FEDERICO ZUCCARO (SANT’ANGELO IN VADO 1539-1609 ANCONA)
FEDERICO ZUCCARO (SANT’ANGELO IN VADO 1539-1609 ANCONA)
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FEDERICO ZUCCARO (SANT’ANGELO IN VADO 1539-1609 ANCONA)

The Recession of the Flood Waters

Details
FEDERICO ZUCCARO (SANT’ANGELO IN VADO 1539-1609 ANCONA)
The Recession of the Flood Waters
black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, heightened with white, on light brown paper, squared for transfer in black chalk
circular, 9 7/8 in. diameter (25.2 cm)

Brought to you by

Giada Damen, Ph.D.
Giada Damen, Ph.D. Specialist

Lot Essay

This newly discovered compositional study by Federico Zuccaro constitutes a precious addition to the artist’s graphic œuvre: it is preparatory for one of the six round scenes decorating the vault of the private chapel in Alessandro Farnese’s villa at Caprarola, in the province of Viterbo (fig. 1). In September 1566, Federico was working in Tivoli for the Este family on the decoration of another chapel, when urgently called away to Caprarola upon the premature death of his elder brother Taddeo (1529-1566). Despite Federico’s absence for much of Taddeo’s work at Caprarola, on which he started in 1560, a number of drawings securely attributed to Federico relate to it, suggesting he assisted his brother by sending studies by mail from Venice, where Federico had been sent by Taddeo to undertake work for Giovanni Grimani between 1563 and 1565 (J.A. Gere, Taddeo Zuccaro. His Development Studied in His Drawings, Chicago, 1969, p. 118). However, it is to the recommendation of the miniaturist Giulio Clovio, himself related to the Grimani family, that Federico owed his appointment as Taddeo’s official successor at Caprarola.

The decoration of the domed chapel located on the piano nobile of the Villa Caprarola, just off the Sala dei fatti farnesiani, became Federico’s first independently executed room. A schematic drawing by Antenore Ridolfi (1538-1575), to whom Federico had entrusted the vault’s ornamentation and stucco work, records the overall layout (fig. 2; sold at Sotheby's, London, 2 July 1990, lot 23; see C. Acidini Luchinat, Taddeo e Federico Zuccari. Fratelli pittori del cinquecento, Milan, 1999, II, p. 16, fig. 14). The ceiling of the chapel features at its centre a round painted scene, surrounded by six trapezoidal compartments, each of them including a circular scene from the Old Testament surrounded by decorative elements of antique inspiration (for a discussion of the vault decoration, see Acidini Luchinat, op. cit., pp. 13-21).

Only a few preliminary drawings for the vault’s decoration have survived. All are compositional sheets datable to 1566, including the present sheet. Three are in the Musée du Louvre: The Creation of Eve (inv. 4394), Samuel anointing David (inv. 4398), and David receiving tribute from the conquered Edomites (inv. 4469). Two further studies for the central scene, representing God creating the sun and the moon, are in the Allen Art Museum, Oberlin (inv. 1947.2; see Acidini Luchinat, op. cit., p. 16, fig. 15) and the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle (inv. RCIN905976), respectively. All of these drawings are executed in pen and brown ink, brown wash heightened with white, on light brown paper, with the exception of the sheet at Windsor, which is on blue paper. Squared in black chalk, they closely follow the final painting. While the drawing under discussion and the Louvre’s Creation of Eve are trimmed along the circles’ outlines, the majority of the drawings present a roundel within a rectangle, suggesting that the designs may have been first conceived as rectangular. Later adjusted to fit a round format, the rectangular format would perhaps have offered an easier starting point for laying out a dense iconography. The round format accords with Taddeo’s earliest decoration at Caprarola for Alessandro Farnese’s private bedroom, the Stanza di Aurora, recorded in a drawing by Taddeo at the Louvre, The House of Sleep (inv. 10481), as well as with a group of alternative drawn studies provided by Federico (for instance a pair at the Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. 8091:1 and 8091:2).

Stylistically, the present drawing is close to the one in Oberlin: in both drawings, Federico’s penwork is especially vivacious, showing a pleasure and ingenuity in delineating details that succeed in creating a sense of narrative – for example the body wedged in a tree and feasted upon by a carrion crow. In fact, the iconography combines a depiction of the aftermath of the Flood, the receding waters revealing a number of corpses, with elements from earlier or later stages of the episode including the ‘fowl of the heavens’ supposedly extinguished by that point. In the background is Noah’s Ark, of which the classical structure seems contemporary with the artist's time; from an open hatch in its roof, the dove Noah released for the second time can be seen flying out (Genesis 8:11).

We are grateful to James Mundy for his help in cataloguing the present drawing, and for supporting the attribution to Federico.

Fig. 1. Federico Zuccaro, The Recession of the Flood Waters. Private chapel, Villa Caprarola.
Fig. 2. Antenore Ridolfi, Project for the decoration of the ceiling of the chapel at Villa Caprarola. Present whereabouts unknown.

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