Italian Art History, in a Nutshell
In 1537 the twenty-eight-year-old Giorgio Vasari was approached by the monastery of Camaldoli, near Poppi in Tuscany, which was to become one of his most important early patrons. Over the course of the next four years, Vasari painted three altarpieces for the monastery Church of SS. Donato e Ilariano, and was then further commissioned to paint two scenes from the life of the monastery's founder Saint Romuald. The last of the three altarpieces, which he painted between 1539 and 1540, was a Deposition for the high altar, flanked with wings showing Saints Donatus of Arezzo and Ilariano (on the left) and Saints Benedict and Romuald (on the right). The present drawing is a newly identified preparatory study for the right wing (fig. 1), showing the composition at an advanced stage with only a few details lacking from the finished picture, such as the crozier and the elaborate cope of the foreground saint and the martyr's palm he carries, which here appears as a pentimento.
These powerfully modelled figures, with their broad planes of light and shadow and crisply-folded draperies, show that despite the young Vasari's technical skills he was still drawing heavily on the stylistic influence of the older generation of Florentine artists. The structure of the saints' heads, artificially sharpened by the use of stylus indentations, and their elegantly elongated bodies recall the works of Pontormo (1494-1557), whom Vasari had come to know during his apprenticeship with Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530); and perhaps they also reflect Vasari's admiration for the heroic mode of his contemporary Francesco Salviati (1510-1563). There are few comparable drawings from this stage in Vasari's career and while a drawing from the Camaldoli altarpiece of A Vision of Saint Romuald was sold at Christie's, New York, on 30 January 1998, lot 9, that sheet was much looser in character than this polished modello. A drawing at the Louvre, previously considered autograph but now identified as a copy after a lost original, suggests that Vasari did execute other highly finished drawings in a similar style to the present sheet. The Louvre drawing, The Hermitage at Camaldoli, shows a group of kneeling monks who share Saint Benedict's and Saint Romuald's monumentality of form, their elegantly articulated long fingers and their crisp draperies (inv. 2213; C. Monbeig-Goguel, Inventaire Général des Dessins Italiens: Vasari et son temps, Paris, 1972, no. 329).
We are grateful to Dr. Florian Härb for having confirmed the attribution of the present drawing on examination of the original.
H. Vaughan (L.1380) with his inscription (verso).
Unknown collector's wax stamp 'ATA' (not in Lugt).
Giorgio Vasari is best remembered for writing one of the first and most influential art historical tomes, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, Architects (1550), composed of artist biographies ranging from Classical antiquity through the Renaissance. He had a profound adoration for his friend Michelangelo, who received the most laudatory biography in the volume. It is less known that Vasari was also a practicing painter and architect who studied under the tutelage of Guillaume de Marcillat and Luca Signorelli. Vasari’s paintings drew inspiration from the Tuscan Mannerists, but were criticized by his contemporaries for lacking a mastery of color. Better regarded as an architect, Vasari’s most esteemed project was the structural design of the Uffizi in Florence.
Italian, 1511-1574, Arezzo, Italy, based in Florence, Italy