During my stay at CASVA, I explored the validity and limits of John Gere’s assumption, advanced in the journal Master Drawings in 1971, that the early draftsmanship of Pirro Ligorio (c. 1513 /1514 – 1583) must be construed as completely dependent on the example of Polidoro da Caravaggio (c. 1499 – 1543). Gere’s ideas have been extremely influential, to the point where the subsequent identification and explanation of Ligorio’s initial works as a draftsman have been based on his theoretical premises.
After a careful rereading of Gere’s work, however, I realized that his hypotheses substantially rely on information provided in Giovanni Baglione’s life of Ligorio, written in the first half of the seventeenth century. According to Baglione, during his early career in Rome (1534), Ligorio mostly decorated Roman palaces and houses with “trophies, friezes and stories illustrating the magnificenze romane” in the manner of Polidoro. Although all of Ligorio’s facade decorations have disappeared, Gere came to the conclusion that Baglione’s testimony was evidence enough to assume that Ligorio’s designs were executed in conformity with the compositional patterns created by Polidoro in the 1520s. To be sure, Gere was able to correctly attribute to Ligorio some drawings traditionally credited to Polidoro, such as Victory with Roman Trophies (Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin) and Roman Trophies with Prisoners (Pierpont Morgan Library, New York), thereby enabling us to gain an idea of the appearance of the lost facade decorations and to assess the extent of Polidoro’s influence on Ligorio’s drawings. Moreover, Gere’s essay offers a very precise description of the principal characteristics of Ligorio’s draftsmanship, for instance, his quirky way of drawing the hands of his figures. As further proof of the link between Polidoro and Ligorio, Gere cited the imprint of Polidoro in the attitudes and dispositions of the figures represented in Dance of Salome (Oratorio di San Giovanni Decollato, Rome), the only extant fresco by Ligorio. Following this convincing analysis, Gere proceeded to search for and find Ligorio’s early style in a group of drawings that he considered stylistically close to Polidoro but not by Polidoro himself, ascribing them to Ligorio on the basis of a general stylistic similarity or even the subject matter represented.