Drawn in connection with the head of Saint Joseph in Andrea del Sarto's Holy Family commissioned circa 1523 for the Florentine Zanobi Bracci and now in the Galleria Palatina at the Pitti Palace, Florence (A. Natali, Andrea del Sarto, Milan, 1999, pl. 138). The fully realized head in the upper part of the drawing is of almost exactly the same dimensions as the painting, and leaves the lower part of the beard in reserve to indicate the line of the Saint's arm in the painted composition. In his Life of Andrea, Giorgio Vasari, who owned the present drawing, describes the Bracci picture at length, noting particularly that 'behind [the Madonna and Child] is a Saint Joseph with his head reposing on his hands, which are resting on a rock, and who appears to be rejoicing at heart on seeing that the human race had become divine through the birth of Christ' (G. Vasari (ed. G. Bull), Lives of the Artists, London, 1987, p. 149). Vasari was an assistant in Andrea's studio from 1525-27.
The absence of pricking, incision or indentation on the present drawing suggests that it may be analogous to the ben finito cartoni developed with great sophistication by Raphael and Michelangelo at the beginning of the 16th Century (C. Bambach, Drawing and Painting in the Italian Renaissance Workshop, Cambridge, 1999, chapters 7-8). With this technique, the contours of the carefully finished drawing would be transferred to a second sheet that would then have been used for the necessarily damaging process of transfer to the panel. Four badly damaged drawings formerly in the Ehlers Collection, including a Head of Saint Joseph now untraced and a Head of the Virgin now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, do show signs of transfer and may be parts of the second 'substitute' cartoon for the Bracci Holy Family (J. Shearman, op. cit., p. 386). The ben finito cartone could be used as a guide as the picture progressed. The present drawing follows the picture very closely, from the fall of light across the Saint's head to the wayward strands of his tousled hair.
The lower part of the sheet shows a freer study of Saint Joseph's features, an alternative suggestion showing the Saint's eyes open. Below this is a study of what may be the bloom of a wild flower, or perhaps tufts of the sheepskin on which the Infant Baptist sits in the picture.
The verso of the drawing is hitherto unpublished. Bottari, who knew of the drawing when it was in Mariette's collection, reported in a footnote to his edition of Vasari's Lives that the verso showed 'la testa d'un uomo, che fugge, servito per l'istoria del fulmine, in SS. Annunziata'. Rather than a head, it actually shows a pair of sturdy legs drawn with characteristically bold hatching. These do indeed bear a superficial relationship to the fleeing figure in the San Filippo Benizzi fresco, but that project is dated circa 1510 and so the connection must be discounted. A closer connection can be made with a figure to the far left of Andrea's fresco Tribute to Caesar for the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano, begun at about the same time as the Zanobi Bracci Holy Family. The fall of light and details of musculature do not, however, fully correspond and the resemblance may only be generic.
Red chalk drawings for the head of the Madonna and for the Infant Baptist in the Bracci picture are in the Uffizi (inv. nos. 299F and 15826F; J. Shearman, op. cit., pp. 334 and 358).
A great deal of the sheer physical impact of the Saint Joseph derives from the skilful combination of red and black chalk. The strong, rugged, contours of the head and the astonishingly lively hair are drawn in black chalk, while the warm tones of the flesh are indicated by an extremely subtle web of fine red chalk hatching. This use of red chalk is quite different in feeling to that on the verso. Rather than defining volume it suggests both the play of light over the skin and the flow of blood beneath it. The forceful strokes of black chalk, particularly in the beard, are applied over areas of stumped chalk which heightens the effect, a technique identified by Professor Shearman in a drawing in the Uffizi for the near contemporary Porta Pinti Madonna (inv. no. 305F; J. Shearman, op. cit., p. 334). By deploying these innovative techniques Andrea moves away from a simple study from life of a posed studio model and gives life to the image of Saint Joseph as a man exhausted by the extraordinary situation in which he finds himself. Andrea's approach to draughtsmanship can be distinguished from Leonardo's in that he seeks to observe nature rather than analyse it, and from Raphael's and Michelangelo's in that he seeks to describe what he sees rather than reform it refracted through a personal aesthetic. It is perhaps significant in light of the practical nature of Andrea's draughtsmanship that a high proportion of his surviving drawings are connected to pictures.
The combination of red and black chalk is rare even in Andrea's work. Another drawing of a male head, conceivably after the same model, is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (M. Chiarini, op. cit., pp. 175-176, illustrated). Sir Karl Parker listed the Oxford drawing as by a follower of Andrea del Sarto, reacting in part to the unfamiliar use of red chalk and later interference in the black chalk areas (K.T. Parker, Catalogue of the Collection of Drawings in the Ashmolean Museum, II, Italian Schools, Oxford, 1956, no. 694). The drawing was accepted by S.J. Freedberg (op. cit., I, fig. 189, II, p. 150), although he associated it with the wrong picture. It is in fact a study for for the Saint Joseph in a lost Holy Family now known only through copies, for example a small panel recently acquired by the Uffizi (M. Chiarini, op. cit., no. XXXIII). Interestingly in view of the innovative technique, Professor Shearman dates the lost original to roughly the same period as the Bracci Holy Family (J. Shearman, op. cit., Studio works no. 5).
Chris Fischer suggests that the first attempt at combining black and red chalk for increased realism effect was made by Piero Pollaiuolo in his cartoon for the Head of Fides drawn in 1469-70 (B. Berenson, The Drawings of the Florentine Painters, Chicago, 1938, no. 1952, fig. 91). The technique did not become widespread, but is traced by Fischer through Luca Signorelli to Fra Bartolommeo, who certainly used it to great effect in a group of portraits made in 1514-17 now in Rotterdam (C. Fischer, Fra Bartolommeo, Master Draughtsman of the High Renaissance, Rotterdam, 1990, nos. 78-9 and 88-9). It was also adopted on rare occasions by Michelangelo, such as in the Casa Buonarotti's Madonna and Child cartoon (C. de Tolnay, I disegni di Michelangelo nelle collezioni italiane, Florence, 1975, no. 71) and a Grotesque Mask at Windsor Castle (P. Joannides, Michelangelo and his Influence, exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art, and elsewhere, 1997-98, no. 7, illustrated in colour). Both of these drawings are usually dated to the mid 1520s.
That practice was taken up more widely by the middle of the 16th Century, and then in the latter part among artists such as the Zuccari and Barocci working under the influence of the Tuscan tradition, and then by artists such as Rubens in his quest for greater realism at the beginning of the 17th Century.
The Saint Joseph is drawn on a sheet of good quality paper with chainlines 43 mm. apart and bearing a watermark showing an acorn between two leaves (similar to Briquet 7435). This is recorded by Briquet on a document in the Archivio di Stato, Florence, dated 1530, which tells us that there was a supply of paper from this manufacturer in Florence at about this time. It is, however, of some significance that this unusual mark is found on four other drawings by Andrea, all in the Uffizi, relating to projects of the early 1520s (a study of the Head of the Madonna also for the Bracci Holy Family, a sheet of studies for the Panciatichi Assuntà of 1522-23, studies of putti for the same picture, and a study of drapery for the Porta Pinti Madonna of 1521-22; inv. nos. 299F, 323F, 1486 Orn, and 6455F). The Head of the Madonna for the Bracci Holy Family was long thought to be a later derivation, although Shearman, who did not know the related watermark on the present drawing, was inclined to accept Andrea's authorship. This posistion can only be strengthened by the fact that it is on the same paper stock as the present drawing.
The watermark also appears on two study sheets by Michelangelo in the Archivio Buonarotti (XIII, fols. 145 and 150) dated to the late 1520s and 1530 respectively (J. Roberts, A Dictionary of Michelangelo's watermarks, Milan, 1988, p. 16).
The Saint Joseph bears on the verso an inscription in an early 16th Century hand which is also found on at least fourteen other authentic drawings by the artist. The inscription is also found on four drawings by Bandinelli in the Uffizi (inv. nos. 6202F, 6458F, 14432F and 14784F) and on a copy after Raphael in the same collection (inv. no. 1340F). Professor Louis A. Waldman, who is working on the Bandinelli documentation, has kindly confirmed that the hand is not that of Bandinelli himself or a member of his family. On the present drawing the inscription appears to read 'turpilio', although in a number of other instances it has been interpreted differently. Lili Frölich-Bum read the inscription on the drawing in Berlin as 'panfilo' (L. Frölich-Bum, 'Ein neuerworbenes Skizzenblatt des Andrea del Sarto im Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin', Belvedere, VIII, 1929, p. 148), while Dominique Cordellier advanced the appealing possibility that it might be 'ser spillo', Andrea del Sarto's brother (D. Cordellier, Hommage à Andrea del Sarto, exhib. cat., Paris, Louvre, 1986-87, under no. 19). John Shearman suggested an alternative reading for some as 'inv pilio', suggesting that the drawings had been 'taken' from an inventory list, while the one on the last Bandinelli drawing mentioned above as perhaps 'singulari' (J. Shearman, op. cit., p. 322). Professor Shearman concluded, however, that they must all be the same word, and that 'turpilio' was the most likely, although the meaning remains opaque. Turpilio is given by Pliny in the Natural History (XXXV, 20) as the name of a left-handed Greek painter, and the name returns in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as the name of a corrupt 5th Century general defeated by the Goths, neither of which seems a useful avenue of enquiry.
The inscription appears almost exclusively on drawings connected with projects from the last decade of Andrea's life, including the Head of the Baptist in the Uffizi which is also for the Bracci Holy Family (inv. no. 15826F; J. Shearman, op. cit., p. 358). It also appears on at least six of the drawings formerly in Vasari's collection, most revealingly on a study for the Last Supper now in the Louvre on which the inscription appears beneath the distinctive mount, indicating that it predates Vasari (inv. no. 1714; D. Cordellier, op. cit., no. 49). Andrea bequeathed his drawings to his principal studio assistant Domenico Conti, although there is no way of associating this group with him, not least since Vasari relates of Conti that 'one night, by, as it is believed, fellow painters, he was robbed of all the drawings, cartoons and other things that he had from Andrea, nor could it ever be found out who these men were' (G. Vasari (ed. G. Bull), Lives of the Artists, London, 1987, pp. 166-67).
After the mysterious author of the 'turpilio' inscription, the Saint Joseph passed with a group of at least twenty other drawings by Andrea into the collection of Giorgio Vasari. In addition to being the progenitor of modern art history and criticism, as demonstrated by his Lives of the Artists first published in 1550, Vasari was also the first systematic collector of drawings. He assembled examples of draughtsmanship from the 13th Century down to his own time arranged in large format albums known as the Libro de'Disegni. There were at least eight but no more than twelve albums, with drawings mounted on both sides of the page according to a didactic plan. The arrangement of the drawings on the page was enhanced by Vasari's own drawn frames and architectonic conceits. It is these drawn frames and the cartouches bearing Vasari's attributions, such as those on the present drawing, that have allowed dispersed elements of the Libro to be traced. None of the albums remained intact, and very few of the pages have escaped being divided up. One of the very rare complete album pages, with ten drawings by Florentine masters around 1500, was sold in these Rooms from the collection of the Dukes of Devonshire (3 July 1984, lot 46; now in the Woodner Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington). That page measured 22 1/8 x 17¾ in. (562 x 453 mm.), about the same as the measurements recorded by Mariette's as approximately 24 x 18 pouces (Abecédario, Paris, 1854-6, III, p. 160). This suggests that, before it was trimmed from the mount, the present drawing may well have been flanked by smaller drawings, probably also by Andrea. A study of feet in the Louvre connected with the Madonna of the Harpies shares the provenance of the present drawing up to Mariette and bears a Vasari cartouche of the same pattern, with oval forms between scrolls at each end and double framing lines (inv. 1679; J. Shearman, op. cit., p. 372).
Vasari often refers to the Libro de'Disegni in his Lives. In his life of Andrea he discusses the Tribute to Caesar fresco for Poggio a Caiano, painted at about the same time as the Bracci Holy Family, and continues 'The drawing for this work is in our book of drawings, together with many others by his hand' (G. Vasari, op. cit., p. 150). The Tribute drawing is now in the Louvre (inv. 1673; J. Shearman, op. cit., p. 370).
At least part of the Libro de'Disegni seems to have remained intact in Vasari's family, and passed to the collector Niccoló Gaddi (1537-1591) and his heirs. Bottari suggests that this was sold in the mid 17th Century to an unknown 'principe tedesco', who may in turn have sold a portion to the Earl of Arundel (L. Ragghianti Collobi, op. cit., introduction). The greater part appeared in France a little later in the century, some in the collection of Everhard Jabach which was ceded to King Louis XIV in 1671, and some, including the present drawing and the majority of the Vasari's Andrea del Sarto drawings, via the Abbé Quesnel to the great collector Pierre Crozat.
The catalogue of the posthumous sale of Crozat's collection was written, with a wealth of detail unusual for its time, by his protegé and executor Pierre-Jean Mariette. In his commentary on the nine lots of drawings by Andrea, Mariette noted that 'On trouvera dans la Collection de M. Crozat, des Têtes, qu'on ne seroit point difficulté de donner à Raphaël, si l'on n'étoit sür qu'elles sont d'André del Sarte.' Such was his enthusiasm that he bought a large number of them, including the present drawing, himself.
John Shearman knew the present drawing from an old photograph probably taken while it was in the collection of the dealer and collector Sir George Donaldson. Donaldson was specialised principally on furniture, and was a major benefactor to the Victoria and Albert Museum and to the museum of musical instruments now named after him at the Royal College of Music, London. He did, however, own a number of important pictures, including Titian's portrait of Ranuccio Farnese now in the Kress Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington (H.E. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian, London, 1971, II, no. 31) and Goya's portrait of Don Andrés del Peral, which he donated to the National Gallery, London (P. Gassier and J. Wilson,Goya, His Life and Work, London, 1971, no. 673).
Andrea del Sarto and early 16th Century Florentine draughtsmanship
Vasari, himself a pupil of Andrea del Sarto and proud owner of many of his drawings (at least twenty can be identified today) relates that Andrea showed precocious skill in drawing while still a boy, and abandoned his apprenticeship with a goldsmith in order to pursue the art of painting. Andrea proved a worthy upholder of the Florentine tradition of superlative draughtsmanship, developed by Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, and was doubtless equally prolific; but it is a regrettable fact that fewer than 190 autograph sheets are known to have survived, and of these groups of some eighty and forty belong respectively to the Uffizi and the Louvre, with the remainder thinly scattered across the world, in the British Museum and other public collections in Europe and America, and probably only half a dozen still in private ownership.
The reappearance of the Saint Joseph has, therefore, thrown into sharp relief how extremely rare is the opportunity to acquire a significant work by this prince among draughtsmen whose drawings have been eagerly sought since his own day, even to the extent, as Vasari reports, of thieves relieving Andrea's heir of many of them shortly after his death. Moreover, barring some extraordinary new discovery, this is much the most important Andrea del Sarto drawing that can ever come on the market. We have to go back nearly seventy years, to the Oppenheimer sale at Christie's in 1936, to find a work of comparable quality and beauty, the Head of Leonardo Morelli bought then by Frits Lugt, and one of the treasures of his collection now held in the Institut Néerlandais in Paris. In the intervening period, contrary to prediction, collectors and institutions have been able to acquire splendid examples by many of the other great Italian draughtsmen, and in particular works by the other great Florentines, including major new discoveries. Yet nothing approaching this level has been available from the hand of Andrea del Sarto.
Of drawings by other artists that have, the closest comparison, and a highly instructive one, is afforded by Raphael's magnificent Head and hand of an apostle, the 'auxiliary cartoon' which he made in preparation for the great picture of the Transfiguration, now in the Vatican, left unfinished at his death on Good Friday, 1520. In the Chatsworth sale in 1984, and again when it was re-sold in 1996, it created a new record for an Old Master Drawing.
Both heads, quite similar in their large scale, and executed in chalk within a few years of each other, convey vivid portraits of assistants in the studio and shows each artist bringing his own special alchemy to the challenge of translating ordinary human beings into the elevated subject matter of religious themes. Each represents a peak of High Renaissance draughtsmanship used to different ends. Raphael's is a protagonist in a drama on a big stage: the theatrically lit Apostle gestures with amazement towards his Master's Transfiguration on the hillock behind him; the life-size head is shown with softly modelled hair, strong highlights to upper cheek and nose, his other features subsumed in shadow. Andrea's tenderly observed Saint Joseph closes his eyes in sleep in the background of the tranquil composition known as the Zanobi Bracci Holy Family, painted circa 1523, one of Andrea's most popular works known through perhaps a dozen early copies. His weary demeanour rather suggests a Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Saint Joseph's features have been captured with that combination of precision and deftness that is a hallmark of Andrea's style. The artist's search for the closest paradigm to follow in the painting led him to employ delicate shading in red chalk to capture the skin tones of the face, as he was to do in another fine study of a male head (probably from the same model) of similar date, now in the Ashmolean Museum, for a Saint Joseph in a Holy Family of which the original has been lost.
Rather as Raphael could use his 'auxiliary cartoon' to clarify details of lighting and expression during the process of painting the Transfiguration, after using the original cartoon to transfer the design to the panel, so Andrea's head of Saint Joseph was followed most carefully in the Bracci picture: the scale, the lighting, the pinkish flesh tints of nose and cheek, the wrinkles around the eyes and the furrowed brow, above all the exuberant strands of hair, show how the drawing served as the crucial key for developing the details from the original cartoon, damaged fragments of which have survived. In both instances, too, the artist was able to retain for possible re-use or adaptation the precious images created for the current commission.