A study for the bearded man seated in the lower right corner of the fresco of the Last Supper, one of four triangular compartments in the Mattei Chapel in Santa Maria della Consolazione, Rome, painted between 1553 and 1556.
Regarded as a tour de force, the decorations of the Mattei Chapel were executed with great care. Vasari reports that the artist accepted a low fee for the commission and that he took four years to complete it in the hopes of establishing a reputation in Rome. Vasari commented 'the figures are not large ... he painted everything with his own hand so carefully and delicately that it seems more like a miniature than a work in fresco'.
This bravura of execution is reflected in the care with which Taddeo executed elaborate drawings to establish the pose of his figures. John Gere remarked on Taddeo's 'concern to create a succession of carefully studied figures and groups to be admired as objects in themselves irrespective of the subject matter of the composition in which they feature', J. Gere, Taddeo Zuccaro, London, 1969, p. 60.
The present drawing exemplifies John Gere's view. This seated, broad-shouldered man appears in many compositional drawings, most of which are not connected to the Last Supper but rather to an earlier scheme for the decoration of the Mattei Chapel with an Adoration of the Shepherds. The link is established by a drawing which the early arrangements are clearly visible, J. Gere, op. cit., p. 62, no. 121, pl. 143. Thus Zuccaro kept the figure he had worked upon although the subject of the composition had radically changed.
The pose of the seated figure is identical that of a shepherd in a large drawing recently discovered, J.A. Gere, 'Taddeo Zuccaro's Addenda and Corrigenda', Master Drawings, 1995, vol. 33, no. 264 -K, illustrated. The same group of shepherds appears in another drawing, at Windsor, in which the seated figure occupies the center of the sheet, his left arm leaning on a short staff, J. Wilde, The Italian Drawings of the XV and XVI Centuries in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle, London, 1949, pl. 89.
The figure then undergoes a more distinct mutation in another Adoration of the Shepherds in a drawing at Chatsworth, where the man is seated on a bull, his arms folded on his chest, J. Gere, op. cit., 1969, no. 19, fig. 50.
The figure, as it appears in the fresco, is another variation of the pose. The right arm is now resting on the knees and the man is looking upwards.
Drawings comparable in technique and related to the same commission, are a study for Saint Luke in one of the pendentives in the Museum of the History of Art, Kremsier, and two studies of two Sibyls for the lunette, in Hamburg and the British Museum, J. Gere, op. cit., 1969, respectively nos. 88, fig. 58, 85, fig. 64. A comparable drawing is the recently discovered drawing from the Biblioteca Nacional, Rio de Janiero, J. Gere, op. cit., 1995, no. 218A, fig. 67.