. In reality, however, just like Giotto, he never painted a trompe l’oeil fly. I believe the “secret”[61] of this forever-changing anecdote can be found in the workshop of Squarcione.



                                                                                                Translated by Lara Strong




            We first come across flies painted to demonstrate the skilled craftsmanship of the artist in the works of Giovanni dei Grassi and the Limbourg brothers. The first such example I know of in a panel painting is in the painting of the Death of the Virgin, from the circle of the Master of the Albert altar (Esztergom, Christian Museum).

            Inspired by Pliny’s anecdotes, painting apprentices in Francesco Squarcione’s workshop in Padua in the 1460s, especially Giorgio Schiavone, painted trompe l’oeil flies to trick their fellow artists. Among others, humour, the romantic desire to revive antiquity, and the Aristotelian paradox that the ugly in art becomes beautiful also played a role. It was in this environment that Filarete’s anecdote in which Giotto fools Cimabue with a painted fly was first concocted. The anecdote is told in the context of the paragone. Trompe l’oeil flies and the glorification of painting are similarly joined in Derick Baegert’s painting of St Luke.

            The fly seen in Dürer’s Feast of the Rosegarlands is related both to Dürer’s self-portrait in the same painting and to the Opus quinque dierum.

            Anecdotes about flies so true-to-life as to deceive the viewer to this day survive in newer and newer versions, although the essence of these tales remains the same: the flies demonstrate the artist’s humour and his ability to imitate nature.



Published in: Acta Historiae Artium, 42/2001. 7-22.




1. Northern Italian illuminator: Border with insects. Last third of the 14th century. London, British Museum, Add. MS. 28841, fol. 4


2. Giovannino dei Grassi: Creation of the world. End of the 14th century.

Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Banco Rari 397/Landau-Finlay 22, fol. LF19


3. Workshop of Paul de Limbourg: St Paul the Evangelist on the Island of Patmos. Early 1410s.

Chantilly, Musée Condé, ms. 65, fol. 17


4. Follower of the Master of the Albert altar: Tryptich with the Deat of the Virgin. Around 1440.

Esztergom, Christian Museum


5. Petrus Christus: Portrait of a Carthusian. 1446.

New York, Metropolitan Museum, The Jules Bache Collection


6. Giorgio Schiavone: Madonna with child (center picture of polyptych). Around 1460.

London, National Gallery


7. Giorgio Schiavone: Madonna with child. Around 1460.

Torino, Galleria Sabauda


8. Giorgio Sciavone: Madonna with child and two angels. Around 1460.

Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery


9. Veneto-Paduan illuminator: First page of the Common of Saints. Around 1478-80.

Cambridge, MA, Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS. Typ. 219H. fol. 484r


10. Paduan illuminator: King David. Second half of 15th century

Bayonne, Musée Bonnat: Legs 1187


11. Bolognese master: Madonna with child. Around 1460-70.

Malibu, The Paul Getty Museum


12. Giovanni Santi: Man of Sorrows with two angels. End of the 15th century

Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts


13. Derick Baegert: St Luke painting the Madonna. Between 1470-90

Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum


14. Unknown master: Feast of the Rosegarlands. Copy of Dürer’s painting of 1506 made around 1600.

Wien, Kunsthistorisches Museum


15. Johann König: Albrecht Dürer. 1609.

Florence, Uffizi


[1] Kemp, C.: Fliege, in: Reallexikon zur deutschen Kunstgeschichte, beg. von O. Schmitt, hg. von Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte München, Lief. 106, München, 1997, cols. 1215, 1206, 1214, 1216; Villard: Hahnloser, H. R.: Villard de Honnecourt. Kritische Gesamtausgabe des Bauhüttenbuches ms. Fr 19093 der Pariser Nationalbibliothek. Graz, 1972, Taf. 14. On humorous images in the margins, see: Randall, L. M. C.: Images in the Margins of Gothic Manuscripts. Berkeley, Los Angeles, 1988, “fly” (index); A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, ed. by J. J. G. Alexander, Gothic Manuscripts 1280- 1385 by L. F. Sander London, 1986, No. 24, etc.

[2] London, British Museum Add. MS. 28841, fol. 4, 5, 6; Millar, E. G.: Reproductions from Illuminated Manuscripts , Series IV, London, 1928, pl. XXXI (fol. 6); Pächt, O.: Early Italian Nature Studies and the Early Calendar Landscape. The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 13/1950, p. 21, pl. 5a (fol. 4).

[3] Firenze, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Banco Rari 397/Landau-Finaly 22, fol. LF 19, 25 x 17,9 cm. Meiss, M., Kirsch, E. W.: The Visconti Hours, National Library, Florence. New York, 1972.

[4] Play with varying degrees of reality is obvious in another detail from this miniature. At the top of the tower in the right edge of the picture a caryatid-angel is nearly collapsing under the weight of a book open to the beginning of Genesis. Underneath is a coiled strip with the continuation of the text on it.

There are flies on the “Joachim in the Wilderness” page of the same Book of Hours (BR 2v). They have settled on the grazing cows in the foreground; one of the cows attempts to shoo them away with its tail. In their own way and for that time period these flies are of a new type – their size, however, is in keeping with the scale of the scene, “only” true-to-life. Thus they do not fit within the strictly defined limits of this paper.

[5] Chantilly, Musée Condé, ms. 65, fol. 17, beginning of the 1410s. Meiss, M.: French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry. The Limbourgs and Their Contemporaries. 2 vols. New York 1974, vol. 1, p. 146, vol. 2. fig. 551. (Meiss attributes the decorations in the margins to the Master of the Breviary and not to the Limbourgs, p. 147.) (What could the reason be for books of hours since the fourteenth-century to have St John on the Island of Patmos as the introduction to the Gospel according to John?) Flies depicted as an integral part of the scene appear in French miniature painting also, for example, on the donkey in Flight to Egypt (Brussels Initials Master, London, British Museum, Add 29433 fol. 76).

[6] For more on “rhyparography,” see: Sterling, Ch.: Still Life Painting: From Antiquity to the Twentieth Century. (1952) New York, 1981, p. 27. In Visconti’s and Prince Berry’s surroundings, the relevant texts of Pliny were clearly familiar (Naturalis historia, XXXV. 112, XXXVI, 184, see note 31.), but it is unlikely they had a direct effect. However, we can neither prove nor should we discount the possibility that the illuminator who painted the flies in the Berry miniature was aware of the flies in the Visconti Hours. For more on the connections between the trompe l’oeil margins of the miniatures of the Master of Mary of Burgundy and the Hellenistic “unswept floor,” see Pächt, O. The Master of Mary of Burgundy. London, 1947, p. 28. For more on the recognition of ugliness causing delight, see notes 16 and 17 below.

[7] For such an interpretation of the depiction of flies, see: Weixlgärtner, A.: Die Fliege auf dem Rosenkranzfest. Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für vervielfältigende Kunst. Beilage der Graphischen Künste, 1928, 20-22; Panofsky, E.: Early Netherlandish Painting. Its Origin and Character. 2 vols. (1953) London, 1971, p. 489; Gaskell, I.: Gerrit Dou and trompe l’oeil. The Burlington Magazine 123/1981, p. 164; Chastel, A.: Musca depicta. Milano 1984, pp. 14-20; Chastel, A.: Addendum muscarium. La Revue de l’Art 72/1986, pp. 24-25; Chastel, A.: De la „burla” au „lazzo della mosca”. Scritti in onore di Giuliano Briganti, Milano, 1990, p. 235; Arasse, D.: Le Détail. Pour une histoire rapprochée de la peinture. (1992) Paris 1996, pp. 117-126; Thürlemann, F.: Das Lukas-Triptychon in Stolzenhain. Ein verlorenes Hauptwerk von Robert Campin in einer Kopie aus der Werkstatt Derick Baegerts. Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 4/1992, p. 543; Varese, R.: Giovanni Santi. Fiesole, 1994, pp. 233-4; Land, N.: Giotto’s Fly, Cimabue’ Gesture, and a Madonna and Child by Carlo Crivelli. Source 15/1996, 11-15; Kemp, op. cit. (note 1), col. 1210.

[8] Pigler, A.: La mouche peinte: un talisman. Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts 24/1964, p. 129. The fly was also not typically found on coats of arms. See also Mihály Babits’s poem: “Költõ vagy, csupa szeretet:/ szereted-e a legyeket? [You are a poet, pure love, Do you love flies?]” (Verses napló, 1932).

[9] Opuscoli inediti di Leon Battista Alberti „Musca”, „Vita Ss. Potiti” a cura di C. Grayson, Firenze, 1954, p. 62.

[10] Cat. no. 56.492. The entire altar open: 127 x 82 cm. Végh J. in: Az esztergomi Keresztény Múzeum [The Christian Museum of Esztergom]. Ed. Cséfalvay P., Budapest 1993, No. 24.

[11] The spider and chiefly its web, aside from being a flycatcher, was also a trademark of artistic skill: Kris, E.: -Kurz, O.: Legend, Myth, and Magic in the Image of the Artist. A Historical Experiment. (1934) Yale University, 1979, p. 8.; Kraut, G.: Lukas malt die Madonna. Zeugnisse zum künstlerischen Selbstverständnis in der Malerei. Worms, 1986, pp. 83-84. See the anecdote which relates to Dürer, note 59.

[12] New York, Metropolitan Museum, The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.19), 29,2 x 20,3 cm. The halo was removed during cleaning; see: Ainsworth, M. W., with contributions by Martens, M.P.J: Petrus Christus: Renaissance Master of Bruges. New York, 1994, No. 5 (with a bibliography pertaining to the fly also).

[13] Belting, H. – Kruse, Ch.: Die Erfindung des Gemäldes. Das erste Jahrhundert der niederländische Malerei. München, 1994, p. 50.

There is the slight possibility that the trompe l’oeil fly as the trademark of naturalism and a painter’s virtuosity was not introduced into early Netherlandish painting by Petrus Christus (and even less likely by the Master of the Albert altar or his followers), but rather by one of the “founding fathers,” Robert Campin (†1444). Felix Thürlemann (op. cit. [note 7]) reconstructed a painting of St Luke by Campin based on the two paintings by Derick Baegert (or his workshop) in which the trompe l’oeil fly is the signature of the craft of painting. See notes 48-50 and the related text.

[14] Panofsky, E.: Albrecht Dürer. 2 vols. Princeton, 1943, vol. II. p. 12; Pigler, A., op. cit. (note 8), p. 127, Chastel, op. cit. (note 7, 1984), pp. 14, 15.

[15] Aristotle: Poetics, 4.: “….though the objects themselves may be painful to see, we delight to view the most realistic representations of them in art, the forms for example of the lowest animals and of dead bodies. The explanation is to be found in a further fact: to be learning something is the greatest of pleasures not only to the philosopher but also to the rest of mankind, however small their capacity for it; the reason of the delight in seeing the picture is that one is at the same time learning-gathering the meaning of things, e. g. that the man there is so-and-so…” The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. By J. Barnes, 2 vols, Princeton, 1984, vol. 2. p. 2318) See also: ibid.: Parts of Animals, I. 5; Rhetoric I, 11.

[16] Baxandall, M.: Guarino, Pisanello and Manuel Chrysoloras. The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 28/1965, p. 198; Baxandall, M.: Giotto and the Orators. Humanist observers of painting in Italy and the discovery of pictorial composition 1350-1450. Oxford, 1971, p. 80; Gramaccini, N.: Das genaue Abbild der Natur. Riccios Tiere und die Theorie des Naturabgusses seit Cennini, in: Natur und Antike in der Renaissance, Frankfurt am Main, 1985, 217; Pochat, G.: Geschichte der Ästhetik und Kunstheorie von der Antike bis zum 19. Jahrhundert. Köln, 1986, p. 214; Blass-Simmen, B.: Sankt Georg: Drachenkamp in der Renaissance. Carpaccio – Raffael – Leonardo. Berlin, 1988, p. 27-29; Chastel, A., op. cit. (note 7, 1990), p. 235.

[17] Baxandall op. cit. note 16, 1965: 189; 1971: 40, 83, 95; Gramaccini op. cit (note 16) loc. cit.

[18] Epistolario di Guarino Veronese, da R. Sabbadini 3 vols.Velence, 1915-19, vol. II. p. 406; vol. III. p. 377.

[19] For Alberti’s work op. cit. (note 9) pp. 45-62 and Chastel op. cit. (note 7, 1984) pp. 45-58.

[20] Alberti op. cit. (note 9) p. 52 “non hanc usque in diem fuere inter muscas odia, simultates, dissidia.” See ibid. pp. 50-52 and Chastel op. cit. (note 7, 1984) p. 47.

[21] For more on Squarcione and his workshop, see: De Nicolò Salmazo, A.: in: La pittura nel Veneto. Il Quattrocento 2 vols. A cura di M. Lucco, Milano, 1990, vol. 2. pp. 513-525, 767-8. For earlier literature, also: Armstrong, L.: The Paintings and Drawings of Marco Zoppo. New York London 1976, 11-28, Lightbrown, R.: Mantegna. With a Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Prints. Oxford, 1986, pp. 15-29; Eisler, C.: The Genius of Jacopo Bellini. New York, 1989, p. 195; Andrea Mantegna, exhibition cat. Ed. J. Martineau, London, 1992, pp. 9., 94-113.

[22] For more on the cartellino, see: WaŸbiñski, Z.: Le “cartellino”. Origine et avatars d’une etiquette. Pantheon 21/1963, pp. 278-283; Mauriès, P.: Le trompe l’oeil. Paris, 1996, pp. 107-108; Matthew, L. C.: The Painter’s Presence: Signatures in Venetian Renaissance Pictures. The Art Bulletin 80/1998, pp. 616-648.

[23] The five paintings: Polyptych, London, National Gallery, Inv. No. 630, (91,5 x 35 cm.): “.OPVS. SCLAVONI. DISIPVLI./SQVARCIONI. S.”; Madonna, Torino, Galleria Sabauda, No. 162 (71 x 61 cm.): “OPUS. SCLAVONI. DALMATICI. SQUARCIONI. S.”; Madonna, Berlin-Dahlem, Gemäldegalerie: “OPUS. SCLAVONI. DALMAT/ICI. SQVARCIONI”; Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, Inv. No. 37. 1026 (70 x 56.7 cm.): “.HOC. PINXIT. GEORGIVS. DALMATICVS. DIS/CIPVLVS. SQVARCIONI. S.”; Portrait of a man, Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, No. 1030: “OPUS . GEORGI . SCLAVONIS . SQUARCIONI.”

[24] What Pigler, op.cit., p. 47 (note 8) considers a fly, Ames-Lewis rightfully identifies as an earwig (Ames-Lewis, F.: The Intellectual Life of the Early Renaissance Artist. New Haven-London 2000, p. 192. [see note 42]). For more data on this and the other two pictures, see the previous notes and: Davies, M.: The Earlier Italian Schools. London, 1961, p. 464; Gabrielli, N.: Galleria Sabauda, Maestri italiani, Torino, 1971, pp. 228-9.; Zeri, F.: Italian Paintings in the Walters Art Gallery 2 vols, Baltimore, 1976, vol. 1., p. 206.

[25] I do not know if there is any significance to the fact that in these three pictures, and just these three, after the signature there is a letter “S;” Explanations given thus far are not convincing. De Nicolò Salmazo (op. cit. [note 21], p. 539, note 168) suggests it stands for “sculptor” and not “successor” (Moschetti) or “scholaris” (Bonicatti, and also Prijatelj and Ruhmer). The “S” could also refer to the artist’s place of birth. But is also possible that the “S” had some connection to the joke, and thus there are countless possibilities (sacculus, salsus, sapiens, scelestus, scurror, simmia naturae, sollers, summus, superator, similo, simulo, sublecto, etc.)

[26] Middeldorf Kosegarten, A.: The Origins of Artistic Competitions in Italy. In: Lorenzo Ghiberti nel suo tempo. Atti del convegno internazionale di studi (Firenze, 18-21 ottobre 1978) 2 vols. Firenze, 1980, vol. 1. pp. 167-186.; Gramaccini, N.: Wie Jacopo Bellini Pisanello besiegte. Der Ferrareser Wettbewerb von 1441. Idea 1/1981-2, 26-53

[27] Vasari, G.: Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori scultori ed architettori, (1568) con nuove annotazioni e commenti di Gaetano Milanesi, tomo III. Firenze, 1906, Andrea Mantegna, p. 386.: “La concorrenza ancora di Marco Zoppo bolognese, e di Dario da Trevisi, e di Niccolò Pizzolo padoano, discepoli del suo adottivo padre e maestro, gli fu non piccolo aiuto e stimolo all’imparare.”

[28] We know all this from Feliciano’s writings. Mitchell, Ch.: Archaeology and Romance in Renaissance Italy. In: Italian Renaissance Studies. A tribute to the late Cecilia M. Ady, ed. by E. F. Jacob, London, 1960, 455-483; Martineau, op. cit. (note 21) p. 17.

There are numerous verbal examples of this peculiar Veneto-Paduan game of fancy dress in antique style. Feliciano for example compared Marco Zoppo not just to the ancient painter Euphranor, but also to the formidable military commander Massinissa; he refers to Zoppo’s vicious dogs as Cerberus, and they are what dissuaded him from ever daring to visit the painter. The painter’s daughters were called Lucretia and Minerva. (Armstrong, op. cit. [note 21], pp. 9-10 and docs. XIII, XIV).

[29] Many have emphasised the relativity of the significance of copying antiquity. For example: Kristeller, P.: Andrea Mantegna. London, New York, Bombay, 1901, pp. 28-29; Boskovits, M.: Una ricerca su Francesco Squarcione. Paragone, 28/1977, p. 46; Lightbrown, op. cit. (note 21), p. 24 (“An antique motif was as often as not a stimulant to the imagination rather than a model to be copied literally…”) etc.

Cf. Mitchell for more on the excursion to Lake Garda: “ ... they acted (or pretended to act) à l’antique, already anticipated their objective, they were looking, not so much for novel finds, as for fresh reflections and confirmations of an antiquity that shone in their imaginations. Antiquity was becoming an ideal of life, rather than an object of inquiry.” (Mitchell, op. cit. (note 28) p. 478)

[30] For example Pisanello as greater than Prometheus (L. Dati), Zeuxis and Apelles (T. V. Strozzi), Phidias and Praxiteles (Pocellio): Chiarelli, R.: L’opera completa del Pisanello, Milano, 1972, pp. 9-10; Jacopo Bellini as the new Phidias: Gramaccini, op. cit. (note 26) p. 28; Mantegna as greater than Parrhasios “of Rome” or Apelles (Filippo Nuvoloni): Martineau, op. cit. (note 21) p. 18, and Janus Pannonius: The praise of painter Andrea Mantegna, etc.; and Zoppo tricking Phidias, see note 45.

[31] Plinius: Naturalis historia XXXV. 65-6, see also: XXXV. 23 for the deception of ravens, XXXV. 95 deception of horses, XXXV. 121: deception of birds, XXXV. 155: deception of people, artists. Kris – Kurz, op. cit., (note 11) p. 62.

Pietro da Pavia is a good example of the extent to which the painters in the past as well – embraced Pliny: he illustrated the initial from the chapter on painters in Naturalis historia with a self-portrait together with his name and date: “frater Petrus de Papie me fecit 1389” (Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, MS. E. 24. inf., fol. 332r.) See: Sutton, K.: Giangaleazzo Visconti as patron. A prayer book illuminated by Pietro da Pavia. Apollo, 137/1993, fig. 2.

Philostratus’s discussion of flowers upon which such a life-like bee has landed that it is unknown “whether a real bee has been deceived by the painted flowers or whether we are to be deceived into thinking that a painted bee is real ” is also well known. Philostratos: Imagines I. 23. (Philostratus: Imagines, with an English translation by Arthur Fairbanks, Cambridge, MA. 1960, p. 89-91.) This topos is used by Ciriaco d’Ancona of Padua, who was enthusiastic about antique literature and art, when he describes in 1449 the muse Melpomene decorating the studiolo of the Belfiore Castle of Ferrara. See Baxandall, op. cit. (note 16, 1965) p. 188. Panofsky, op. cit. (note 7), p. 489 makes a connection between the deceptively real depictions of flies and this place of Philostratus. See also Strabo: Geography, 14, 2, 5: pictures depicting birds fooling other birds (Gilbert mentions this in connection with the Madonna in Edinburgh. Gilbert, C. E.: Grapes, Curtains, Human Beings: The Theory of Missed Mimesis. Künstlerischer Austausch – Artistic Exchange. XXVIII. Internationaler Kongress für Kunstgeschichte, Hgg. Th. W. Gaehtgens, 3 vols. Berlin, 1992, vol. 2., 1993, p. 419, note 13. For the Edinburgh Madonna: note 37.)

[32] There in no source surviving from antiquity that deals with illusionistic flies. We only know of skilled sculptors and gem cutters who sculpted flies (see, Kemp, op. cit. note 1, 1210), Leonello d’Este also praises them: Baxandall, M.: A Dialogue on Art from the Court of Leonello d’Este. The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 26/1963, p. 322.

[33] Meiss, M.: Andrea Mantegna as Illuminator. Glückstadt - Hamburg, 1957; Mariani Canova, G.: La miniatura veneta del Rinascimento. Velence, 1969, pp. 12, 107-108.; Alexander, J. J. G.: Italian Renaissance Illuminations, London – New York, 1977; Armstong, L.: Renaissance Miniature Painters and Classical Imagery. The Master of the Putti and his Venetian Workshop. London, 1981; The Painted Page. Italian Renaissance Book Illumination 1450-1550, ed. by J. J. G. Alexander, London – New York, 1994, 23-26.

Many believe that not just Mantegna and Zoppo, but other painters from Squarcione’s workshop were expressly illuminators. Bonicatti, M.: Aspetti dell’umanesimo nella pittura veneta dal 1455 al 1515. Roma, 1964 (He derives all of Squarcione-ism from the miniature); Puppi, L.: Osservazioni sui riflessi dell’arte di Donatello tra Padova e Ferrara. In: Donatello e il suo tempo, Atti del VIII Convegno Internazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento, Firenze, 1966, p. 324; Mariani Canova, G.: La miniatura rinascimentale a Padova, in: Dopo Mantegna, Padova, Palazzo della Ragione, Milano, 1976, p. 152. (I know of the latter only from references.)

[34] Cambridge, MA. Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS. Typ. 219 H. fol. 484r. 29 x 20 cm. The Painted Page (see note 33) No. 88, with earlier literature.

I should mention here that research on the origins of the illusionary “torn parchment” motif has little to go on, see Armstrong, op. cit. (note 33), p. 24. I think that in part the cartellino and in part some of the solutions used in the miniatures of Lombardy can be considered. See for example the example mentioned in note 4.

[35] Bayonne, Musée Bonnat: Legs 1187: Levi d’Ancona, M.: Il “Maestro della Mosca”. Commentarii, Rivista di critica e storia dell’arte 1-2/1975, 145-157

[36] Levi d’Ancona (op. cit., [note 35], p. 151) believes the closest relative of not only the miniature style but also the fly can be found on the putto in Schiavone’s Madonna in Torino. She mentions this insect too as symbolising the spread of the plague. I can not agree with this either, although she did give me the idea for the title of this article. He refers to “Puer abige muscas!” in Cicero De Oratore 2. 60. 247, the context of which is humour itself (different types of jokes).

I know only from description of a fly decorating an initial in a Pliny manuscript written in Italian in Padua in the 1470s. (Book XI, in the company of other insects, Painted Page, op. cit. [note 33], No. 84). Kris – Kurz (op. cit. [note 11] p. 64, note 5) refer to a late-15th-century Milanese miniature with painted fly as a “pictorial joke.”

[37] Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, No. 1535, 58,5 x 44 cm. Brigstocke, H.: Italian and Spanish Paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland. Edinburgh, 1978, p. 44. Besides the literature referred to here, see: Salmi, M.: Riflessioni sulla civiltà figurativa di Ferrara nei suoi rapporti con Padova durante il primo Rinascimento. Rivista d’arte 34/1959, 34.o., Manca, J.: A Ferrarese Painter of the Quattrocento. Gazette des Beaux-Arts 132/1990, pp. 159, 164-5; Mauriès, op. cit. (note 22) p. 101 (according to the latter the paper which appears torn may have a connection to the Zeuxis - Parrhasios contest – the fly is not mentioned in this context).

[38] Zampetti, P.: Carlo Crivelli. Milano, 1961, pp. 9-10.

[39] Malibu, The Paul Getty Museum. Bacchi, A.: Vicende della pittura nell’ età di Giovanni II Bentivoglio. In: Bentivolorum Magnificentia. Principe e Cultura a Bologna nel Rinascimento, a cura di B. Basile, Roma, 1984, pp. 301-2, fig. 7.; Le Muse e il principe. Arte di corte nel Rinascimento padano, a cura di A. Mottola Molfino - M. Natale, 2 vols. Milano, 1991, vol. I. p. 430, fig. 455

[40] Budapest, Szépmûvészeti Múzeum [Museum of Fine Arts], No. 51. 799, 66,5 x 54,5 cm. Pigler, A.: Katalog der Galerie alter Meister, vols 2, Budapest, 1967, vol. 1. p. 617. and vol. 2. Taf. 37.

[41] See: Land, op. cit., (note 7) in connection with Crivelli’s Madonna (New York, Metropolitan Museum, Bache Collection).

[42] In the literature, the comment of Ames-Lewis, op. cit. (note 24) p. 192 comes closest to my idea, except that I think it is the other way around: “This story (the Giotto – Cimabue anecdote) also perhaps encouraged painters in Squarcione’ s circle to indulge in trompe l’oeil painting as a self-conscious display of painterly skill using the same example, such as the earwig at the foot of the Virgin’s throne in Giorgio Schiavone’s altarpiece of around 1460 in the National Gallery in London.”

[43] Antonio Averlino Filarete: Trattato di Architettura, XXIII, fol. 181 r. Ed. A. M. Finoli e L. Grassi, 2 vols. Milano, 1972, vol. 2, p. 665, Gilbert, C. E.: Italian Art 1400-1500, Sources and Documents, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1980, p. 90. For more on Filarete’s comment in the literature on flies, see: Chastel, op. cit. (note 7, 1984) p. 14; Georgel, P – Lecoq, A. M.: La Pittura nella pittura (1982) Milano, 1987, p. 276.; Gilbert, op. cit. (note 31) 1993, p. 414.; Arasse, op. cit. (note 7), p. 118, Land, op. cit. (note 7) p. 13.

[44] For mention of Mantegna, see: Filarete, Trattato, op. cit. 1. vol. 1. p. 258, Gilbert, C. E.: Why Still Life Painting? A Quattrocento Answer. In: Abstracts of Papers Delivered in Art History Sessions, 64th Annual Meeting, College Art Association, 1976, p. 86; Gilbert, op. cit., loc. cit. (note 31).

[45] M. Claudo Bononiensi Pictori. Legerat Alcides quae poma sororibus Afris/Haec tua Claude mihi picta tabella dedit./Decepere tuam (quid mirum) Marce puellam: Phidiacas caperent talia poma manus.

Quotes in: Gilbert, op. cit., loc. cit. (note 44) and Gilbert, C. E.: L’Arte del Quattrocento nelle testimonianze coeve. Firenze, Vivenza 1988, p. 208. In English: Ames-Lewis, op. cit. (note 24), p. 191.

[46] Boccaccio, Decameron, day 6, novella 5. Quoted in: Kris – Kurz, op. cit. (note 11) p. 65.

[47] See: Ames-Lewis, op. cit. (note 24), p. 190: “The combination of classical anecdote and early Renaissance mimesis theory perhaps led painters from the Squarcione circle such as Marco Zoppo to decorate their paintings with abundant swags of flowers and fruit, as though to attract Zeuxis’s birds.” (emphasis mine)

[48] Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, 113 x 82 cm. See note 13. The prototype of Campin supposed by Thürlemann is probable, but not provable. We have no choice but to use what we see as our point of departure.

[49] See Thürlemann, op. cit. (note 7) p. 543. As Thürlemann points out the fly and the bowl of fruit appear in the same context in the self-portrait by the Frankfurt Master (1496, Antwerpen, Koninklijk museum voor schone kunsten, 37,5 x 26 cm.)

[50] For another example of an angel grinding pigments see: The Book of Hours of Margaret of Escornaix, Master of Guillebert de Mets, around 1445, Bruxelles, Royal Libr. of Belgium, ms. IV 1113, fol. 173 v.(I would like to expand on this topic at another time.) The paragone at any rate was of primary importance to early Netherlandish painters: among others the lack of colour in the grisaille statues deals with this. See, for example: Preimesberger, R.: Zu Jan van Eycks Diptychon der Sammlung Thyssen-Bornemisza. Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 54/1991, 465; Belting – Kruse, op. cit. (note 13) passim.

[51] Vasari, op. cit. (note 27) vol. I, p. 408; Kris – Kurz, op. cit. (note 11), p. 64; Land, op. cit. (note 7) p. 13.

[52] “Andrea Mantegna igannò il suo maestro, con una moscha dipinta sopra al ciglio d’un leone.” Trattato dell’arte della pittura, scoltura, et architettura, di Gio. Paolo Lomazzo, Libro III, cap. II., Milano, (1584) 1585, p. 188. Lightbrown, op. cit. (note 21), p 24 refers to this text in connection with Squarcione and his students’ knowledge of Pliny’s stories.

[53] “Et è noto che Andrea Mantegna, essendo in la città di Mantova gargione di un pittore, gli fece sopra di un ciglio di un leone, che dipinto aveva acanto a un santo Girolamo, mentre a mangiare andava, una mosca, tanto simile al vero, che esso maestro, essendo venuto, cominciò col fazzoletto a volerla levar via, imbratando intorno di quella, che a oglio fatta era; onde acorgiendosi quella esser dipinta, per invidia, scacciò via esso Andrea Mantegna; il quale andò poi a Venezia, ove fece col mezzo dille sue opere, stupire grandemente Giovan Bellino pittore.” G. P. Lomazzo: I Sogni e ragionamento di Giovan Paolo Lomazzo milanese, con le figure de gli spiriti che li racontano 5, ed R. P. Ciardi, Firenze, 1974, I. pp. 93-94, quoted in: Chastel, op. cit. (note 7, 1990) p. 240: only as an example of the survival of the Giotto anecdote.

[54] Baxandall, op. cit. (note 16, 1971), p. 92; Martineau, op. cit. (note 21), p. 115.

[55] Washington, National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Coll. No. 1130, 139.1 x 67, 3 cm. Shapley, F. R.: Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, 2 vols. Washington, 1979, vol. 1., pp. 62-63, vol. 2. Pl. 36; Friedmann, H.: A Bestiary for Saint Jerome. Animal Symbolism in European Religious Art. Washington, 1980, p. 216; Chastel, op. cit. (note 7, 1984) p. 25.

[56] It can no longer be seen on the original (Prague, Národni Galerie Inv.Nr O.P.2148), but is apparent in the copies, for example on the c. 1600 copy by an unknown master: Wien, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie, Inv. No. 1900, 160 x 193 cm. Weixlgärtner, op. cit., loc. cit. (note 7); Chastel, op. cit. (note 7, 1986), p. 25; Humfrey, P.: Dürer’s Feast of the Rosegarlands: A Venetian Altarpiece. Bulletin of the National Gallery in Prague 1/1991, pp. 21-33.

[57] Firenze, Galleria degli Uffizi, Inv. 1890 n. 4521, d.: 14 cm. Firenze e la Toscana dei Medici nell’Europa del Cinquecento. Palazzo Vecchio: committenza e collezionismo medicei 1537-1610, Milano, 1980, a cura di P. Barocchi, Nº385 (S. Meloni Trkulja); Chastel, op. cit. (note 7, 1986), p. 25.

[58] Christ among the Doctors, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Inv. 1934.38

[59] “…consalitatus est alter Apelles. Sicut autem Zeusis, teste Plinio in 35. capite decimo, uvis pictis aves fefellit, et Zeusidem linteo Parrhasius, ita Albertus meus canes decepit. Quum enim aliquando sui ipsius imaginem per speculum penicillo expressisset, constat catulum domesticum...forte accurrentem, putantemque hero applaudere, tabula oscula fixisse….Quotiens praeterea servae conatae sunt aranearum telas, quas hic ex industria pinxerat, expurgare?” Christoph Scheurl: Libellus de laudibus Germaniae et ducum Saxoniae, Leipzig, 1508, in: Dürer. Schriftlicher Nachlass, Hg. von H. Rupprich, 3 vols, 1, Berlin, 1956, pp. 290-291.

[60] Eisler, C.: Dürer’s Animals. Washington – London, 1991, pp. 22, 130. (Varese, op. cit., loc. cit. [note 7], however, writes in relation to Santi’s painting in Budapest, that one element of the Zeuxis – Parrhasios contest was the trompe l’oeil fly).

[61] See the oldest meaning of the word άνέκδοτον, Kris – Kurz, op. cit. (note 11), p. 10