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THE PROPERTY OF A FAMILY TRUST (LOTS 26-46)
The following group of drawings celebrates the Baroque Age: it was assembled with a didactic purpose, that of offering an insight into the creative process of artists, in and around Italy, from the very last days of Mannerism to the emergence of Neo-classicism.
All but three of the drawings offered are directly connected to known pictures, altarpieces, ceilings, frescoes or prints. They reveal the sheer diversity of challenges that artists faced while completing their commissions. When comparing the original studies to the finished works, it becomes evident that, in many instances, an artist's creative ideas clashed with the social or theological dictates of the patrons. Closer consideration of the drawings on their own may often hint at the hidden agenda of an artist who may be keen to display his virtuosity rather than solely trying to solve a practical problem. Each change brought to a composition, either by the artist or the patron, tells a story: most frequently it is about religion and the basic policies of the clergy under the impulse of the Counter-Reformation (Cigoli, Maratti) or about the struggle of a religious order to grow within the Church (Ferri); at other times it is about the social ambitions of a Roman family when building a palace (Romanelli, Canuti), or about the increasing role architects played in the creation of Baroque space (Gaulli, Solimena or Bigari), or it can even concern the promotion that book publishers could offer an artist (Ferri). Beyond the aesthetic quality of each individual sheet lies not only a mass of documentary evidence on each of the commissions it prepares, but more importantly, illustrations of the various types of solutions that artists and patrons presented to each other, using drawings as a form of dialogue in the course of the realisation of a given project.
Most of the drawings in this group were presentation drawings designed to win approval: they were executed with a public in mind and the virtuosity of their technique gives an indication of the competitive nature of the exercise. Indeed an artist had to be assertive enough in his design to show how innovative he could be, but equally he had to show how respectful and knowledgeable he was about the past, while remaining sufficiently abreast with the main stream of fashion to secure the approval of his patrons. A drawing of The Adoration of the Shepherds (lot 28) by Cesi clearly shows how eager the artist was to display the new sense of realism that had become the hallmark of the Bolognese School at the turn of the 17th Century while, at the same time, preserving from the age of Mannerism a dramatic use of perspective, a taste for elaborate architectural settings and a crowded composition. Similarly, Cigoli when presenting his first idea for The Apparition of Christ to Saint Peter (lot 26) was able to create a seascape of great spatial clarity against which each figure stands with the grace of a Carracci composition; yet, Cigoli evidently drew his inspiration from an altarpiece by Barocci executed some twenty years earlier. The recognitions of such tributes to other styles and masters may be today an occupation mostly restricted to art historians, but, at the time, it was surely an essential dimension of the appreciation of a work of art.
Another dimension underestimated today is the role which the Church played in the elaboration of a composition. The Council of Trent had issued strict guidelines to the clergy for the control of images; Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti in Bologna had written a treatise in 1582 which remained influential for more than a century. It is startling to observe how far an artist might progress in elaborating a composition before he was obliged to modify it often quite radically because of the Church: the case of the drawing by Maratti (lot 40) for an altarpiece he designed for the Montioni Chapel in S. Maria in Montesanto in the Piazza del Popolo, Rome is arresting. The commission was prestigious; the church was on the first square that pilgrims crossed on their arrival in Rome; Maratti worked intensely on the composition: seven other compositional sheets, all preceding the present lot, have survived; yet that composition would be dropped and the various figures reshuffled in such a radical way that the two solutions are very different. Evidently the patrons had not approved of the dominant positioning of Saint Francis and Saint Paul, isolated in the foreground in poses which could easily be interpreted as utterly independent from those of the Virgin and Child in the background.
That the collaboration between the artist and the Church could, however, be very positive is illustrated by Ciro Ferri (lot 33) for the altarpiece in Siena and, later, the print published in France of Saint Augustine appearing to Saint Teresa of Ávila, most unusual iconography created to celebrate the first canonisation of a Carmelite Saint in Italy. Ciro Ferri could not have devised on his own the controversial theological programme of the composition: indeed the altarpiece in Siena is one of the first instances where the visionary Saint Teresa is shown aspiring to the status of Doctor of the Faith with the blessing of Saint Augustine, an honour which the Order would only secure for its patron saint in 1974. Ciro Ferri however did bring to the project his experience as a trained painter of classical subjects, giving Saint Augustine the pose of Apollo in the antique relief of Apollo slaying Niobe's Daughters: such a refined quotation and subtle reference to Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa with the theme of the angel pointing the arrow reflected in the pose of Apollo drawing his bow, is an idea which most certainly would not have come spontaneously to Carmelites.
Another important constraint imposed on Baroque artists, and increasingly so through the period, was architecture. Rarely do presentation drawings give indications as to the architectural setting in which the final picture would be inserted; little details, however, reveal how much it could restrict an artist's freedom of conception. Two drawings by Baciccio (lots 37-8) for the same altarpiece at S. Maria Maddalena in Rome, make the point: the earlier sheet displays in its left and right margins vertical lines which indicate that the artist had realised after he had sketched a first idea of his composition, that the shape of the altarpiece was going to be both narrow and tall, much out of line with traditional proportions. In the second and more finished drawing, the entire composition was, as a result, compressed and Gaulli abandoned the original idea of showing Christ in flight appearing to both the Madonna and Saint Nicholas of Bari; instead, Christ sits just above the Virgin and the artist resorts to an increased flurry of draperies to disguise the tightness of the composition. The unusually large and tall canvas had come as a challenge to which the artist adapted by using a narrow grid of squaring drawn for transfer over his final drawing. A case of close collaboration between an architect and a painter made obvious on paper is the design for a ceiling in the Palazzo Altieri in Rome by Canuti (lot 39) who was entrusted with the central composition of the ceiling while the German architect Enrico Haffner who specialised in Quadratura was providing the architectural surrounds seen at a sharp angle from below. The 18th Century in Italy saw artists steadily more obliged to comply with the decorative scheme imposed by architects. This is well illustrated by Bigari's commission to design compositions for the church of S. Domenico in Bologna in 1732 (lot 43). The artist had to work within the strict framework imposed by the architect Francesco Dotti, sketching on each study the outline of the stucco frame, integrating within it the space he had designed for each of the compositions. Even more remarkable is Solimena's study for the Sacristy of S. Paolo Maggiore in Naples (lot 44). The present lot is the only drawing to have survived for this famous commission: Solimena actually drew an elaborate stucco border of the kind he preferred and designed a composition which fits remarkably into that frame. Reality must have struck the artist forcibly when he discovered that the area to be painted was altogether different. It was above a pillar and not a column, making the format of the fresco much larger and basically rectangular. Solimena stretched his composition but it lost in the process the lightness that characterises the study. Interestingly, Richardson, who owned the drawing, felt the need to silhouette it before pasting it on his own mount, in order to hide the fact that none of the lines of the pendentives are at square angles with each other. Solimena would not have made a very good architect.
Since the Renaissance the traditional Paragone opposing sculpture against painting had haunted the debates on Art. By the approach of the 17th Century, it was no novel idea that antique sculpture was a standard source of inspiration to painters but artists started expressing this creed in much subtler ways which today often escape the eye. Thus Passarotti, when drawing his portrait of Bandinelli (lot 27), was actually adapting a self-portrait that Bandinelli had carved all'antica for his own tomb in Florence. To make the reference more subtle, Passarotti covered the bare neck of the artist with a contemporary coat creating the effect of a likeness drawn from life. A similar principle was followed by Volterrano (lot 36) when, still young and keen on strengthening his ties with the Medici family, he painted the fresco of the antechamber of the Villa Medicea di Castello. The figure of Sleep appears to be studied from life yet the pose and the physical features of the young man posing are those of a recently discovered Antiquity, the Barberini Faun, which became with time one of the most celebrated finds of the century. Emulating Rubens who knew how to distil into his studies after life a sense of the Antique, Volterrano turned a simple study for a fresco into an exercise of technical and intellectual virtuosity.
Indeed virtuosity was an end in itself for many of the artists of the Baroque era. The reputation and recognition of a master depended on how much of it filtered through each one of his works. There is no doubt that the drawing by Gaetano Gandolfi of Ulysses and Circe (lot 45) was far more than a study for the picture in Bologna. The composition may be similar but Gandolfi wanted to show his mastery of a typically Bolognese technique: the repetition of any composition in reverse with consummate ease. As a mark of bravura, Gandolfi ended up not only reversing the composition but up-ending many of the figures and representing from the back what he had drawn frontally. The drawing also affects casual red chalk pentimenti in the drapery, when most of the figures are in fact very discreetly heightened with white to sharpen the general effect of the composition. The quality of draughtsmanship confers a mark of distinction, a rhetoric of its own. When Julien de Parme studied his composition of The Marriage of Alexander to Roxanna (lot 46) for a picture at the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, which displays all the characteristics of the new Neo-classical style, the artist was actually advertising the fact that his source of inspiration was a famous fresco of the same subject by Sodoma, inspired by a design by Raphael. Passarotti, when sketching the portrait of Bandinelli, was well aware that his personal drawing style was dangerously close to that of the master he honoured: ever since many drawings by Bandinelli have been confused with those of Passarotti. Similarly when Andrea Proccacini collected drawings by Maratti like the Head of a woman (lot 41) to which he probably applied his paraph, it was with the idea of anchoring his own art within the Roman tradition which he had successfully exported to Spain.
All these perspectives are rarely emphasized in relation to Baroque draughtsmanship but they add much to what remains evident to the modern eye: mainly that drawings were working tools preparing specific compositions, responding to some practical problems. Most drawings indeed never left the artist's studio and many even disappeared, but it is interesting to notice that so many which survive are of a quality which could have satisfied the sternest critic. Such is the case with the slender red chalk drawing by Guercino (lot 30), intended to offer patrons an alternate design attached to the lower edge of a larger modello. Equally, Mola's drawing of Saint Francis receiving the Stigmata (lot 34) studied a subject that he had already treated in an altarpiece in the Ospedale degli Medicanti in Rome. The artist was commissioned by the Barberini family to produce a smaller replica on Carrara marble, and needed to adapt his technique to painting in oil on this unreceptive surface. In his fluid use of brown wash on this drawing, Mola was evidently addressing the challenge of indicating to his assistants which areas of the surface had to be prepared to receive the master's brush. These may seem mundane issues but they required intelligible analysis for an artist to be able to clarify his intentions and directions.