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Raphael or Giovanni da Udine, Recto: Ornamental Studies. Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON

Raffaello Sanzio (Urbino 1483 – Rome 1520) or Giovanni de’ Ricamatori, called Giovanni da Udine (Udine 1487-Rome 1561)

Recto: Studies of a Foliate Dragon, a Panther, Two Putti, and a Cornice; verso: Landscape of the Tiber Valley

Pen and brown ink, 210 x 268 mm, 8 1/4 x 10 9/16 in.; Inscribed, verso, in pen and brown ink: “palombara.”

Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston ON (via Duke Roberto Ferretti)

Giovanni da Udine today has a prominent historical position which remains in harmony with Vasari’s account of him.[1] As one of Raphael’s most brilliant pupils, he appropriated for himself the design of grottesche, grand decorations in fresco and stucco intended to recreate the spirit and detail of Roman works first rediscovered towards the close of the fifteenth century. Raphael’s mentor Pintoricchio was one of the first to study the decorated vaults of Nero’s Domus Aurea, and Raphael followed his example, working above all in collaboration with Giovanni, his pupil from Friuli, who came to him from Giorgione’s workshop. While the scholarship of the past fifteen years has reaffirmed Raphael’s close control and contribution of original designs in the vast projects of his final years, his receptiveness to the talents of his pupils is equally clear. Giovanni da Udine, above all, played a major role in Raphael’s decorations all’antica and brought to them not only a studious mind, which could absorb the many ancient exempla which were coming to light at the time, but a sensitive eye for nature, trained by Giorgione, without which the birds, animals, and plants of the grottesche would never have come to life as works of art. Vasari specifically observes that the truth of Giovanni’s observation of nature and the vigor of his brushwork in fresco account for the extraordinary quality of his work.[2] Giovanni’s few surviving drawings, hardly more than thirty, are the basic evidence of his working process.[3]

The present drawing is sufficiently like Raphael’s late pen sheets to suggest his hand, and this attribution is supported by some, in particular Paul Johannides.[4] However, the drawings on the recto of this work are parallel in function, style, and technique to a double-sided sheet in Munich by Giovanni da Udine.[5] This is the key sheet for the attribution of pen drawings to the artist because of style and the old inscription “Ricamator” on the verso.[6] The use of broad, plastic pen strokes for some figures, and precise, wiry lines of even thickness for others is typical of Giovanni’s pen style. The vigorous modelling of the putti’s calves and thighs in the present drawing is exactly like the Munich sheet. While this rendition of anatomy takes its point of departure from Raphael and is very close to drawings like the studies for the Loggia of Psyche (1517-19) in Oxford and Cologne,[7] it lacks Raphael’s classical proportions and shows more of an interest in robust modelling and energetic movement. It is in fact a drawing by Giovanni from the same period, one which supports Vasari’s view that, among Raphael’s pupils, Giovanni was one of the most gifted, endowed with an extraordinary ability to reproduce the style of the master.[8] This drawing is evidence that this ability was not based so much on mimetic talent, but on a thorough understanding of Raphael’s technique, which he used according to his own inclinations.

Nicole Dacos has suggested that the studies on this sheet are most probably related to the Vatican Logge, on which Raphael and his assistants were at work from 1516 to 1519, that is, during the same period as the Loggia of Psyche.[9] The close resemblance of the draughtsmanship to Raphael’s indicates that the drawing was executed while Giovanni was still in his workshop. The foliate Dragon and its acanthus scroll, the panther, and the putti are all typical of the figural vocabulary of the Vatican Logge. It is most interesting that Giovanni’s drawing now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of three works by him in American collections, contains studies for both projects.[10] Today it is generally thought that Raphael played a larger personal role in the Farnesina and left more of the direction and design of the Vatican Logge to his most mature pupils, Giulio Romano and Giovanni da Udine.

The combination of figural, architectural, and decorative motifs after the antique is also like the Munich drawing and characteristic of Giovanni’s working method. The delicate landscape on the verso, however, is unique among the drawings of Raphael and his school. It was clearly drawn from life at a specific location, which is identified by the inscription “palombara.” Giovanni made this topographical view facing eastwards over the Tiber Valley, where he could observe the town of Palombara Sabina in the distance behind the series of sharp bends in the river,[11] which recedes into the background. The foreground is occupied (and marked) by the triangular sail of a boat at the lower left corner. The artist from his bird’s eye viewpoint has encompassed a vast space, much like Leonardo’s pioneering view of the Arno Valley. Both of these drawings almost contain as much topographical information as maps, but in Giovanni’s the receding river performs a structural function in the composition, imparting it with unity of design.[12] This early landscape drawn from nature would have been executed only some eight years after Fra Bartolommeo’s trip to Venice in 1508, on which he drew a number of the landscapes in the Gaburri album. While the Frate drew views from nature for their own sake, he manipulated some of them with the intention of using them in the background of paintings.[13] Giovanni da Udine’s purpose was the same. In the Vatican logge landscape played a major role in the decorative scheme.[14] In this Giovanni overtly followed the precedent of the Roman fresco decorations which he studied together with Raphael,[15] but he had also the example of his first teacher, Giorgione.

Raphael himself looked to Giorgione as early as 1512, when he executed his extraordinary view of Foligno in the altarpiece now in the Vatican Museums,[16] Raphael was much absorbed by Venetian technique at this time. It has been generally thought that the intermediary was another pupil of Giorgione, Sebastiano del Piombo, but it is also possible that it was Giovanni da Udine. The present drawing, while it appears to belong to the Vatican Logge, a project which began in 1516, has significant implications for Raphael’s assimilation of Venetian landscape some four years before. The sheet as a whole tells us as much about Raphael as about Giovanni da Udine, although its vital movement, nervous penwork, and plein-air landscape are imbued with his personality. Whether one attributes it to Giovanni da Udine or to Raphael himself, it is an artifact of the close affinity between master and pupil.

[1]Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite, ed. Milanesi, Milan, 1906, VI, pp. 549-564.

[2]Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite, VI, pp. 550, 563.

[3] See Nicole Dacos and Caterina Furlan, Giovanni da Udine 1487-1561, Udine, 1987, 3 vols, I, pp. 239-257. The splendid nature studies in watercolor and gouache, which show Giovanni working in  the tradition of Pisanello and other students of nature from  northern Italy, were somewhat insecurely attached to his name by seventeenth century inscriptions. In 1987 Dominique Cordellier related a drawing in  the Metropolitan Museum of Art to specific details in Giovanni’s known finished works and therefore established his authorship of the nature studies as a certainty. See note 6 below and La Revue du Louvre et des Musées de France, 5/6 (1994), p. 93, for Cordellier’s discussion of a nature study formerly with Michael Miller Lucy Vivante Fine Arts and now at the Louvre.

[4] See Paul Joannides’ letter of 10 October 1996:

When 1 saw your drawing a year or so ago, I thought that it came close to Raphael. The vigorous pen work of the putti on the recto is very like his and the types of the putti seem inseparable from those devised by Raphael for the Psyche Loggia — that the upper putto teems to be carrying something would reinforce this link. The security with which the putti are constructed also suggests Raphael. The foliate decoration on the left is harder in execution than is usual in Raphael’s pen sketches, but he does seem to have drawn in harder pen styles at times during the last years of his life (few pen drawings survive for the final half-decade) and It seems to me more like Raphael than either of the other obvious candidates, Giulio Romano or Penni. It might have been made in preparation for stucco or even marble — rather than painted decoration, for it seems to call for execution in low relief.

As far as 1 remember it, the landscape sketch on the verso also makes reasonable sense as Raphael: although there is little with which to compare it, the lightly indicated landscapes behind some of his Virgin and Child compositions are compatible.

When Michael told mc that several scholars had opted for Giovanni da Udine for your sheet — which, given the subject, is obviously a perfectly reasonable suggestion · I was a little surprised, but I assumed that they knew more about Giovanni than I, and didn’t think further about the matter. Looking at the drawing — or rather the photo again now, I do not know with which pen drawings by Giovanni yours is being compared, but that In Munich seems to me considerably softer and less structural. So. my opinion, for what it’s worth and with all due caution, is that what you have is a Raphael drawing of c. 1517/18 — I find I difficult to think of anyon else who could have been responsible for the head and arms of the upper putto: they are extraordinarily confident.

[5]München, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Inv. n. 2520. I wish to thank John Shearman for first suggesting the attribution to Giovanni da Udine. It has been confirmed by Nicole Dacos, Konrad Oberhuber, Dominique Cordellier, and Carmen Bambach Cappel.

[6]Dacos and Furlan, 1987, I, p. 244, no. 10.

[7]Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, P II 655; Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, Inv. Z 1984; Eckhardt Knab, Erwin Mitsch, Konrad Oberhuber, Raphael, Die Zeichnungen, Stuttgart, 1983, p. 610, nos. 542, 543.

[8]Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite, VI, p. 550

[9]One must note that the putti have both a monumental and a schematic quality which is characteristic of Giovanni’s mature work, most notably his painted windows in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana Delciana, for which he received the commission from Michelangelo in 1526. See Renzo U. Montini and Riccardo Averini, Palazzo Baldassini e l’arte di Giovani da Udine, Rome, 1957, pl. XV. Nonetheless it is impossible to disassociate the Raphaelesque draughtsmanship of this sheet from Giovanni’s work in the studio.

[10]Metropolitan Museum of Art 80.3.302. William M. Griswold and Linda Wolk Simon, Sixteenth Century Drawings in New York Collections, exh. cat., New York, 1993, pp. 62f.., no. 57.

[11]Or perhaps a tributary of the Tiber closer to Palombara. One cannot verify this without visiting the location.

[12]These organizational conventions are, not surprisingly, fundamental to the later landscape decorations added to the Logge at the middle of the century by Pope Julius III. See Bernice F. Davidson, “The Landscapes of the Vatican Logge from the Reign of Pope Julius III,” The Art Bulletin, LXV (1983), pp. 587-602. See p. 599 for the difference between the small landscapes of Raphael’s project and the later cycle, but also a comment one their possible influence on them; also see p. 595 for Giovanni da Udine’s possible authorship of two lost bird-scenes added after Raphael’s work, but before Julius’.

[13]Louise S. Richards, “Three Early Italian Drawings,” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 49 (1962), pp. 172-75; Chris Fischer, Fra Bartolommeo, Master Draughtsman of the High Renaissance, exh. cat., Rotterdam, 1990, pp. 375-400.

[14]Raffaello in Vaticano, exh. cat., Rome, 1984, p. 213.

[15]Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite, ed. Milanesi, Milan, 1906, VI, pp. 551, 554.

[16]His preparatory drawing of the Virgin for this altarpiece, in fact, is his only drawing on Venetian blue paper. See Konrad Oberhuber, Raffaello, Milan, 1982, p. 108; Carlo Pietrangeli, in Raffaello in Vaticano, pp. 267ff. Sebastiano came to Rome in the entourage of Agostino Chigi in 1511, a convincing date in respect to the Madonna of Foligno. We do not know when Giovanni came to Rome. He was introduced to Raphael by letters from Domenico Grimani to Raphael’s friend from Urbino, Baldassare Castiglione. (Vasari, Le Vite, ed. Milanesi, Milan, 1906, VI, p. 550)The landscape in the Madonna of Foligno is such a literal recreation of Giorgione’s style that it was once thought that Sebastiano del Piombo, Dosso Dossi, or Battista Dossi actually painted it. Today almost everyone accepts it as Raphael’s, a virtuosic hommage to the great Venetian innovator, whose work he only seems to have known at second hand. If one were to revive this question, Giovanni da Udine might be a plausible name to consider.

Isidoro Bianchi: Painter, Stuccatore, and Architect