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    Sale 5979

    Old Master, 19th Century and British Drawings and Watercolours

    9 July 2009, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 522

    Suor Plautilla Nelli (Florence 1524-1588)

    A kneeling saint in nun's robes

    Price Realised  

    Suor Plautilla Nelli (Florence 1524-1588)
    A kneeling saint in nun's robes
    signed in pen and brown ink 'Di Suor Plautilla allieva d[e]l Frate'
    black chalk
    9 x 7¾ in. (22.8 x 19.7 cm.), unframed


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    Born Pulisena Nelli, Suor Plautilla is the earliest known female Florentine artist. Her father, Piero di Luca Nelli, was also a painter, but she seems to have been largely self-taught. At the age of fourteen she entered the convent of Saint Catherine of Siena in Florence, a Dominican community whose nuns were devout adherents of the principles preached by Girolamo Savonarola a generation earlier. Here Plautilla spent the rest of her life, rising to become prioress in 1568. She drew particular inspiration from the work of Fra Bartolommeo and his pupil Fra Paolino, both from the Dominican monastery of San Marco. After Fra Paolino's death she was given his collection of drawings by Fra Bartolommeo.

    The present drawing may well represent the patron of Plautilla's convent, Saint Catherine of Siena, experiencing her Mystic Marriage to Christ. Plautilla is known to have executed pictures of Saint Catherine, although it has not been possible to link this study with any of her known finished works. However, there is no doubt that the drawing style is hers. The inscription is identical in handwriting and phrasing to that on a drawing by Plautilla of the Seated Madonna Nursing in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, which was identified by Giovanna Pierattini as being in Plautilla's handwriting (for further information and an extensive catalogue of drawings attributed to Plautilla, see M. Faietti, '"In the shadow of the Friar": the Uffizi drawings attributed to Plautilla Nelli', in J.K. Nelson (ed.), Plautilla Nelli (1524-1588): the painter-prioress of Renaissance Florence, Florence, 2008, pp. 99-117).

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    Saleroom Notice

    We are most grateful to Professor Paul Joannides for pointing out that the figure is after Domenico Beccafumi's altarpiece The Stigmata of Saint Catherine of Siena today in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena.