National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS
The Drawings of Annibale Carracci



cat. 94
Studies for an Adoration of the Shepherds
1606; pen and brown ink with smudges of printer's ink on cream paper
153 x 218 (6 x 8 9/16)
The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York

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fig. 1.  Adoration of the Shepherds, c. 1606, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1926. (26.70.4[7])

This vigorous late drawing has elements connecting it with two separate projects that Annibale must have been working on concurrently, a lost painting of An Adoration of the Shepherds, known through a copy by Domenichino, and a print of the same subject (fig. 1), both dating from about 1606.1 If the drawing was made in preparation for the print, as De Grazia was the first to suggest, the angels bending over the Christ child are the only elements to have been retained, the bagpiper and his two dancing shepherds having been discarded along the way.2

The Morgan sketch is drawn on the back of a very rare proof state, before letters, of an impression of the signed and dated etching by Annibale of Christ Crowned with Thorns, giving the present drawing a terminus post quem of 1606, the date of the print.

Annibale started the drawing with his characteristic framing lines, drawn on three sides of the sheet.3 He began on the far left, with a rapid study of the bagpiper and two small shepherds, each holding crooks, dancing to his tune. The pentimenti in the piper's head and the children's feet, some of which were made by smudging ink over details the artist wanted to eliminate, give the figures more animation and convey a feeling that the group is joyfully approaching the Christ child.

The gesture of the piper is perfectly captured, and he seems fully absorbed in his playing. He is dressed in a toga, rather than a shepherd's cloak. Annibale may have been influenced by pipers in the Bacchic processions carved in relief on Roman sarcophagi. A particularly close prototype is found on a sarcophagus that belonged to the Aldobrandini family and was installed in their villa in Frascati in 1603.4 Annibale's shepherd plays bagpipes with smaller reeds, but his fat cheeks and intense concentration are similar to those of the piper on the Aldobrandini sarcophagus.

To the right Annibale drew the Madonna and child with four adoring angels, a cluster of figures that also appears in the central section of the lost painting. The mother and angels bend toward the child, into the light, which comes from the upper left, as is usual with Annibale. In the painting, however, the light emanates from the Christ child himself.

Annibale's last style of drawing, almost always with a reed pen and dark ink, is perfectly illustrated on this sheet. The drawing is urgent and simplified, with only those lines needed to fix the positions of the figures and to tell their story. Much of the page is left blank. Many writers, starting with Wittkower, have called these last drawings ugly, scratchy, or harsh,5 but their force comes from their directness and comparative simplicity. Drawings such as Studies for an Adoration of the Shepherds became the supreme example for Annibale's followers of a new, expressive style, and characterized the drawings of artists such as Pier Francesco Mola and Pietro Testa in Rome, and Rembrandt in the north, for generations to come.

Kate Ganz


1. For the painting and its possible dating, see Posner 1971, 2: 47 - 48, pl. 108a. For the print and the dating of drawings connected with it, see Bohn 1996, 245-248, under no. .019.

2. De Grazia Bohlin in Washington 1979, 470. Her thorough analysis of the relationship of the drawing to the lost painting, to the print, and to the other drawings for the print is convincing.

3. It is possible that the framing lines were trimmed from the right side of the sheet.

4. See Bober and Rubinstein 1986, 113, no. 78.

5. Wittkower 1952, 12, calls them "ugly" and categorizes all of Annibale's late drawings under the label the "maniera brutta."

expanded references

Private collection, New York; The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, inv. 1978.17

New York 1967, 25, no. 14; Washington 1979, no. 22, 470-472, fig. 22b

Posner 1971, 2: 73, under no. 175; De Grazia 1984, 246-247, under no. 22, fig. 342b; Bohn 1996, 245-246, under no. .019, repr.

expanded references