Nine Studies of the Moses in Santa Maria della Steccata, Parma (recto); Nine Studies for the Eve in Santa Maria della Steccata, Parma (verso)

Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola) Italian

Not on view

The stunning sketches for the figures of Moses and Eve on this celebrated double-sided sheet are preparatory for two of the four large fictive statues (frescoed in monochrome) within the oval niches that are at the base of the two narrow soffits, undersides of the supporting arches, on either side of the barrel vault of the Church of Santa Maria della Steccata in Parma. In the frescoes, Moses is paired with Aaron on the underside of the arch toward the crossing, and Eve with Adam on that toward the apse. This drawing offers an amazing glimpse into Parmigianino's sketching process, for each idea unfolds with the kind of spellbinding facility that instantly speaks of genius. He explored at least nine poses for each figure, and also fluently moved about the figure from various angles of view. The viewing angles for the fictive marble sculptures in monochrome, with respect to the larger figures of the canephori, were crucially important in the overall illusionism of the frescoes. The enormity of the actual architecture space toward the crossing in the church offers multiple vantage points for Parmigianino's frescoes. In each of the sketches on the sheet, the figure is always seen carefully integrated within corresponding oval niche (the artist faintly indicated the borders of the soffit with parallel lines drawn in leadpoint). On the recto, the Moses figure in the bottom row, second from the left border - showing the irate patriarch with raised arms, about to shatter the tablets of the Ten Commandments - comes closest to the final form of the fresco. A softly drawn study in the Louvre (Popham no. 355) develops this active pose for Moses on a larger scale. Studies in the Louvre and in Parma showing Moses in a seated static pose, although more detailed and finished than the present sketches, must belong to an earlier and discarded phase of planning . Intriguingly, a detailed copy of one of the figures of Moses in the present sheet turns up on a pages of Girolamo da Carpi's sketchbook from 1549-53, complete with the original's oval framework and pentimenti (tentative outlines) (illustrated and discussed in Canedy 1976 pl. T 26). Although the verso is not mentioned, the Meuseum drawing is probably the item listed in the 1561 inventory of Cavaliere Francesco Baiardo's possessions as "115. Un' disegno di noue figurine di Moysè diferenti l'uno dall'altra di chiaro, et scuro finite in parte dil Parmesanino alte 0 2 l'uno" (a drawing of nine little figures of Moses, each different from the other, partly finished in chiaroscuro by Parmigianino). On the verso, the top five sketches of Eve along the upper right closely convey her pose as finally frescoed in the Steccata: she is seen almost frontally, at the moment of picking the apple from the tree of knowledge with her right hand. The various extant preliminary drawings for this figure all seem to represent a stage of planning prior to the present sheet. (Carmen C. Bambach in Correggio and Parmigianino: Master Draughtsmen of the Renaissance, ed. by C.C. Bambach, H. Chapman, M. Clayton and G.R. Goldner, New York and London 2000, pp. 163-65, no. 114)

Nine Studies of the Moses in Santa Maria della Steccata, Parma (recto); Nine Studies for the Eve in Santa Maria della Steccata, Parma (verso), Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola) (Italian, Parma 1503–1540 Casalmaggiore), Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, over traces of black chalk, on beige paper (recto and verso)

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recto (full view with mount)