This powerful drawing is a study for the figure of Christ, kneeling in prayer, in Jacopo Bassano’s Agony in the Garden, a nocturnal composition which powerfully captures the Saviour’s overwhelming anguish before his arrest and the Passion (Fig. 1; G. Ericani, in Jacopo Bassano e lo stupendo inganno dell’occhio, exhib. cat., Bassano del Grappa, Museo Civico, 2010, no. 35, ill.). While the artist has described Christ's facial expression in detail with the tip of the brush, he built up the body of Christ and his drapery through layers of brown wash and white bodycolour, spread with confident strokes. The large sheet was part of the collection of drawings by Bassano and his family workshop owned by Zaccaria Sagredo in Venice; it was first published by Ermanno Arslan as a work by Jacopo’s son Francesco (1549-1592), and only recently restored to the family patriarch (see exhibited).
The Landolt sheet raises important questions regarding the invention, production and use of drawing within Bassano’s workshop as the sheet relates to a number of brush drawings on blue paper conceived by Jacopo and later reused in paintings produced by his extensive family workshop (see V. Romani in Jacopo Bassano, exhib. cat., Bassano del Grappo, Museo Civico, and Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, 1992-1993, nos. 88-89, ill.). This drawing was in fact reused for several versions developed from the mid-1580s and alternatively attributed to the artist’s sons Francesco and Leandro (1557-1622) (Bassano del Grappa, Museo Civico, inv. 392; Gallerie Estensi, Modena, inv. 416; Galleria Nazionale, Parma, inv. 476; Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, inv. 393; The Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, inv. 2263; and Pinacoteca Nazionale, Lucca; see Ericani, op. cit., p. 121, under no. 35). The Agony in the Garden became one of the most popular of Bassano’s compositions, and, while developed in various sizes and formats, the main figure of Christ always retained details of the present drawing, such as his partly uncovered knees and the rocky background, suggested just by the bolt-like, thin diagonal brushstroke in the Landolt drawing.
In its size, technique and level of finish, the sheet relates closely to the Deposition in the Uffizi (inv. 746; see E. Arslan, op. cit., p. 33), a large brush drawing which features strikingly similar facial types. While William R. Rearick considered such large drawings as ‘ricordi’ executed by Jacopo after his paintings and for reuse by his workshop in years to come (Jacobvs a Ponte Bassanensis. Disegni della maturità, Bassano, 1987, introduction and p. ii), Alessandro Ballarin highlighted the quality, spontaneity and number of pentimenti in these sheets, which he considered as highly finished, creative modelli, executed in preparation for the paintings and often to scale (‘Introduzione ad un catalogo dei disegni di Jacopo Bassano’, Arte Veneta, XXIII, 1969, pp. 85-114). Another modello by Jacopo, closely related to the present sheet in execution and style, is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (see C. Whistler in Drawing in Venice. Titian to Canaletto, exhib. cat., Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 2015-2016, no. 32, ill.). The evident pictorial quality of the present sheet – achieved through powerful brushwork and the chromatic contrast with coloured paper – offers a visually eloquent case of the famous Renaissance contest of Venetian colorito against Tuscan disegno, grounded respectively in Lodovico Dolce’s Aretino of 1557 and the 1568 edition of Vasari’s Vite.
Fig. 1. Jacopo da Ponte, called Bassano, Agony in the Garden, Christie’s, London, online, 21-30 July 2020, lot 12.