- Museum number
Minerva or Bellona, carried to heaven by the Graces with putti carrying her arms; a female figure supported by three nude women and flanked by two putti, one with a shield, the other with a helmet
Red chalk, heightened with white (partly oxidised), on light brown prepared paper, squared for transfer
- Production date
Height: 230 millimetres
Width: 233 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- A study for the central compartment of the twelfth vault of the ceiling of the Gallery of Ulysses in Fontainebleau. The programme to cover the enormous ceiling (it measured 150 metres) was begun as early as 1541-3, but work did not begin until 1546 following Primaticcio's return to Italy. The vault was almost finished by 1550 but was interrupted by work on the Salle de Bal, and only resumed in 1555. Primaticcio supplied highly finished drawings such as this one to guide the team of artists who were responsible for executing the frescoes and stuccoes. An early drawing for the same compartment with a single figure accompanied by a putto executed in pen and brown ink, brown wash was sold at Christie's, 1 July 1997, lot 116. The Christie's drawing shows a hexagonal compartment, which suggests that it was drawn before the final arrangement of the vault was fixed. In the final work the fourth and twelfth vaults were octagonal with the corners curved, as shown in the present drawing.
Text by H. Chapman
In four decades working for four 'successive' French monarchs at the royal château of Fontainebleau, Primaticcio's most ambitious and most celebrated project was the decoration for the Galerie d'Ulysse (destroyed 1738). For this exceptionally long space occupying the entire south wing of the Cour du Cheval Blanc on the second floor, Primaticcio devised a complex decorative scheme. The space was divided into fourteen sections with smaller bays at each end; corresponding compartments on the barrel-vaulted ceiling were decorated with painted mythological and allegorical scenes set within a symmetrical framework of stucco work and grotesques. The walls of the gallery, by contrast, featured a narrative sequence of scenes drawn from Homer's 'Odyssey'. The decoration of the gallery occurred over an extended period of time, with the schematic plan probably having been devised in the early 1540s, shortly after the death of Rosso, and a good portion of the ceiling was completed before the death of François I in 1547. The vault was largely complete by about 1550 when other projects diverted Primaticcio's energies for several years before he returned to oversee the completion of the walls between 1555 and 1560. From descriptions in eighteenth-century guidebooks 'Minerva Carried to Heaven' has been identified as a study for the central image of the twelfth compartment of the ceiling of the Galerie d'Ulysse,(n.1) although any iconographic relationship between the principal and subsidiary scenes of each section of the vault, or between the imagery of the vault and the Ulysses cycle, has eluded scholars.(n.2)
Given the span of time over which the project occupied Primaticcio, it is not surprising that a stylistic evolution has been detected in his drawings for the project, with many of the pen and brown wash drawings associated with the earlier stages, and the red and white chalk studies seen as dating later in the process. In the British Museum 'Minerva' Primaticcio's mastery of the chalk medium is evident in the convincing modelling of volume and the play of light. The detailed rendering of the drapery, sandals, sword and helmet suggests that the sheet represents a late stage in the compositional process, although the shaped surround is only sketchily indicated. The dense arrangement of muscular forms seen from below was one of Primaticcio's great skills, a facility in the invention of elegant and unconventional poses recalling his early study with Giulio Romano (?1499-1546) as well as his admiration for the work of Correggio (c.1489-1534) and Parmigianino (1503-40).
Text by P. Stein, 2005 as cited below.
1 The relevant passages are reprinted in Béguin, Guillaume and Roy, 1985, p.183.
2 D. Cordelier et al, exhib.cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris, `Primatice, Maître de Fontainebleau`, 2004, p.293.
Lit.: J.C. Robinson, 'Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq', London, 1876, no. 236; L. Dimier, 'Le Primatice', Paris, 1900, no. 165, p. 456; S. Béguin, J. Guillaume and A. Roy, 'La Galerie d'Ulysse à Fontainebleau', Paris, 1985, p. 182. fig. 94; P. Stein, in exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art and London, BM, 'French Drawings from Clouet to Seurat', 2005, no. 4.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1996 BM, Malcolm Drawings, apx.
2002 April-June, Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Mus of Art, 'French Drawings from the British Museum'
2002 July-Sep, Tokyo, NM of Western Art, 'French Drawings from the British Museum'
2005/6 Nov-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, Clouet to Seurat/BM
2006 June-Oct, BM, Clouet to Seurat/BM
2018, March-May, BM, G90a, 'Fontainebleau School'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number