MELZI, Francesco
(b. 1493, Milano, d. 1570, Milano)

Pomona and Vertumnus

Oil on panel, 185 x 134 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Pomona, the classical goddess of fruit, and Vertumnus, the god of transformation, are the main figures in an episode in Ovid's Metamorphoses which is depicted here. Vertumnus enters Pomona's grove in order to convince her of his love. Because she had always run away on previous occasions when he came, he has cunningly dressed as an old woman on this occasion. By telling her about the allegory of the grapevine and elm, he is able to convince her of the importance of togetherness, for the grapevine needs something it can climb up and the elm, when considered on its own, is useless. Persuaded, Pomona gives in to love and her innermost longings and they become a couple.

Vertumnus is a composite figure who represents various moments in time and historical elements in his various parts. His face is that of an old man, only the bonnet identifies him as an old woman. The feet and hands are those of a young person. This makes his transformation visible. The motif of his gait, due to which his garments are still fluttering, shows that he has just arrived. At the point where his right wrist is bent, the grapevine is entwined around the elm. The gentle touch of her shoulder with his youthful hand depicts the moment at which he reveals himself to her. Pomona's eyes are still lowered longingly while he is already gazing at her passionately.

Until very recently the attribution of the painting was debated. In 1995 the existence of a documented signature by Melzi was proven, which an art dealer removed in the 18th century in order to be able to sell the picture as a work of Leonardo. Due to its poor condition, the painting was not taken seriously for a long time. It was only once it was restored that its similarity to Leonardo's works became evident.