Painted on a silver-colored copper plate, this newly discovered work by Giovanni Battista Naldini reprises one of Michelangelo’s most iconic designs, The Rape of Ganymede, one of the first of four highly finished drawings that Michelangelo presented as gifts to Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, a young Roman nobleman, shortly after they first met in Rome in the winter of 1532. The others showed the Punishment of Titus, Fall of Phaeton and Bacchanal of Children, but it is the Ganymede that encapsulates the beginning of a profound and long-lasting relationship with Tommaso, to whom Michelangelo also dedicated a series of poems. The present painting follows closely the drawing at the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, an important early copy after Michelangelo’s original sheet, which has in the past been considered to be by the artist himself (fig. 1). The invention of Ganymede was met with almost instant popularity, its dynamic design quickly taken up by his contemporaries and followers, borrowed by Battista Franco for his large scale Battle of Montemurlo of circa 1537-38 (Galleria Palatina, Florence) and by Giulio Clovio for his rather more intimate parchment of circa 1538 (Casa Buonarroti, Florence). Consequently, Naldini’s choice of subject and support would have been an item of high prestige.
Naldini was a precocious talent and a fine draftsman. He joined the workshop of Pontormo at about eleven years of age, remaining there until the latter’s death a decade later in 1557. He then briefly left Florence for Rome, and on his return joined the workshop of Giorgio Vasari, where he was engaged on the preparations for Michelangelo’s funeral in 1564. In the late 1560s, he was employed alongside other leading Florentine artists to decorate the studiolo of Francesco I in Palazzo Vecchio, evidence both of his standing in the city at the time and his close relationship with Vasari, with whom he would continue to collaborate in subsequent years on projects in both Florence and Rome.
We are grateful to Elizabeth Pilliod for endorsing the attribution to Naldini following firsthand inspection and dating this picture to the early part of the artist's career.
Please note that the painting is requested for the exhibition Prehn’s Bilderparadies at the Historisches Museum, Frankfurt am Main, scheduled for May 2020.