Battista Franco

Battista Franco
(ca. 1510–1561)

Ceiling Design with the Story of the Slave Girls of Smyrna

Inscribed above or below each scene, in pen and brown ink, with descriptions of the episodes depicted

ca. 1548
Pen and brown ink, brown wash; on a mount made for the Dukes of Devonshire, Chatsworth House
14 3/4 x 9 7/8 (375 x 252 mm.)

Purchased as a gift of the Fellows, 1984

Exhibition label: 

Seven episodes recount the victory, through female initiative, of the ancient city of Smyrna over the inhabitants of Sardis. When the Sardians offered to end their siege in return for the wives of Smyrna (1), a beautiful slave girl proposed that she and her companions go instead (2). The girls dressed the part and were welcomed by the Sardians (3, 4), who were later taken prisoner when they were overcome by sleep (5) and held captive in Smyrna (6). From then on a festival to Venus was held every year in honor of the slave girls and their victory (7).

The drawing may have served as the design for the decoration of a villa.

Exhibition section: 


At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Venice's mainland possessions, called the terraferma, stretched westward from Udine nearly all the way to Milan and included Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, and Bergamo. These Venetian strongholds ensured a continuous food supply and safeguarded trading routes to the north. Even though Venice's enemies combined to form the League of Cambrai and defeated the city in 1509, much of the mainland territory was recovered within a decade.

Venice's political independence and unified territories allowed artists considerable mobility. Some preferred to return to their native cities in Lombardy, Friuli, or the Veneto, where they established flourishing workshops. Distinctive local traditions—such as the realism of the Lombard painters of Bergamo and Brescia—also endured. The Veneto area in particular served as a country retreat for Venice's patrician families, who erected idyllic villas in the classical tradition designed by Andrea Palladio.