Acquired in 2013 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in honor of George Goldner, this monumental, extremely rare work is the only known cartoon (full-scale drawing) by a Venetian Renaissance artist. Its size and brush with wash technique indicate it was a cartoon for a painting. The drawing depicts a standing, heavily robed female figure dressed in a semi-monastic habit with a wimple underneath her mantle and hands clasped in prayer. Carpaccio may have produced this cartoon of a woman praying intending the design to be a useful pattern in several paintings. One of the main reasons that Renaissance artists used cartoons with pricked outlines for the ‘spolvero’ technique in oil or tempera paintings (which do not require a fast execution, unlike ‘buon fresco’) was that they were efficient in reproducing a design more than once. For example, the woman’s pose could be appropriate for a sorrowful Virgin Mary in a scene of the ‘Pietà’ or ‘Crucifixion.’
This cartoon seems to have also been repurposed. It was used partly for the figure of St. Anne, the matronly mother of the Virgin who stands in the background, at far left, in the ‘Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple’ of 1502-4 (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), a large painting in oil on canvas which was originally part of the cycle dedicated to the Life of the Virgin in the Scuola degli Albanesi in Venice. The height of the female figure in the Metropolitan Museum cartoon is about 13mm shorter than that of the saint in the Brera canvas, which is a relatively small difference: figures are often enlarged by the artist in the process of painting. Moreover, in the Brera canvas, a bearded male figure in the foreground, who is probably St. Joachim, covers the details of the arm and hands of St. Anne, as well as the lower portions of her body: in fact, only the tip of her foot and hem of her robe are visible, and much of her body is also cropped by the left border of the painting. The woman’s design in the Metropolitan Museum cartoon generally corresponds with other of Carpaccio’s figural types of female saints around these years.
The Metropolitan cartoon and the Brera ‘Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple’ have been reunited in for the first time in modern history in 2015 during the exhibition ‘Il Primato del Disegno’ (Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera, 2015). That the Metropolitan’s work is a cartoon and that it is an autograph drawing by Carpaccio had not been recognized in the literature before 2013, because of the relative unfamiliarity of such designs in large scale done in a brush with wash technique. The scale of the drawing, control of the brush, and the passages of searching pentimenti all prove this cartoon was a creative exploratory drawing done by the author of the design himself, and cannot be by a workshop assistant.
Cartoons for paintings were executed with a much bolder handling of the drawing media than small-size studies, and often with little blending of individual strokes since the design of a cartoon was calibrated to be seen from a far viewing distance, rather than close up (for these aspects see: Bambach 1999 and Bambach in 'Il Primato del Disegno', 2015). In fact, the expressive, very pictorial technique with brush and wash modeling of Carpaccio’s cartoon is not unique for a large drawing of this type for a painting, and resembles that of Parmigianino’s large ‘Cartoon of a Bishop Saint in Bust-Length’ (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Van Day Truex Fund, inv. 1995.306, New York), which was preparatory for the altarpiece of the ‘Madonna of St. Margaret’ in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, of ca. 1528-29. Carpaccio’s drawing technique in the Metropolitan cartoon –of very fine, almost blackish brown ink outlines that in appearance seem subtly broken up into dashes, and relatively broad areas of wash modeling-- is generally typical also of his smaller-size studies from about 1500-10.
Examples are his relatively finished composition study for the painting in the Scuola di S. Giorgio degli Schiavoni of the ‘Vision of St. Augustine,’ of ca. 1501-8 (British Museum inv. 1934,1208.1, London); or ‘St. Martin and the Beggar,’ of ca. 1500-5 (Metropolitan Museum of Art inv. 2002.93). In the Metropolitan Museum cartoon, Carpaccio drew the outlines of the female figure with fine, summary outlines (perhaps with a reed pen), over an abundant exploratory underdrawing in grainy charcoal. He then modeled the woman’s forms with an extensive application of gray-brown washes done with long brush strokes in a diagonal or upright disposition, which is best evident in the draperies. As is seen in those passages, the artist left these long brush strokes of wash modeling frequently unblended and very evident, because of the great size of the design and the speed with which he worked. The overall final effect of the chiaroscuro modeling of the figure is expressive, powerful, and sculptural.
Carpaccio pricked the outlines of the design of the woman’s figure with a sharp point, and rubbed the rows of closely spaced holes with charcoal dust to transfer the design to the painting surface. The verso of this cartoon is also entirely visible. As is typical in Italian Renaissance cartoons, the more complex outlines of the design of the head and hands exhibit holes closely spaced together, while in the simpler passages of draperies the holes are further apart. The outlines of the charcoal underdrawing differ greatly in a number of passages, with respect to the upper design layer in fine pen and ink and wash. Passages of ‘pentimenti’ especially occur on the draperies in the area of the woman’s right sleeve, the interior v-shaped folds, the gathered cloth falling from her left hand, and the outer contour at lower right on the figure. These attest to the function of this cartoon as a searching creative drawing.
Carpaccio's painting of the ‘Presentation of the Virgin’ was recently examined with infrared reflectography, and this revealed some sparse underdrawing of outlines in the figure of St. Anne and more abundant passages of underdrawing in the bearded figure of Joachim in front of her. The underdrawing evident in the figure of Joachim consists of liquid outlines, which seem in portions minutely interrupted, but the canvas support of the painting complicates the reading of the imaging in infrared reflectography. The imaging in infrared reflectography of the figure of Joachim also reveals that there is modeling done with washes and some broad passages of aqueous diagonal parallel-hatching applied with the brush not unlike the passages in the draperies in the Metropolitan Museum cartoon.
Carmen C. Bambach (2015)
Ralph Holland, London (1917–2012); Sotheby's, London, July 5, 2013, lot 232; Donor: David M. Tobey
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," July 15, 2014–September 29, 2014.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paper Chase: Two Decades of Collecting Drawings and Prints," December 9, 2014–March 16, 2015.
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan. "Il Primato del Disegno," May 8, 2015–July 19, 2015.
Sir Timothy Clifford "Italian Drawings at Newcastle." The Burlington Magazine. Vol. 116, no. 855, June 1974, p. 534 (as North Italian School).
Kenneth Rowntree, Ralph Holland, London Italian and Other Drawings 1500-1800 Exh. cat., Hutton Gallery, University of Newcastle upon Tyne. 1974, no. 1, pl. 1 (as North Italian School, c. 1500-1515).
'Galleria Portatile'. The Ralph Holland Collection Sotheby's London, Friday 5 July 2013. London, 2013, pp. 18-19, lot no. 232.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Annual Report for the Year 2013-2014 Departmental Accessions, Drawings and Prints. New York, 2014, p. 31.
Carmen C. Bambach Recent Acquisitions. A Selection: 2012-2014 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fall 2014. 2014, p. 27, repr. (as Vittore Carpaccio).
l Primato del Disegno. I disegni dei grandi maestri a confronto con i dipinti della Pinacoteca di Brera: dai Primitivi a Modigliani Exh. cat. Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera (May 9 - July 19, 2015). Ed. by Sandrina Bandera, Milan, 2015, pp. 62-63, no. 7a (entry by Carmen C. Bambach).