- Museum number
Marco Zoppo (or Lord Rosebery) album: four fashionably dressed young men, the central one holding the wrist of the man on the left.
Pen and brown ink, on vellum
Verso: a classical youth, bust length, with a headband turned to the left
Pen and brown ink
- Production date
- 1465-1474 (?)
Height: 343 millimetres
Width: 264 millimetres (covers)
- Curator's comments
- Chapman, H., 'Padua in the 1450s: Marco Zoppo and his Contemporaries', London, 1998.
This album of fifty drawings on vellum was presented to the British Museum by Lord Rosebery in 1920. Its provenance can be traced back without interruption to the end of the eighteenth century when it was given to the Venetian painter Pietro Antonio Novelli by Giambattista de Rubeis, who had bought it in Padua. It is also likely to have been in the city during the sixteenth century, because an inscription on one of the pages (26 verso, originally page 1) records that it once belonged to Matteo Macigni, who died there in 1582. While the album was in the possession of Novelli it was engraved - except for folios 22 and 25, which both include female nudes - by the artist's son Francesco in a publication entitled 'Disegni del Mantegna', the dedication of which is dated 1795. The style of binding and the Italian lettering on the spine would suggest that the drawings were rebound in Italy, most probably in Venice, prior to their purchase by the greatest English prints and drawings dealer of the period, Samuel Woodburn (1786-1853). The album was included in the latter's posthumous sale as a work by Mantegna, when it was purchased by Alexander Barker, who later sold it to Baron Mayer de Rothschild. The album passed by marriage to Lord Rosebery, who was persuaded by Colvin, Keeper of the Prints and Drawings Department, to present it to the Museum. In Dodgson's introduction to the 1923 facsimile of the album he tentatively suggested that the drawings might be the work of Zoppo. This attribution has never been doubted since.
The drawings in the album are comparable in handling and figure style to the ex-Colville sheet (1995,0506.7) and a study in the Uffizi (Armstrong, 1976, pp. 396-7, no. D.3). Both the latter drawings are dated by Armstrong to the second half of the 1450s, and on stylistic grounds the album can be assigned either to the same period or to the first half of the 1460s, when the artist is known to have been in Bologna. The later dating is perhaps more likely, as the stylised architectural setting of Zoppo's drawing for the manuscript of Marcanova's 'Collectio Antiquitatum' (Biblioteca Estense, Modena), finished in Bologna in 1465, is similar to that in some of the backgrounds in the Rosebery album. The Donatellesque 'Madonna and Child' drawing, which recalls his Louvre painting of the same subject dating from his period in Padua, also provides grounds for placing the album in Zoppo's early period.
The function of the album has been much debated because, unlike the 'Florentine Picture Chronicle', it does not follow an established text and it is too highly finished and specialised in its imagery to have been a pattern book like that of Jacopo Bellini (1855,0811.21-22). The suggestion that the drawings on the rectos illustrate a single Renaissance text (for this see Armstrong, 1976, pp.311-19) appears unlikely because the subjects are so disparate; in addition, the single religious image is difficult to accommodate into such a theory. Some of the drawings, such as the 'Horseman with three nudes' (1875,0710.1039 recto), may indeed have been inspired by literary sources, but the majority of the drawings on the rectos seem to have been intended to be enjoyed for their wit and invention rather than as illustrations to a text. The homosexual overtones of the exhibited folio, in which the action of the putti is underscored by the older man grasping the pommel of his dagger (a gesture pointed out by his youthful companion), is found - albeit in less explicit form - in details of other drawings. These include the phallic shape of the club held by a putto (1904,1201.1 recto) and the two men who point to each other's groins while one holds the other by the belt in the background of a scene with wrestling putti (1895,0915.780 recto). Together with the deliberately obscure meanings of many of the drawings, this imagery may indicate that the album was a private commission, intended to be enjoyed and understood by a small circle of the patron's friends. Zoppo may have been following an iconographic programme, but the fact that the most common subject on the rectos is that of putti or infants playing or fighting, which is a theme first found in 1995,0506.7, suggests that the artist enjoyed some freedom in the choice of subject-matter. This would be in keeping with an interpretation of the album as primarily an inventive work, in which Zoppo was able to express his imaginative power, rather than as an adjunct to a text.
The identity of the supposed patron is unknown. The light-hearted references to antiquity, such as the foot on the pedestal in the exhibited drawing, would indicate a patron with humanistic interests, who might have known Zoppo through a shared friendship with Felice Feliciano. Mauro Lucco proposed that the patron may have been a member of the Corner family, as the form of the shield held by the putti in one of the drawings (1904,1201.1 recto) is similar to the family's shield included in Zoppo's painting of the 'Madonna and Child' in Washington (Vigi (ed.), 1993, pp. 168-9). But unfortunately they are not close enough to make the identification secure. A clue to the patron's identity may be furnished by a hitherto overlooked detail in one of the groups of conversing figures (1891,0617.25 recto). On the sleeve of a figure on the far right there is an emblem of a vice squeezing drops of moisture from an object that resembles a stylised leek. Such personal emblems embroidered on sleeves are found in portraits of the period, such as Baldovinetti's 'Portrait of a lady' in the National Gallery; but as in the present case, they can rarely be identified.
Lilian Armstrong has recently suggested that the all'antica heads in the album were originally drawn as designs for woodcuts to illustrate a printed edition of Petrarch's 'De viris illustribus' in an Italian translation published by Felice Feliciano and Innocente Zileto in 1476. According to her theory, Zoppo's drawings were unaccountably not used for the book, and in order not to waste his work he bound them in an album, adding figurative drawings on the other side, which he copied from his stock of drawings in the studio. Quite apart from the lack of documentary evidence and the radical re-dating of the drawings needed to accommodate any connection with the 1476 book, Armstrong's idea is, as Elen noted, disproved by the fact that Zoppo did not use the smooth (or flesh) side of the vellum for all the head studies, as one would expect if they were all drawn first. The alternation between hair and smooth sides shows, on the contrary, that the drawings were executed specifically for the album. The minimal underdrawing in chalk and stylus, and the absence of revisions, do suggest that Zoppo probably worked from preliminary studies, but the stylistic uniformity strongly indicates that they were drawn in a concentrated period, most likely in the late 1450s or in the first half of the 1460s. The all'antica heads provide it with a visual coherence and continuity which would be lacking if it only contained the compositional studies, the subject-matter of which is so diverse. Zoppo transcends the limitations imposed by the uniform bust-length format, giving free rein to his imagination in the variety of facial types and in the fantastic forms of the helmets.
Literature; Dodgson, 1923 (with previous literature); Popham and Pouncey, 1950, pp. 162-3, no. 260; Ruhmer, 1966, pp. 77-81, all the drawings reproduced figs 88-135; Armstrong, 1976, pp. 228-319, 417-23, no. D.19, all the drawings reproduced; A. Angelini in Exh. Florence, 1986, pp. 64-5, under no. 53; De Nicolò Salmazo, 1989, p. 21, footnote 21; Ames Lewis, 1990, p. 666; Lucco, 1993, p. 112; Armstrong, 1993, pp. 79-95; Elen, 1995, pp. 236-40, no. 29 (with further literature)
For the album see commentary for 1920,0214.1.1
The man on the left has an emblem on the sleeve of his coat
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1971, British Museum, London, 'The Graphic work of Dürer', no.373
1998, British Museum, London, 'Padua in the 1450s', no.15
2010 April-July, BM, 'Fra Angelico to Leonardo', no.25 (opening 1920,0214.17 verso / 18 recto)
2011, March-June, Uffizi, Florence, 'Figure, Memorie, Spazio: Disegni da Fra'Angelico a Leonardo', no.25 (same opening)
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number