- Museum number
Five figures between two pillars, study for a fresco; a statue in a niche behind at r
Pen and brown ink, with grey-brown wash, over red chalk, on blue paper
- Production date
Height: 129 millimetres
Width: 119 millimetres (corners made up)
- Curator's comments
- Lit.: J.A. Gere and P. Pouncey, 'Italian drawings in the BM, Artists working in Rome', London, 1983, no. 373 (as Polidoro da Caravaggio); N. Turner, 'Italian Drawings in the BM, Roman Baroque Drawings', London, 1999, I, no.148
Gere & Pouncey 1983
This is not a fragment of the upper part of a larger composition, as might at first be supposed. The composition is complete in itself: not only is it bounded at top and bottom by framing-lines ruled with the stylus, but the drawing of the figures is not continued down to the bottom of the sheet. The edges of shaped frames indicated on either side, and the 'di sotto in su' viewpoint, suggest that this is a design for a detail of a frieze in which framed scenes were to have been superimposed on a trompe l'oeil perspective.
Although traditionally attributed to Polidoro da Caravaggio (c. 1500-36/7) and acquired and published as such by Gere and Pouncey, this has every appearance of being an early preparatory study, with differences, for the 'Chinese Ambassadors' (Florence and Rome, 1983-4(a), fig. 48), one of the scenes painted by Lanfranco in the frieze decoration of the Sala Regia in the Palazzo Quirinale, Rome, which was carried out in 1616-17. The embellishment of the newly constructed Sala Regia was part of a programme of improvements within the palace undertaken by Pope Paul V Borghese (1605-21). The quadraturista Agostino Tassi (q.v.) was responsible for devising the architectural framework of the frescoes (quadrata) as well as supervising the general works. Lanfranco, Carlo Saraceni (c. 1579-1620), Alessandro Turchi (c. 1582-c. 1650) and others, all of whom worked to Tassi's directions, painted the figurative details (for a discussion of their respective contributions, see especially Schleier, 1970(b), pp. 40-67, and Florence and Rome, 1983-4(a), pp. 62-5, under no.xii).
In both style and technique, the present drawing belongs with other studies by Lanfranco for this same commission, for example a drawing in the Louvre (inv. no. 8445; Schleier, 1970(b), p.44, fig.10; Paris, 1988, no. 84) and one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv.no. 68.51; Bean, 1979, no. 257).
From the matching, irregular cut-out losses that appear at the corners, lower left and right, it would appear that the artist intended to fit the British Museum drawing on to another, larger drawing, either hinged as an alternative or laid down as a correction. The proportions of the architectural space occupied by the figures do not correspond to those of the finished fresco, but it seems likely that the lower part, presumably representing the drapery-clad balustrade of the balcony, could have been trimmed away, or had already been drawn on to the larger sheet on which the drawing was to be placed.
There are some resemblances between Lanfranco's treatment of the figure group and Tassi's in a corresponding passage in the latter's elaborate scheme for the decoration of a far larger part of the same wall in the Louvre (inv.no.1227; Schleier, 1970(b), p.42, fig. 7; Paris, 1988, no. 136). In the present drawing, however, the balcony-space is closed horizontally at the top, while in Tassi's, as in the fresco, it is topped by a rounded arch enclosing a cross-vaulted ceiling.
In the present study, Lanfranco seems also to have referred to his own earlier drawing for a much larger section of another part of the same wall, now in the Louvre (inv.no.6345; Schleier, 1970(b), p.42, fig.6; Paris, 1988, no. 83), where seated female allegories are each flanked by an architectural setting framed to the sides by columns and with a niche containing a statue in a side wall.
Literature: Gere and Pouncey, 1983, no. 373 (as Polidoro da Caravaggio); Turner, 1984, p. 178 (as Lanfranco); Andrews, 1984, p. 214, n. 1.
- Not on display
- 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