- Museum number
The Virgin appearing to St Rosa of Viterbo; interior with the saint in bed and a group of figures nearby
Pen and brown ink, light brown wash, over some ruled black lines, with traces of a red chalk ground
- Production date
Height: 178 millimetres
Width: 149 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Degenhart and Schmitt concur with Pouncey`s analysis of 1947 in which he identifies the subject and destination of this drawing (Popham and Pouncey no. 86) and the one in Dresden (Degenhart and Schmitt 414 / Kupferstichkabinett C 2) with which it was once a piece. P&P 86 represents the young Santa Rosa`s vision of the Madonna amongst a group of virgins (the status of the later attested by their youth and haloes). As a consequence of this vision, Rosa entered the Franciscan order of Poor Clares, an event represented in the Dresden fragment which once formed the right-hand portion of the original: it depicts the saint receiving her monastic tonsure. These two drawings are studies for a single compartment in a cycle of ten frescoed by Gozzoli in the Poor Clares` church in Viterbo; they are the only drawings from Gozzoli`s hand known to relate to the cycle.
Santa Rosa died before she was eighteen in 1252. She became the object of a flourishing cult, centred on the Poor Clares` Viterbo convent which also conserved her relics. Two centuries after her death, the Poor Clares commissioned Gozzoli to decorate the church annexed to their convent with scenes of their saintly predecessor`s life and miracles (the commissioning contract survives and is reproduced in Montefalco et al 2002). The scenes (and their titles given in a horizontal band bellow) derive from the text of her life included in the `processo` of her canonization, began upon her death but only competed in 1457 under Pope Callisto III. Gozzoli`s fresco cycle was thus both a response to Rosa`s cult and part of the nuns` campaign to have their saintly predecessor canonized (since Gozzoli`s frescoes anticipate by a number of years the completion of the `processo`).
Gozzoli`s frescoes were destroyed upon the rebuilding of the church in the seventeenth century but nine compartments are recorded in commissioned copies in pen and wash by an artist of mediocre ability (in the Museo civico, Viterbo). The copies show that Gozzoli`s life of Santa Rosa used that of St Francis as a parallel, promoting her sanctity by imputation (witness the scene of Rosa`s vision of the Crucified Christ). Having recently completed a cycle illustrating the life of St Francis in the chancel of the church dedicated to the same Montefalco, Gozzoli was immersed in Franciscan iconography, and thus the ideal artist to describe the life of a Franciscan saint never previously represented. The compartment made up in the BM and Dresden fragments is not recorded in the copies, and this proved a stumbling block to their identification until Pouncey demonstrated that the scene likely no longer existed at the time of the copies, a seventeenth-century description of the frescoes describing an organ in its place.
Gozzoli`s original sheet displayed two linked events within one compartment: to the far left of P&P 86 and far right of the Dresden sheet are framing pilasters. In a nice display of graphic economy, the artist has only drawn the upper portion of the decoration of the pilasters. The pilasters frame a further, plain architectural framework seen in slight perspective from the right, and hence placing the scenes on a plane behind that of the picture surface; the visionary group of the Virgin Mary and her accompanying virgins impinges on this frame, shifting the group from within the scene towards the viewer. A pilaster, part of this framework, divides the two scenes within the same compartment into roughly three fifths (P&P 86) and two fifths (Degenhart and Schmitt 414) parts. The pilaster provided the division upon which the sheet was cut.
The seventeenth-century description of the chapel allows us to identify these two scenes as once forming the second compartment in the elapsing of the cycle in a horizontal band around the small church dedicated to S. Rosa. It is only one of two scenes showing S. Rosa before she entered the Poor Clares. In both the BM and Dresden sheets the light falls from the right, the direction of the narrative – within P&P 86 there is also a sense in which the light falls over the assembled group from the visionary group of the Madonna and Virgins.
Rosa`s bed is raised on a platform containing a lozenge pattern on its side. This performs a pictorial function of raising Rosa`s head to a height equal to the standing figures. The saint, her status attested by her halo, sits up in bed, her right arm raised at the vision to which the standing woman to her right appears privy while that in the centre raises her right arm to her head in either puzzlement or wonder. The three emphatic folds of her mantle are in contrast to the softer folds falling from the long robed male onlooker to the right. In further contrast to the latter is his companion to the right, seen in profile, younger and with a knee-length tunic. They are calm witnesses to Rosa`s miraculous healing on her sick bed. Between these two figures appears a female head looking out; to the left of this group is a man who gesticulated in wonder, looking up at the vision. The witnesses lend a sense of veracity to the events depicted.
To the right of Rosa`s head is the head of a female onlooker, left off and thus taking on the appearance of a pentimento – originally the saint herself? To the top left of the scene is visible the recession line of the chamber ceiling: it demonstrates that the framing drapery above Rosa`s head was added subsequently. This is equally the case with the drapery to the right, in contrast hanging straight, which impinges two of the rays emanating from the visionary group.
Pouncey (1947, p. 9, n. 3) considers that since each drawing bears the marks of the elder Richardson, the sheet cannot have been divided later than the year of the collector`s death in 1745 - although Melli differs in her interpretation. Cole Ahl (1996, p. 73, n. 85) records Ames-Lewis` verbal communication that the sheets may have been presentation drawings for the patrons – it would thus be a rare category of drawing in Gozzoli`s surviving graphic oeuvre, of which the binding within a studio sketchbook enabled the survival. If this is the case, Gozzoli must have expected the nuns to tolerate the pentimenti it displays, their understanding the marks as displaying the sequential nature of the drawing process. Another interpretation might be that the pentimenti represent the artist`s response to the nuns` comments on his drawings.
Scientific analysis (Melli, 2006) has demonstrated that lead point has been employed by Gozzoli to outline the architecture and figures in the Dresden fragment; it is also visible in the BM portion, subsequently gone over in pen and ink. Pentimenti clearly reveal the sequence of drawing, Gozzoli`s obscuring the recession line in the upper left with a piece of drapery, and going over some of the rays emanating from the visionary group with the bed curtain added to the far right. To the right of Santa Rosa`s head is a pentimento, either an earlier position for the subject`s head or the head of a witness, quickly left off by the artist. The use of wash is better seen in the Dresden fragment but is seen in P&P 86 in the side of the bed.
Lit.: P. Pouncey, `A Drawing by Benozzo Gozzoli for His Fresco Cycle in Viterbo`, and, `An Eye-Witness Account of Benozzo`s Freco Cycle at Viterbo`, `The Burlington Magazine`, lxxxix, 1947, pp. 9-13, 98; B. Degenhart and A. Schmitt, `Corpus der italienischen Zeichnungen, 1300-1450, Teil I: Süd-und Mittelitalien`, Berlin, 1968, I-2, no. 413, I-4, pl. 319d; A. Padoa Rizzo, Benozzo Gozzoli pittore fiorentino, Florence, 1972, pp. 48-9, 152-3; S. Pasti, `Lo scomparso ciclo di affreschi di S. Rosa da Viterbo di Benozzo Gozzoli e la sua influenza nel Viterbese: gli affreschi dell`isola Bisentina`, in R. Cannatà and C. Strinati eds., exh. cat., Museo civico, Viterbo, `Il Quattrocento a Viterbo`, 1983, Rome, pp. 159-178, fig. 136; N. Turner, in exh. cat., BM, `The Study of Italian Drawings: The Contribution of Philip Pouncey`, 1994, no. 61, p. 58; D. Cole Ahl, `Benozzo Gozzoli`, New Haven and London, 1996, pp. 71 and 72, n. 85 (with previous literature), under no. 125 (lost works), fig. 89; L. Melli, `Il disegno per Benozzo`, in exh. cat., Montefalco, B. Toscano and G. Capitelli eds., `Benozzo Gozzoli, allievo a Roma, maestro in Umbria`, Milan, 2002, p. 121, fig. 5, and no. 26, p. 224; F. Papi, `Il ciclo di Santa Rosa a Viterbo`, in exh. cat., Montefalco, B. Toscano and G. Capitelli eds., `Benozzo Gozzoli, allievo a Roma, maestro in Umbria`, Milan, 2002, Milan, 2002, p. 221, and no. 26, p. 224; L. Melli, I disegni italiani del Quattrocento nel Kupferstich-Kabinett di Dresda, exh. cat., Florence, 2006, under no. 18 (= Degenhart and Schmitt 414), pp. 99-103.
Popham & Pouncey 1950
Already attributed to Benozzo in 1877 (Grosvenor Gall. Exh.).
The saint was tentatively called S. Clare by Colvin and Berenson. Van Marle adopted Colvin's first idea that she might be S. Fina, the patroness of San Gimignano. Neither suggestion can be accepted.
A sketch at Dresden (BB 533 and fig. 33), of the same saint receiving the tonsure, is not merely a companion piece (this has long been realized) but originally formed part of the same sheet. This is established by the correspondence of the lines of the architrave and of other horizontal lines near the lower r. and 1. corners, respectively, of the present drawing and that at Dresden.
The composition thus reconstructed was almost certainly made in connection with part of the fresco-cycle painted by Benozzo in 1453 in the church of the convent of S. Rosa at Viterbo, representing scenes from the life of this saint, a member of the Third Order of S. Francis, who died before she was 18, about 1252. The frescoes were destroyed in 1632; but copies of nine of them, made in the same year by F. Sabatini, suggest that they were the same shape as the area enclosed by the architectural framework in the whole reconstructed drawing. Comparison of the copies with the anonymous life of the saint bound up with the 'processo' of her canonization shows that nearly every event in the biography capable of illustration is represented in the nine copies (seven of which, like our drawing, depict two incidents or two phases of the same incident). But there is one important omission. An event which occupies half of one of the four chapters in the biography is not represented: the saint, during a severe illness (at the age of nine, according to one of her biographers), had a vision while several of her women friends were at her bedside. The Madonna, accompanied by a choir of virgins, appeared to her and ordered her to go to her parish church the next day to assume a hair shirt and to receive the tonsure during the solemnization of Mass. The saint was immediately cured, and obeyed the Madonna's instructions next morning.
There seems to be no reason to doubt that these are the events here represented. The drawing appears to be the design for a tenth fresco which, according to the chronology of the saint's life, should have occupied the second position in the fresco-cycle. This hypothesis is confirmed by an eyewitness's description of the frescoes made shortly before their destruction in 1632. The writer, on coming to the second fresco, says: "Historia secunda. In secunda historia, quae ad praesens extat eodem in latere, tertium occupat locum, et inspicitur: in secundo enim collocatum fuerat organum, et modo capella ibi construitur. . . ". Then follows the description of the second of the nine frescoes copied by Sabatini. This passage seems definitely to imply that there had once been a fresco in the 'second place', occupied successively by the organ and a chapel. Since the incidents described above (and apparently represented in our drawing) occurred between those shown in the first and second of Sabatini's copies ; and since this vision of the Madonna was not only the most important incident to take place during this interval, but was regarded as a turning-point in the Saint's life, it is both obvious and logical to connect this reconstructed drawing with the hypothetical second fresco of the cycle.
The style of the drawing shows close affinities to that of the Montefalco frescoes of 1452 and is obviously early, as Berenson has pointed out ('Text', p. 10). There is therefore no objection from this point of view to the. proposed identification, one of the Viterbo frescoes having been dated 1453.
Literature: BB 540, fig. 34 and pl. vii of first ed.; Grosvenor Gallery Winter Exhibition, 1877/8, no. 791; B.M. Reproductions, i (1888), VI; B.M. Guide, 1891, no. 16; F. Wickhoff Prussian Jahrbuch, xx (1899), p. 212; S. Colvin, Vasari Society, First Series, iii (1907/8), no. 4; Van Marle, op. cit., p. 188, fig. 121; M. Lagaisse, Benozzo Gozzoli, 1934, p. 170; P. Pouncey, Burlington, lxxxix (1947), pp. 9 ff. (repr.) and 98.
This drawing was issued as a coloured facsimile by the British Museum in 'Reproductions of Drawings by Old Masters in the British Museum', Part I, Published by the Trustees, in 1888 where it was number VI and described there as 'Benozzo Gozzoli, Vision of Santa Fina (?).' The mount is not included in the facsimile.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1994, BM, 'The Study of Italian Drawings', No. 61
2002 June-Aug, Montefalco, Museo Civico di San Francesco, 'Benozzo Gozzoli'
2008 April-July, Rome, Museo del Corso, 'Rome in the 15th Century'
2017 5-28 September, BM, G90a, The Age of Gozzoli
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Thibaudeau acted as an agent for the British Museum at the Russell sale in December 1884, see 1885,0509.1574-1607. Some of the other drawings Thibaudeau purchased at the same sale were subsequently sold to the British Museum in 1885; see 1885,0509.33-51 and 1885,0711.271-303.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number