Perhaps the most singular talent active in Raphael’s studio, Perino propelled his master’s classical manner into the exuberant and elegant style that became known as Mannerism. Even more than his painted œuvre, Perino’s drawings are as puzzling in their stylistic diversity as they are exciting for their virtuosic use of the pen and their inventiveness. The present sheet – bold in style, large in scale, unusual in technique – is an exceptional example of the artist’s originality.
The drawing belongs to a group of eleven sheets, all executed with pen and brush on brown-tinted paper and heightened with yellow bodycolor. The result seems to have been meant to imitate bronze reliefs, not unlike the scenes Perino is known to have painted for Raphael in the Vatican Loggie. The drawing offered here is the only one remaining in private hands; the others belong to the Courtauld Gallery, London, inv. 4734, 4735 (two fragments of one composition); the Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, inv. 1948-1791 (a second version of a figure in one of the Courtauld drawings), the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, inv. 2542, 2543; the Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. 10369, 10413; the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, inv. RSA 169; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. 1983.56 (formerly in the Schrafl collection, Zurich); and the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, inv. C 213 (all reproduced in Rome 1981-1982, nos. 134-144, as attributed to Domenico Rietti, called Lo Zaga; the entire group, with the exception of the drawing now at the Metropolitan, was first discussed in print in Andrews, op. cit., p. 125). Together with the present drawing, those in Paris, Dresden and Munich, as well as three more sheets that seem lost belonged to the celebrated collection of the seventeenth-century Cologne banker Everhard Jabach (Py, op. cit., nos. 89-94).
The drawing’s exact subject is hard to identify; although it has been suggested it represents Diana giving the newborn Apollo to Jupiter (see Rome 1981-1982, op. cit., p. 188), this is hardly possible given that Diana and Apollo were twins. The project to which the extensive series of mythological compositions relate is also not entirely clear. While they may originally have been intended as a decorative (painted?) frieze on various mythological themes, , flanked by winged putti in color (as first suggested by Harprath, op. cit., p. 156; but see Cordellier and Parma, op. cit., pp. 245, 254), Bernice F. Davidson has shown in a brilliant article that at least some of the compositions found use in a tapestry series known as the Furti di Giove, a set of seven panels depicting Jupiter’s love affairs ('The Furti di Giove Tapestries Designed by Perino del Vaga for Andrea Doria', The Art Bulletin, LXX, no. 3 (September 1988), pp. 424-450). Commissioned by Prince Andrea Doria, they were woven in Flanders in the mid-1530s and once adorned his magnificent palace in Genoa, but are now sadly lost. Engraved eighteenth-century reproductions after the cartoons for the tapestries correspond to three of the smaller-scale drawings (those at the Courtauld and the Metropolitan; see Parma, op. cit., no. 126, ill.), and a finished modello depicting Jupiter and Juno on a bed surrounded by putti, recently acquired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 2011.36; formerly Sotheby’s, New York, 26 Jan 2011, lot 510), must represent a stage between the group of drawings to which the present sheet belongs, and the life-size cartoons, executed in colorful gouache and traceable until the early nineteenth century. One has been located at the Louvre (inv. MI 1118; see D. Cordellier and H. Bartelloni in Parma, op. cit., no. 125, ill.).
In the past given to various artists in the circle of Perino, the full attribution of these drawings to the artists, recorded at the times of Jabach and Cornelis Ploos van Amstel (to whom the present sheet once belonged), in modern times was first defended by Richard Harprath (see lit., p. 156), and more recently embraced by Davidson (op. cit., pp. 439-440) and Elena Parma (op. cit., pp. 250-254). On inspection of the original, this attribution was also confirmed by Linda Wolk-Simon, to whom we are grateful. If the original intention of the eleven drawings cannot be fully reconstructed at this moment, there can be little doubt that the work they were related to was a significant one. Playful, vigorously executed, at the same time decorative and forceful, they must be regarded as highpoints in the rich corpus of one of the most dazzling draftsman of the first half of the sixteenth century.