National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS
The Drawings of Annibale Carracci

  

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cat. 47
A Bacchic Procession with Silenus
c. 1598; black chalk heightened with white on more than fifty joined sheets of brown paper (formerly gray-blue), partially pricked for transfer, cut at lower left and laid down
3450 x 3320 (136 x 131)
Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino

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This immense and immensely imposing drawing is the full-scale cartoon for the right half of The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, the central ceiling decoration of the Farnese Gallery. As such, it belongs to the last stage of Annibale's preparations for the fresco, and was preceded by a large number of compositional and figure drawings, some of which are included in this exhibition (cats. 42-46). In those earlier studies Annibale had worked out first the overall composition and then the poses of the individual revelers before presumably reassembling them into a final model drawing (now lost), which would have been presented to the patron for his approval. Only at that point would Annibale have proceeded to draw the full-scale cartoon, which would originally have measured about 3.5 by 6.7 meters, assuming that it was made as a single unit. The left half of the cartoon has been lost at least since the end of the seventeenth century.1

fig.  1 Bacchante with a Tambourine, c. 1599-1600, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest
Comparison between some of Annibale's individual figure studies for the Farnese ceiling with the corresponding figures in the Urbino cartoon suggests that, as one would expect, Annibale actually had the figure drawings under his eye when he drew the cartoon. That certainly seems to have been the case for the Woman Carrying a Basket on Her Head (cat. 45), for example, which matches exactly the figure in the cartoon except in the amount of her body left visible. A pentimento in the cartoon version of that bacchante, however, shows that after Annibale copied her from the Louvre drawing onto the cartoon, he made a small change to the shape of her breast -- giving it a slightly more upward tilt -- a change that he then followed exactly in the painting. For other figures in the cartoon, for which only somewhat more generalized studies survive -- as is the case with the dancing bacchante with a tambourine (fig. 1) -- Annibale may have made other, more detailed studies, now lost. For the dancing bacchante, for example, Annibale would probably have made another more detailed drawing of the figure -- complete with the fluttering draperies and a more exact rendering of the hands and head -- before he drew her in the cartoon.

As one would expect, the Urbino cartoon corresponds very closely to the final painting, diverging only in some rather insignificant details. Some of these occur in the draperies, which in a few instances were slightly expanded or lengthened (on Silenus' back, for example, and in the dancing maenad with a tambourine at left). Otherwise the most notable changes can be found in the tree trunk at far right, which is more vertical in the fresco; in the more upright position of the boy who can be seen just above the head of the reclining figure at lower right, and in the slight twist given to the head of the goat he is holding; in the addition of a wreath of grape leaves to the head of Silenus and in the wider arrangement of his beard, thus making his head larger and rounder; in the clarification of the leopard's skin on the donkey's withers (scarcely indicated in the cartoon); and in the addition of the calf's hooves (symbolic of the punishment of Pentheus) in the basket on the head of the bacchante at right. Other less obvious changes were also made to the head of the donkey, the basket of grapes borne by the putto at upper right, the hair of the dancing bacchante, and the spacing between her and the faun blowing the horn. Most of those changes could easily have been made directly in the fresco, though it is possible that the changes to the head of Silenus and to the child with a goat at right required some additional study and perhaps even auxiliary cartoons.

The demanding fresco technique required an artist to work on a fresh plaster preparation (intonaco) and to stop painting before the plaster dried each day. (These sections were called giornate, derived from the Italian word giorno, meaning "day.") For that reason, cartoons would normally be cut up into smaller pieces that corresponded to the areas that an artist thought he might be able to complete in a day. This explains why so few cartoons survive intact, and indeed why the other cartoons by Annibale exhibited here are all fragments (cats. 29, 30, 38, 63). How then did the huge Urbino cartoon survive such a process? The answer must be that this particular drawing was not in fact used to transfer the image to the ceiling of the Farnese Gallery. In spite of the considerable damage it has suffered through the years, the Urbino cartoon shows no hint of having ever been cut into irregular shapes and pieced back together, as it would have to have been had it been used to transfer the design onto the eighteen giornate that make up the right half of the ceiling (fig. 2). Nevertheless, the cartoon still appears to have served its transfer purpose, for the contours have been pricked and the pricked lines seem to have been pounced with charcoal. Since it was not used on the ceiling, it is most logical to think that it was used instead to transfer the entire composition to a second cartoon, which would then have been cut up and presumably destroyed in connection with the work on the ceiling.

fig. 2
fig. 2.  Diagram of the giornate in the Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, adapted from Briganti 1988

Two other complete, large-scale cartoons from the decoration of the Farnese Gallery survive in the collection of the National Gallery of London, both for frescoes that were executed by Agostino: Venus and Triton (sometimes thought to represent Glaucus and Scylla) and Aurora and Cephalus, adjacent to Annibale's Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne.2 These, too, were never cut into giornate and probably served the same intermediary purpose as the Urbino cartoon. The survival of three such large cartoons is rare in any case, but to have three from the same project suggests that Annibale and Agostino were encouraged to alter their normal workshop practices in response to particular demands made either by the Farnese Gallery project or by the patron who had commissioned it.

For the Urbino cartoon, it is perhaps surprising that a composition that had already been worked out in such detail in dozens of preparatory drawings could have been drawn with such remarkable spirit and spontaneity, with multiple strokes searching out just the right contour for many of the figures. Even the stains, losses, repairs, fading, surface wear, pricking, and pouncing that have considerably affected the condition of the work cannot impair the brilliance of the draftsmanship nor obliterate the rich graphic qualities that once made this work the treasured possession of a succession of seventeenth-century artists.

Margaret Morgan Grasselli

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1. By the time the cartoon was in the collection of Carlo Maratti, the descriptions provided by Bellori and Vittoria refer only to the right half. See Martin 1965, 207, n. 35. Prior to that time, descriptions are not clear as to whether the cartoon is complete or not. An inventory of 1664, cited in Bertolotti 1885, 175, for example, mentions only "Un Chartone della Baccanaria di Fernese."

2. Repr. Martin 1965, pls. 190, 194. Both cartoons, recently restored, were the subject of an exhibition (see London 1995).

expanded references

Annibale's pupil, Domenico Zampieri, called Domenichino; his pupil, Francesco Raspantino; Carlo Maratti; sold by him to Pope Clement xi Albani; acquired in 1915 by the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, inv. n.1 - dis

Bellori 1942, 122; Vittoria 1703 (1841), 54; Bertolotti 1885, 175; Serra 1930, 121 ff; Wittkower 1952, 134; Mahon in Bologna 1956, 114, under no. 151; Bacou in Paris 1961, 40, under no. 58; Martin 1965, 206-207, 257, no. 71, fig. 178

expanded references