Artist: Francesco Salviati (Francesco de' Rossi) (Italian, Florence 1510–1563 Rome)
Medium: (Recto and verso) Charcoal, highlighted with white chalk, on blue paper; outlines heavily stylus-incised on recto, and partly so on verso
Dimensions: Overall: 20 7/16 x 9 5/8 in. (51.9 x 24.4 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and Leon D. and Debra R. Black Gifts, 2001
Accession Number: 2001.409a, b
Of arresting sculptural presence, this study for the figure of Saint John the Evangelist in a sinuously elegant pose of counterpoint is the only surviving cartoon (full-scale drawing) by Francesco Salviati. It was preparatory for the design and painting of Salviati's important fresco cycle in the private chapel, or Cappella del Palio, of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (the grandson of Pope Paul III) in the Palazzo della Cancelleria, Rome. Salviati executed the preparatory drawings for the project in winter 1548–49, finishing the frescoes before May 1549. A leading painter of the second generation of Mannerists in Florence and Rome, Salviati had no rivals among his peers when it came to composing elegantly complex pictorial inventions with dazzling layers of illusionistic ornament. This design was used for the figure of Saint John frescoed on the underside of the main arch containing the altar of the chapel. Like many of Salviati's drawings (and paintings), it displays a highly refined surface treatment. In modeling the drawing, the artist worked up the white chalk highlights and the very friable charcoal to a beautiful marmoreal luster by rubbing in the individual strokes to obtain smoky, seamlessly unified tones. Saint John the Evangelist is seen in the company of his best-known attribute, the eagle, and also holds a chalice with a snake. The latter attribute alludes to the priest of the Temple of Diana of Ephesus offering John a poisoned chalice to drink as a test of his faith, which left the saint miraculously unharmed.
The verso of the sheet also functioned as a cartoon for transferring the design onto the painting surface. This design of Saint Mark is considerably sketchier than that of Saint John on the recto, and like the Saint John, it was used to fresco a figure on the underside of the main arch in the Cappella del Palio in 1548–49.