Double-sided red chalk drawing on studio paper
215 x 300 mm (framed 47.5 x 56 cm)
Italian gilded and carved wood frame from the early 18th century
This fresh sanguine sheet presents various studies placed next to each other in no apparent order. Two of the feet studies are preparatory to the first major commission received by the young Baldassare Franceschini, shortly after his installation in Florence, the frescoes for the Medici Fastes. This cycle was executed between 1636 and 1646 for the Villa La Petraia, a Medici villa on the outskirts of Florence, which allows us to date this sheet to the artist's youth.
1. The Medici Fastes, the first major commission for a young artist
Born in Volterra in 1611, the town from which he took his nickname, Baldassare Franceschini apprenticed with his father, a sculptor of alabaster, one of his home town's specialities, and studied with Cosimo Daddi (1540-1630), a local artist. The Marquis Inghirami, who spotted his talent, sent him to the workshop of Matteo Rosselli (1578 - 1650) in Florence, which was also attended by Francesco Furini (1603 - 1646).
In 1636, Lorenzo de' Medici, the youngest son of Ferdinand Ier and Christine of Lorraine, chose the 25-year-old artist, again on the advice of the Marquis Inghirami, to decorate with frescoes the loggias of the inner courtyard of the Villa La Petraia, which he had just inherited on the death of his mother. The project lasted about ten years and included ten scenes placed symmetrically in two loggias on either side of the courtyard: four main scenes and six placed above the doors, each to the glory of a member of the Medici family.
This decoration was his major secular project, but Volterrano also executed several religious frescoes and a few easel paintings, often with less success. Among the religious commissions, we can cite the dome of the Colloredo chapel dedicated to Saint Lucy, painted in 1650-1652 in the church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence, or the Coronation of the Virgin on the vault of the Trinity chapel in the same church, painted in 1680-1683.
In 1652, thanks to the patronage of Filippo Niccolini, who wished to have him decorate his chapel in the church of Santa Croce in Florence, Volterrano left to meet other active artists in Parma, Bologna and Rome, where he made friends with Pietro da Cortona. He made another trip, this time to Venice in 1663.
2. Description of the work and comparison with the frescoes in Villa La Petraia
The strangeness of this sheet comes from the juxtaposition of different studies of uneven size and finish, unrelated to each other at first glance. Two drawings, one on the far left of the sheet and the other on the back, may be early thoughts modified in the final frescoes, while the three feet are much more advanced studies.
The two feet in the centre of our sheet appear to be preparatory to the fresco depicting Como II receiving the victors of the Battle of Bona. These feet appear to be a study of the feet of one of the barbarian captives, partly hidden because he is placed second in the row of three prisoners on the left of the scene. The enigmatic cloth around the knee in our drawing and the very precise outline of the knee make sense when placed in the context of this fresco, as we understand that it is in fact the loincloth of the first captive and the hollow of his right knee, into which the right leg of his companion is visually inserted.
It is interesting to note that this captive had been the subject of a study sold at Sotheby's on March 22, 2018 (€20,000 with fees), which came from the Adrien collection. This study helps complete our understanding of the technique used by Volterrano: after some preliminary thoughts (of which we have an example on the left and on the reverse of our sheet), he draws full-length nude studies from life allowing him to fix the position of the characters in a rather schematic way. This intermediate study is followed by some more advanced drawing for certain parts of the body, showing their integration in the final composition.
The group on the far left of our sheet shows three soldiers dressed in antique style and wearing helmets. We have not found exactly the same group in the different frescoes, but there is a certain proximity to the figure on the left of the fresco depicting Julian Duke of Nemours and Lorenzo Duke of Urbino on the Capitoline, although the latter is alone and without helmet.
We have not been able to identify the origin of the third foot (which must have belonged to a kneeling figure), nor the female figure sketched with her arms raised on the reverse. A drawing in the Musée du Louvre shows a nude study of a kneeling figure (probably preparatory to one of the statues depicted under the statue of Ferdinand 1st in the fresco depicting The predominance of Tuscany over the See) but the shape of the left foot is different.
We have chosen to frame this drawing in an Italian gilded and carved wooden frame from the early 18th century.
This splendid double-sided sheet, produced by Baldassare Franceschini using his favourite technique, sanguine, allows us to better understand the origins of his graphic style and the role of drawing in the development of his painted work.
Main bibliographic reference :
Maria Cecilia Faleri - Alessandro Cerassi - Riccardo Spinelli - Volterrano- Edifir Edizioni Firenze 2013
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