GIULIO BENSO (PIEVE DI TECO 1592-1668)
GIULIO BENSO (PIEVE DI TECO 1592-1668)
GIULIO BENSO (PIEVE DI TECO 1592-1668)
GIULIO BENSO (PIEVE DI TECO 1592-1668)
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GIULIO BENSO (PIEVE DI TECO 1592-1668)

The chess players

Details
GIULIO BENSO (PIEVE DI TECO 1592-1668)
The chess players
black chalk, pen and brown ink, gray and brown wash; with CAMILLO CUNGI (BORGO SAN SEPOLCRO 1570/80-1449 ROME), after GIULIO BENSO, The chess players, engraving, 13 3/4 x 18 3/4 in. (35 x 47.7 cm), signed: ‘Iulius Bentius. I.tor Camillus Cungius S.’ (lower right)
16 1/4 x 21 7/8 in. (42 x 53 cm)
(2)
Provenance
with Colnaghi, London (Master Drawings, New York, 1989, no. 16, ill.).
Literature
C. Monbeig Goguel, ‘Dessins Genois. Paggi, Castello, Strozzi’, in Per Luigi Grassi. Disegno e Disegni, Rimini, 1998, p. 231.
S. C. Lumetta, The Art of Giulio Benso. Genoese Figure between Mannerism and Baroque, Ph.D. dissertation, Art and Art History. Université Paris sciences et lettres; Università degli studi di Roma “Tor Vergata”, no. D152, ill.

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Lot Essay

This large drawing by the Genoese artist Giulio Benso represents a chess game between a boy and a soldier in the presence of an armed troop and of a crowned female figure sitting under a baldachin. The subject is an allegorical representation of the story of Palamedes’ inventing the game of chess during the Trojan war. An engraving by Camillo Cungi after Giulio Benso’s invention (in one of the several known different impressions) shows, on the shields held by the two boys standing at left and right of the central scene, the coat of arms of the Pallavicini (left) and Centurione (right) families (see M. Newcome, ‘Giulio Benso’, Paragone, September 1979, 335, p. 35). The two families were influential dynasties in the government of Genoa for centuries. Members of both families occupied prominent positions in the city’s commerce, banking system, maritime trade and cultural patronage. No documentation exists describing this commission to Benso, but it has been suggested that perhaps the Doge Agostino Pallavicini (1577-1649) might have been the patron of this project, intended to commemorate historical events involving his and the Centurione family (see M. Faber, Das Schachspiel in der europäischen Malerei und Graphik, Wiesbaden, 1988, pp. 120-152). The presence of the motto Mens non Fors on the sash worn by the boy in the print clarifies the allegorical meaning of the chess game as an opposition of intellect to strength. Cungi was an engraver from Borgo San Sepolcro active in Rome and Genoa, who often collaborated with Benso translating the painter’s inventions into prints. It is interesting to see how Benso’s composition was adapted by Cungi for different patrons by changing the coat of arms on the engraving. An impression in Paris shows the coat of arms of Cardinal Marzio Ginetti from Velletri (see ibid., pp. 138-141, ill.), while the impression included in this lot shows only one of the shields decorated with a coat of arms with a crowned eagle (fig. 1).

Four drawings by Benso of this subject are known, each presenting slightly different variations to the details. Stefania Lumetta (op. cit., pp. 619-622) has summarized the drawings’ sequence, suggesting the evolution of Benso’s creative process in developing the composition. According to Lumetta’s reconstruction, the present drawing, which is the least like Cungi’s engraving, was sketched first, followed by a sheet in a private collection in Bamberg (ibid., no. D153, ill.). In both these drawings the seated soldier in the foreground, seen from behind, has both hands on his hips, a detail that will change in the subsequent drawn versions and in the engraving. A third drawing in the National Museum in Warsaw (Rys. Ob. D. 295; ibid., no. D154, ill.) is closer to the engraving, and a fourth sheet, also in a private collection in Bamberg, presents details almost identical to the print (ibid., no. D155, ill.) and for this reason it has been considered the last stage in Benso’s inventive process. All four drawings are large in scale, although one of them has been partially cut, and the present drawing is the largest sheet of all. It is not unusual to find different variants of the same composition in Benso’s graphic production as the artist often elaborated his ideas by repeating entire compositions multiple times while studying the different details.

Fig. 1. Camillo Cungi, after Giulio Benso, The chess players, engraving.

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