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Projects for Wall Decorations in Rome and Latium in the Second Half of the Cinquecento: New Discoveries and Considerations on Practice

Patrizia Tosini
, Università degli Studi di Cassino e del Lazio Meridionale
Paul Mellon Visiting Senior Fellow, November 2 – December 15, 2011

tosini-2011-2012

Taddeo Zuccaro, Mythological Figures, c. 1561.
National Gal­lery of Art, Washington, Ailsa
Mellon Bruce Fund

I devoted my two months at CASVA to a short survey of late  Renaissance drawing in order to complete an ongoing repertory of painting in Romeand Latium during the second half of the sixteenth century. My research pursued two main tracks: first, I attempted to identify new drawings by a number of little-known artists of the period, whose work very few scholars have investigated; second, I analyzed a large number of drawings for frieze decorations in Rome, in an effort to understand the inner workings of the ateliers and the production of these projects.

The tremendous resources of the National Gallery of Art Library and its department of image collections allowed me to assign new attributions to several drawings by remarkable Roman mannerist artists. These included newly identified additions to the corpus of Girolamo Muziano (1532 – 1592), an extraordinary late Cinquecento draftsman whose oeuvre has not yet been the subject of a systematic study. Particularly significant among these are a project for a painted oval in the apse of the Cappella Ruiz in Santa Caterina dei Funari, Rome, and a landscape drawing, both of which contribute to our understanding of the early activity of the artist. In addition, I discovered other unpublished drawings by Giovanni de’ Vecchi (1543 – 1615), Livio Agresti (1505 – 1579), and Ferraù Fenzoni (1562 – 1645), petits-maîtres of Roman mannerism.

One of the most gifted draftsmen of the period is Raffaellino da Reggio (c. 1550 – 1578), whose work has often been attributed to Federico Zuccaro, his master, or Giovan Battista Lombardelli, his pupil. I found several sheets of grottesche possibly by his hand, mainly decorative inventions not designed for a specific project but rather skillful exercises on the grottesca theme, in which Raffaellino was certainly one of the specialists in Zuccaro’s workshop.

The most important discovery was the identification of a set of five drawings by Giovan Battista Ricci da Novara (c. 1550 – 1627) for one of the frescoed ceilings in the Palazzo Colonna in Rome, commissioned by Cardinal Ascanio Colonna between 1589 and 1593. The drawings, made for the decoration of the so-called Sala da Pranzo of the Riario apartments, at that time the library of Cardinal Colonna, represent the center of the vault and four Virtues — Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, and Hope — in elaborate decorative frames. In the finished frescoes, the Virtues were replaced with allegorical figures of Theology, Philosophy, Poetry, and Jurisprudence, in emulation, as John Shearman has established, of Raphael’s ceiling in another well-known library, the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican. The discovery expands the corpus of this artist, especially with regard to his early work. In addition, it reveals his skill in illusionistic perspective.

For the second part of my research, on the relationship between preparatory drawings and executed fresco decoration in Roman workshops at the end of the Cinquecento, I analyzed and compared a large number of drawings devoted to fresco cycles in Roman palaces. After visiting two very relevant collections, at the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I compiled some general reflections from the study of unpublished or less well-studied sheets. Copies after the autograph drawings of the master were still an essential practice in the late Renaissance atelier. A good example is a drawing in the Metropolitan Museum (80.3.565) for a ceiling segment, undocumented but probably attributable to a Roman painter working during the pontificate of Pius IV (1559 – 1565), which reproduces in a simplified manner a decorative project in the Codice Resta of Palermo (copied also by a weaker hand on a sheet in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm).

Sometimes atelier copies can be identified directly from the finished fresco, as in the case of one drawing (Kunstbibliothek, Berlin, 903) that reproduces, without variation, a section of the ceiling in the Sala di Giove in the Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola, decorated with frescoes by Taddeo Zuccaro; it is likely an exact copy made in the workshop of Zuccaro, possibly by Antenore Ridolfi or Francesco Nardini.

Motifs created within the great masters’ workshops were disseminated among pupils, who reused them in peripheral fresco cycles; consider, for instance, a drawing by Taddeo Zuccaro in the National Gallery of Art, used by a still unidentified artist from the circle of Vasari to make monochrome medallions with tritons and nereids in the corners of one of the ceilings in the Palazzo Cesi at Cantalupo (Rieti, Lazio).

Through the second half of the sixteenth century, drawings for frescoes increasingly include detailed written indications of the colors to be used, the spaces for which they were destined, or iconographic subjects, evidence of the preponderant contribution of collaborators as opposed to the direct involvement of the master. The most famous examples are Taddeo Zuccaro’s drawings with instructions for his pupils, but similar annotations appear on drawings by Daniele da Volterra, Federico Zuccaro, and Antenore Ridolfi. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that sketches for landscape friezes often include, in addition to decorative frames, the landscapes as well, suggesting that the same artist was responsible for both. Only in the most prestigious cases, such as in the major papal commissions of Gregory XIII and Sixtus V, do we find a different painter, a specialist in landscapes, engaged in executing these portions of the frieze.

The rich bibliographic and photographic material I consulted and gathered during my fellowship at CASVA has been essential to this more exacting study on sixteenth-century Roman frescoes and will prove valuable as well for my future projects on late Renaissance drawing in Rome.

Patrizia Tosini returned to her position as assistant professor at the Università degli Studi di Cassino e del Lazio Meridionale.

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