- Museum number
Abundance or Autumn; female figure wearing classical dress, holding the hand of a putto who holds grapes, two more behind and another with a cornucopia at l
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash, heightened with white, over black and red chalk, the concentrated orange-red ground consists mainly of red lead
Verso: A decorative border
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash
- Production date
- 1480-1485 (circa)
Height: 317 millimetres
Width: 252 millimetres
- Curator's comments
The provenance of this celebrated drawing can only be traced back as far as the 19th century when it was sold twice at auction in London, on both occasions attributed to different artists: Mantegna and then Verrocchio. In the Fagel catalogue it is described as being 'let into an ornament, by Vasari' ie. on a page from the 'Libro de'Disegni' made by the Florentine painter, historian and collector of drawings Giorgio Vasari (1511-74). Unfortunately no trace of the mount remains.
The drawing was first published as Botticelli by Robinson in his 1876 catalogue of John Malcolm's collection, and this attribution has generally been accepted. The drawing is usually dated to the early or mid 1480s as the stilted, yet graceful posture of Abundance and the exaggerated elongation of her form recall figures in Botticelli's mythological paintings of the period, the 'Primavera' and the 'Birth of Venus' (Florence, Uffizi). The learned classical allusions of these paintings also accord with the subject matter of the drawing which is derived from Book 9 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, where it is related that Hercules broke off one of the horns of the river god Achelous, who had transformed himself into a bull, and this was then sanctified and employed by the Goddess of Plenty to carry the fruits of Autumn's harvest. The drawing cannot be related directly to any painting by Botticelli, although it does bear some resemblance to a studio work representing an 'Allegory of Drunkenness' of circa 1485-90 in Chantilly.
The drawing is generally in quite good condition although the sheet has clearly been trimmed on both sides and there are a number of repaired areas. The combination of pen, wash and white heightening on a coloured ground, a layered technique somewhat akin to tempera painting, was a method of drawing favoured by Botticelli. The artist began the drawing by rubbing the surface of the paper with red chalk and red lead to create a warm luminous tone. Traces of this ground are visible all over the surface of the paper, although only faintly in some areas. He then drew the figures in black chalk. The lack of corrections in the contours of the figures on the right would suggest that Botticelli was following a preliminary study, but this is clearly not the case with the cornucopia and the group of putti on the left which are drawn with great freedom and include a number of pentimenti, most notably to the position of the legs of the putto nearest Abundance.
The disparity of finish between the figures is hard to explain, but for whatever reason the artist made no further changes to the left-hand group after sketching their forms in black chalk. Aside from these figures Botticelli went over the chalk outlines in pen, also adding parallel shading to indicate the fall of light. In addition he also contributed small details to the woman's costume in pen, like the stylised floral designs over her nipples and bellybutton, and made further refinements to her elaborate coiffure. Botticelli then sparingly applied a brown wash which generally varies little in tone except in a few passages where it is much darker, such as the lustrous bunch of grapes held by one of the putti. The artist clearly did not want the sinuous contour of the woman's form on the right to be obscured by the wash, and he reinforced it in black chalk. Finally Botticelli used white heightening to create the effect of light flooding in from the left, the highlights playing over the rippling folds.
Lit.: J.C. Robinson, Descriptive Catalogue of the Drawings by the Old Masters Forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq., London, 1876, no. 11; B. Berenson, 'The Drawings of the Florentine Painters', Chicago, 1938, no. 567; A.E. Popham and P. Pouncey, 'Italian drawings in the BM, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries', London, 1950, I, no. 24, II, pl. frontispiece (with previous literature); L. Grassi, 'I disegni italiani del Trecento e Quattrocento: scuole fiorentina, senese, marchigiana, umbra', Venice, n.d [1960?], no. 56; A. Bertini, 'Drawings by Botticelli', New York, 1968 (first edition 1955), no. 9; L. Ragghianti Collobi, 'Il Libro de'Disegni del Vasari', Florence, 1974, I, p. 80, II, fig. 221; R. Lightbown, 'Sandro Botticelli', London, 1978, no. D.3; P. Rubin, in exhib. cat., London, National Gallery, 'Renaissance Florence: The Art of the 1470s', 1999, no. 87; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., Berlin, Staatliche Museen, 'Sandro Botticelli, der Bilderzyklus zu Dantes Göttlicher Komödie', 2000, no. 19; C. Van Cleave, 'Master Drawings of the Italian Renaissance', London, 2007, p. 70, illustrated p. 71; H. Chapman and M. Faietti, exhib. cat., BM, London, `Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings`, 2010, no. 36, pp.174-5 (cat. entry by M. Faietti).
This drawing was issued as a coloured collotype facsimile by the British Museum in 'British Museum Facsimiles of Drawings and Water-colours, Nos. 1 - 14', where it was number 4 and described there as 'Sandro Botticelli. Allegory of Abundance.'; (Shelfmark 245*.b.11).
Popham & Pouncey 1950
In the Rogers Sale Catalogue ascribed to Verrocchio, this exquisite drawing has long been regarded as one of the finest surviving works from Botticelli's hand. Various dates have been proposed for it; but critics are agreed in placing it within a few years of the 'Primavera'. Yashiro assigns the drawing to the year 1475, the picture to 1477. Berenson thinks that the drawing was done in the interval between the execution of the 'Primavera' and that of the 'Birth of Venus', but at a date nearer to the former, which, he considers, probably belongs to the year 1478. To Horne, who dates the 'Primavera' not long after 1477, it seems that the 'Abundance' was drawn in the years immediately succeeding the artist's return from Rome, in 1482.
It appears more likely that the drawing should have been done after rather than before the 'Primavera', since the figures do not have the slightly Verrocchiesque cast of countenance still discernible in the painting.
A weak Botticelli studio-piece representing Autumn, one of a set of the 'Four Seasons' formerly in the Rosebery Collection, reproduced by Lionello Venturi, 'Botticelli', 1937, opp. p. 13, represents a woman (accompanied by a single 'putto') carrying a cornucopia and a basket, both of which contain fruit. It thus seems possible that our drawing may likewise represent this season of the year, which is also the subject of another feeble painting from the artist's studio, at Chantilly (Gruyer Catalogue, 1899, no. 16; repr.K. der K., p. 133), often but incorrectly stated to be based on our drawing.
Horne saw our drawing still attached to what appeared to him to be a portion of one of Vasari's mounts. No trace of this has survived.
Literature: JCR 11; BB 567, fig. 191, pl. XL of 1st ed.; Grosvenor Gallery Winter Exh. 1877/8, no. 846; Catalogue descriptif des dessins . . . exposés à l'École des Beaux-Arts, 1879, no. 21; H. Ulmann, Sandro Botticelli, 1893, p. 88, repr. p. 87; B.M. Guide, 1895, no. 20; A. von Beckerath, Repertorium, xxix (1906), pp. 7 ff.; S. C(olvin), Vasari Society, First Series, iii (1907/8), 2; H. Horne, Sandro Botticelli, 1908, pp. 124 f. (repr.) and p. 325 ; Y. Yashiro, Sandro Botticelli, 1925, i, pp. 228 and 243, iii, pl. CCLXI; W. von Bode, Botticelli (Klassiker der Kunst), 1926, repr. p. xxiii; Van Marle, xii (1931), p. 194, fig. 116; A. Warburg, Gesammelte Schriften, 1932, p. 65 (repr.); O. Kurz, O.M.D., xii (1937/8), p. 13.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1879 May-Jun, Paris, École des Beaux-Arts, 'Des Dessins de Maîtres Anciens', no. 21
1965, BM, Masterpieces of the Print Room, (no cat.)
1972, BM, 'The Art of Drawing', no.112
1984, BM, 'Master Drawings and Watercolours in the British Museum', no.6
1996, BM, 'Old Master Drawings from the Malcolm Collection', no.10
1999/2000 Oct-Jan, London, National Gallery, 'Renaissance Florence: The Art of the 1470s', no.
2000 April-June, Berlin, Staatliche Museum, 'Sandro Botticelli: Divine Comedy'
2010 April-July, BM, 'Fra Angelico to Leonardo', no. 36
2011, March-June, Uffizi, Florence, 'Figure, Memorie, Spazio: Disegni da Fra'Angelico a Leonardo', no.36
2016 Mar-Jul, London, V&A, 'Botticelli Re-Imagined'
- Previous owner
Previous owner/ex-collection: Giorgio Vasari (?)
Previous owner/ex-collection: François Fagel (T. Philipe, 29.v.1801/115 as Mantegna: 'A female, in a light flowing drapery, with several children, holding a cornucopia in her right hand, by ANDREA MANTEGNA - fine pen and bistre, on a reddish ground, heightened - let into an ornament, by Vasari' bt. Rogers £2-2-0)
Previous owner/ex-collection: Samuel Rogers (Christie's, 6.v.1856/923 as Verrocchio 'A female, with a cornucopia, leading a child - washed with red, on white. Fine' £6-0-0)
Previous owner/ex-collection: Morris Moore
Previous owner/ex-collection: Sir John Charles Robinson
Previous owner/ex-collection: John Malcolm of Poltalloch
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number