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Gherardo Cibo (Genoa 1512-Rocca Contrada 1600) Recto: Landscape. Pen and brown ink. Cleveland Museum of Art.

Gherardo Cibo (Genoa 1512-Rocca Contrada 1600)

Recto: Farm with Trees in a Hilly Landscape

Verso: Tracing of the same Landscape

Pen and brown ink: 144 x 210mm, 5 5/8 x 8 3 16 in. Inscribed in pen at upper right: “concia d. Mra fior d. lisa. de. q. . 7. d. 1567:” at lower left in pen: 34.

Gherardo Cibo, born into the Genoese papal family in 1512, gave up a career in diplomacy and the Church to pursue a private life of study. He retired to the remote hill town of Rocca Contrada (now Arcevia) in the Marches, where his mother and sister, a nun, lived, and spent the remainder of his long life studying botany. His work was most distinguished and was well known to the leading botanists of his time through correspondence, but soon after his death he lapsed into obscurity.

His work was rediscovered only at the beginning of this century when a scholar identified an herbarium in the Biblioteca Angelica in Rome as his work.[1] This contains almost two thousand specimens of dried plants in five volumes. Some further discussion ensued, but little more was known about Cibo until recently, when two astonishingly beautiful manuscripts, with plant studies in watercolor and gouache, were rediscovered in the British Library.[2]

Drawings like the present sheet have been known in collections and the art market for some time, but they were not recognized as a consistent group until Bolten published them in 1969 as the work of Messer Ulisse Severino da Cingoli, whose name is inscribed on an album of these drawings.[3] Twenty years later Nesselrath established that Messer Ulisse was the name of a correspondent of Cibo’s, to whom he had addressed a volume of his own landscape drawings. This finally connected these landscapes with Cibo and explained why and how they were made.

Cibo not only studied the structure and form of his specimens with great precision, he studied their environment as well. In the albums in the British Library he strove to show the localities where the plants grew, as well as the season and climactic conditions in which they throve. He used an elaborate combination of pigments to render this, most of which were extracted from his own specimens.

The present drawing was executed in the field as part of the background of one of these plant studies. His annotation at the upper left[4] indicates that it was connected to a dried (“concia”) cornflower (centaurea cyana), which he had gathered on the spot. He traced the drawing to the verso in order to reverse it, if his finished rendering required it, a practice he followed in other drawings.[5]

Cibo first learned to draw landscapes when he visited Flanders on a diplomatic mission as a young man. His early work shows his Flemish beginnings. Cibo’s mature work, like the present drawing, shows an absence of Flemish conventions, a more direct, Italianate vision, and a disciplined, economical hand, which is nonetheless graceful and fluid.

Provenance:  Gherardo Cibo, sketchbook inscribed “Libero 24,” dated 24 October 1567.

Exhibited: London, P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., Exhibition of Old Master Drawings, June – July 1971, cat. no. 6, plate III, as Messer Ulisse Severino da Cingoli.

Related bibliography: Jaap Bolten, “Messer Ulisse Severino da Cingoli, a Bypath in the History of Art,” Master Drawings, vol. 7, no. 2 (1969) 123-47; Arnold Nesselrath, Gherardo Cibo, alias Ulisse Severino da Cingoli, exh. cat., San Severino Marche, 1989.

[1]E. Celani, “Sopra un erbario di Gherardo Cibo conservato nella R. Biblioteca Angelica di Roma,” Malpighia, XVI (1902) 181-226.

[2]London British Library, ms. Add. 22332 and 22333; see. Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi, “Gherardo Cibo: visions of landscape and the botanical sciences in a sixteenth-century artist,” Journal of Garden History, Vol. 9, no. 4 (1989) 201.

[3]Jaap Bolten, “Messer Ulisse Severino da Cingoli, a Bypath in the History of Art,” Master Drawings, vol. 7, no. 2 (1969) 123-47.

[4]Expanded, the inscription says: “concia del maggiore fior di lisa. die quinta..7(?) di novembre 1567,” i.e. “curing of the greater  cornflower on the fifth day 7(?) of November 1567.” Cibo almost invariably made such annotations on his landscape drawings.

[5]Nesselrath, 1989, pp. 24f, figs. 13, 14.