- Museum number
A prophet and a sibyl: design for a section of a frieze; both seated in profile on either side of a figure in a niche
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash, over graphite, with lines indented
- Production date
- 1568 (circa)
Height: 244 millimetres
Width: 274 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- A preparatory study for a section of the frieze of the Oratorio del Gonfalone, Rome, to be placed above Bertoia's fresco of the Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (collectively the only part of the decoration ultimately executed by Bertoia). The sheet is one of four secure studies for the frieze, together with a drawing in a private Parisian collection, probably the earliest, and the three drawings listed by Popham below. The present drawing is cut vertically in two, quite possibly by Bertoja himself, according to DeGrazia, possibly in preparation for the drawing in Budapest, where the positions of the figures are reversed.
Lit.: D. De Grazia, 'Bertoia, Mirola and the Farnese Court', 1991, p.116 [D25]; D. Ekserdjian, in 'La Maniera Emiliana: Bertoja, Mirola, da Parma alle corti d'Europa', exh. cat., Labirinto della Masone, Fontanellato, 2019, p. 134, no. 29.
1959,1114.2 and 1952,0405.9a are connected with the decoration of the Oratory of S. Lucia del Gonfalone, Rome. This consists of twelve large frescoes of the successive events in the Passion of Christ, beginning with the 'Entry into Jerusalem' at the east end of the south wall and ending exactly opposite with the 'Resurrection' at the east end of the north wall. There are no Passion scenes on the east wall, which is mostly taken up with a wide archway leading to the chancel. Running round the top of the walls is a frieze composed of sibyls and prophets attended by 'putti' and angels, who are seated in pairs above each scene (except those in the centre of the two long walls, where the space is occupied by a window) and in the spaces on either side of the chancel arch. These pairs of figures are separated by piers, which continue the line of the twisted pillars painted between the scenes on the lower part of the wall. The piers contain niches in which are Old Testament or allegorical figures, framed by columns supporting an architrave on which two volutes are so placed as to give the appearance of a segmental broken pediment. Between the volutes is a seated 'putto', and at either side of the pier a standing figure who seems to be supporting the projecting end of the volute.
Though 1959,1114.2 corresponds in all essentials with the general design of the frieze, the figures do not resemble any of those executed. Other differences include an alternative arrangement of the swags (the alternative on the l.-hand side of the sheet agrees with the final arrangement) and the placing of a small oval escutcheon between the volutes instead of the 'putto' ; and nowhere in the frieze as executed are the prophets and sibyls seated, as here, on blocks projecting from the lower part of the pier.
In 1952,0405.9a the relation between the area containing the figures, and the arch and the small triangular pediment, corresponds exactly with the east wall to the l. of the chancel arch, but the figures in the drawing in no way resemble those in that section of the frieze. Another difference is in the shape of the tablet in the centre of the wall, immediately above the arch, which in the frieze as painted is a plain rectangle.
Three other drawings connected with the frieze are known :
1. Uffizi 62° (as Perino del Vaga; photo. Gernsheim 22296; Oberhuber, op. cit., fig. 5; E. Borea, 'Paragone', 141 (1961), pl. 44; Quintavalle, 'Bertoja', fig. 9).
2. Naples, Capodimonte 70-2 (Oberhuber, op. cit., fig. 4; Borea, op. cit., pl. 43; Quintavalle, 'Bertoja', fig. 8).
3. Budapest, National Museum 1920 (repr. E. Hoffman, 'Budapest Jahrbuch', viii (1935-6), p. 131, and K. Andrews, 'Burlington', cvi (1964), p. 465).
The Uffizi and Naples drawings are closely connected, as are the Budapest drawing and 1959,1114.2. In the first pair, the frieze and decorative surround correspond exactly except for the position of the l. arm of the r.-hand seated figure. The figures do not resemble any of those in the frieze as executed nor do they resemble the figures in any of the other drawings. These two drawings differ from the final result in other respects: the prophet and the sibyl are seated on blocks which project from the lower part of the piers, as in 1959,1114.2; between these are two 'putti' sitting on the cornice with their legs dangling over the edge ; the placing of the swags follows the alternative shown on the r.-hand side of 1959,1114.2; the niche in the pier is framed by fluted pilasters and not Ionic columns ; the ends of the volutes are not supported by standing figures but by winged harpies terminating in scrollwork ; and the pier itself is supported by two twisted columns instead of one. In the Naples drawing the scene underneath is indicated by a sketch which corresponds in general composition, but not in detail, with the 'Entry into Jerusalem', the first of the series of Passion-scenes.
In the Budapest drawing and 1959,1114.2 the figures are the same (they differ only in the position of the sibyl's l. arm), but in the former they are facing one another in a complete section of frieze instead of being back to back on either side of a pier.
The arrangement of the swags in the Budapest drawing combines the alternatives given in 1959,1114.2.
The differences between these four drawings, and between them and the frieze as executed, rule out the possibility that they are copies either of one another or of the painted decoration. (I cannot agree with Antal's suggestion, quoted by Oberhuber, that the Budapest drawing is no more than a seventeenth-century variant of 1959,1114.2.) These drawings, and 1952,0405.9a, must all form part of the preliminary working material; but the problem of their authorship is complicated by the fact that the decoration of the Oratory was the work of a whole consortium of artists, and that not only the Passion-scenes but also the various sections of frieze are demonstrably the work of various hands.
The names of five artists, who between them were responsible for seven of the twelve Passion-scenes, are given by Baglione: Livio Agresti, Raffaellino da Reggio, Federico Zuccaro, Cesare Nebbia and Marco Pino. Baglione credits Matteo da Lecce with the sections of frieze above Nebbia's two frescoes of the 'Crowning with Thorns' and the 'Ecce Homo', and with the large-scale figure in the adjacent narrow section above the main door, in the centre of the west wall. His attribution to Federico Zuccaro and Marco Pino of the sections of frieze above their respective frescoes, the 'Flagellation' and the 'Resurrection', is borne out by the style of these two sections and, in the case of Zuccaro, by preliminary studies in the Albertina (609; cat. iii. 258) and in the Biblioteca Reale in Turin (15869; Bertini, no 437) that are certainly from his hand.
1959,1114.2 and 1952,0405.9a are both studies for the frieze, however, and it is only with this part of the decoration that we are here concerned. Though the various artists were evidently allowed considerable latitude in the details of their sections of frieze, the whole scheme of the decoration, including the design of the frieze, must have been determined from the very beginning. The problem is to identify the artist responsible. Various suggestions have been made. The Budapest drawing was published with an attribution to Marco Pino by Dr. Edith Hoffmann. She had observed its resemblance to the section of frieze by Marco Pino illustrated in Venturi and assumed that he must have been responsible for the whole design. But his style as a draughtsman is well defined - see D.ssa Borea's article in 'Paragone', 151 (1963) - and has nothing in common with the Budapest drawing or with any of the others. Furthermore, such evidence as there is for dating the individual frescoes points to their having been executed in order, beginning with the 'Entry into Jerusalem' and ending with the 'Resurrection', so that Pino was probably one of the last of those concerned to appear on the scene and is thus unlikely to have been responsible for the general design. More recently, D.ssa Borea has suggested ('Paragone', 141 (1961), pp. 37 ff.) that the decorative framework in the Naples drawing is by Lelio Orsi; but she admits that there is no evidence that he was ever concerned with the decoration of the Oratory, or that he was even in Rome at the material time.
Raffaellino da Reggio, Nebbia and Federico Zuccaro are all well defined as draughtsmen and can be excluded; nor do these four drawings in any way resemble the few attributable to Agresti on the strength of their connection with documented paintings. Matteo da Lecce is an unknown quantity as a draughtsman, but the sections of frieze attributed to him by Baglione reveal a strongly idiosyncratic 'Michelangelizing' personality equally irreconcilable with any of these drawings.
The artist who seems in fact to have been responsible for initiating the decoration is not even mentioned by Baglione. This was Bertoja. Angelo Edoardo da Erba's 'Prospetto dei piu valenti nelle Belle Arti nati in Parma' (MS. in Biblioteca Palatina, Parma) lists among Bertoja's works in Rome "una cappella alla Compagnia del Gonfalone"; and in a letter dated 17 July 1569 Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the Protector of the Confraternity, instructed his secretary to persuade the Confraternity to release Bertoja, whom the Cardinal wished to employ at Caprarola, with the undertaking that others would be found "che finisca l'opera che havevano fatto principiare". From this it is clear that the original plan was that Bertoja should undertake the whole decoration of the Oratory. His responsibility for the 'Entry into Jerusalem', the first of the Passion-scenes in historical order and thus presumably the first to be executed, is established, as Philip Pouncey was the first to observe, by two preliminary studies for this composition, both certainly from his hand: a drawing in the Venice Accademia (152, as Giulio Romano: first attributed to Bertoja by Philip Pouncey) and an oil 'bozzetto' in the Parma Gallery, traditionally given to Parmigianino but attributed to Bertoja, without reference to the Gonfalone fresco, by Corrado Ricci as long ago as 1896 (repr. Parma Exh. Cat., p. no) ; and since the section of frieze above the 'Entry into Jerusalem' is certainly by the same hand as the fresco underneath, there is every reason for attributing the general design of the frieze to Bertoja.
Both Oberhuber and Signora Quintavalle attribute 1959,1114.2 and the Uffizi and Naples drawings to Bertoja. In the case of 1959,1114.2 this had already been suggested by J. A. Gere. Two further points in favour of the attribution are (1) that the differences between the sketch of the 'Entry into Jerusalem' in the Naples drawing and the fresco are not of the kind that would have been made by a copyist, and (2) that the pair of winged figures terminating in scrollwork that form a shaped top for the frame of the fresco below the frieze in 1959,1114.2 and in the related drawing at Budapest is a feature that in the Oratory itself occurs only once, and that, significantly, in the frame of the 'Entry into Jerusalem'.
The painter of the two sections of frieze on the east wall, for one of which 1952,0405.9a is a study, is not recorded, and the paintings themselves are so damaged and crudely repainted that no conclusions are possible about their authorship. The drawing should provide a clue. It is certainly not by Bertoja, and though it is the work of a distinctive hand I cannot suggest an attribution for it. Its inclusion in the present volume can be justified by its connection, admittedly a somewhat remote one, with 1959,1114.2, but does not preclude the possibility of fuller treatment in a later volume.
Literature: Konrad Oberhuber, 'Jacopo Bertoia in Oratorium von S. Lucia del Gonfalone in Rom', in Römische historische Mitteilungen herausgegeben von der Abteilung für historische Studien des Österreichischen Kulturinstituts in Rom und der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, iii (1958/9 and 1959/60), p. 243 ; Quintavalle, Bertoja, p. 53.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2019 Mar-May, Italy, Fontanellato, Labirinto della Masone, Bertoja-Mirola
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number