Mannerist drawing: mysterious iconography

In his notes, Guillaume Kazerouni suggests attributing this drawing to Geoffroy Dumonstier, even though it is in the Musée de Rennes collection and attributed to Frédéric Sustris (circa 1540-1999). Born in Rouen and probably trained by his father as an illuminator, Dumonstier is mentioned on the Fontainebleau building site in the accounts of the Bâtiments du roi between 15 and 1540. He worked on the decorations for the palace of François I under the direction of Rosso, from whom he retained a strong imprint.

I am posting this question on the Iconclass blog today because, in addition to the difficulties posed by its attribution, this drawing offers a surprising iconography, the interpretation of which remains to be clarified.
In the upper half, in the centre, there is a meal scene whose layout corresponds to that of the Last Supper, with Christ accompanied by twelve guests. The first problem is that this assembly includes 10 men and two women, seated at the end of the table.
This main subject is surrounded by secondary scenes taking place along a river that surrounds the composition on three sides. The source of this river is twofold: in the top left-hand corner, it gushes out of a rock, likened to Christ and thus prefiguring the saving water of baptism (Numbers, 20:11). At the top right, the same stream of water flows from the wounds of a lamb placed on an altar. The water here evokes the redeeming blood of Christ’s sacrifice, which is presented a little further down, on the cross. Symmetrically, on the left, the river flows through a small temple, from which a figure in the guise of a high priest emerges, heading towards the seated congregation. The Old and New Testaments, the Old and New Laws, are represented in a typological comparison. In the lower section, the river widens, and we see two groups crossing the water. On the left, the scene describes the crossing of the Red Sea (Eoce, 14, 21-26). It is more difficult to identify the group on the right. Three boats head for the shore and join a group at the centre of which is also a leader whose arms indicate the Eucharistic meal. Is this the crossing of the Jordan under Joshua, an episode often associated with the crossing of the Red Sea?
At the top of the drawing, under a tree with a snake coiling around it, Eve recalls the original sin, while on the other side, the consequence of the sin is depicted by the prodigal son disputing his food with the swine.
Any help would be much appreciated!
Valérie Hayaert

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Hello Valérie,
I believe the scene you are identifying as the Last Supper could be the Wedding at Cana. That would explain the presence of women.
As for the scene on the bottom right, I don’t believe it corresponds to the crossing of the Jordan under Joshua because the most important element is missing: the ark. However, it’s hard to know what it’s about.
I’m going to give it a bit more thought, and if I find out something else, I will let you know.
Hope this helps!

Eme Ziegler :slight_smile:


thanks for contributing this interesting suggestion for the central scene. This is what we hoped for when opening the Forum!
I agree that the identification as Last Supper is not unproblematic but the identification as “Cana” is also not without problems. The number of “guests” at the table is exactly twelve. The bride and groom do not seem to be identified (the standing figure to the left, gesturing towards the table??), and, perhaps most significantly, there are no jars hinting at the miracle … those features make me doubt “Cana” is intended.
Let us hope that as the dataset of representations of the Cana wedding and the Last Supper grows, more light can be shed on this fascinating puzzle.

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Hello Eme,
Many thanks for your contribution. It’s my first attempt to ask something so I’m most grateful to get an answer. As for your two suggestions, I agree with what Hans just wrote (number of guests and absence of characters who would fit the “bride a groom” category).
I’m looking for unusual depictions of the Last Supper that would include women.
As for the scene on the bottom right, you are perfectly right, this is quite tricky but I thought the typological reading might be a good clue…
Kind regards and thanks again for your insights,

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