Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
June 19, 2006
Ann Percy and Mimi Cazort Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Exh. cat. Philadelphia and University Park: Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004. 300 pp.; 80 color ills.; 70 b/w ills. Cloth $55.00 (0271025387)
Exhibition schedule: Philadelphia Museum of Art, October 30, 2004–February 21, 2005

This handsome catalogue accompanied an exhibition of Italian drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last year. The show featured one hundred-and-fifty drawings from the permanent collection, whereas the book catalogues eighty of these drawings, ranging in date from c. 1539 to 2001. The publication includes a long essay by Ann Percy, curator of drawings at Philadelphia, tracing the formation of the collection. Seventy-eight of the eighty catalogue entries were written by Mimi Cazort, former curator of prints and drawings at the National Gallery in Ottawa; one entry was written by E. James Mundy and one by Ann Percy. Both Percy and Cazort are well-known authorities on Italian drawings whose scholarship has contributed extensively to the field.

The Philadelphia catalogue is part of Amilcare Pizzi’s series on distinguished collections of Italian drawings. Although this series has included over twenty European collections, only a few American museums (Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX; Fogg Museum, Harvard; and the Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) have been featured. Thus this catalogue makes an important addition to US representation in the series.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art owns one of the largest collections of Italian drawings in this country, some 2,700 sheets. The major regional schools are all represented, with examples from the sixteenth century to the present, with the Roman eighteenth century constituting the strongest area.

As Percy explains in her impressive, one hundred-page essay, the Italian drawings assembled by three collectors form the nucleus of the museum’s holdings. John Smith Phillips (1800–76), a Philadelphia businessman and amateur chemist, collected nearly 40,000 European prints, 1,000 American prints, and over 500 European drawings, the latter mostly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. According to Percy, this was the largest collection of pre-twentieth-century graphic art in the United States at the time of Phillips’s death in 1876. Percy illustrates eighteen drawings from Phillips’s collection, including some of the finest Italian drawings at the Philadelphia Museum. It was not clear to this reviewer why these important sheets by Parmigianino, Cambiaso, Barocci, Lanfranco, Bernini, and others illustrated with the essay were not also catalogued.

The second key figure in Percy’s essay is Matthew Carey Lea (1823–97), whose collection of over 2,000 sheets focused almost exclusively on Italian artists, in contrast to Phillips’s more eclectic interests. Lea, a chemist who published extensively on photographic chemistry, came from an intellectual family that included other art collectors. Lea’s corpus comprises the majority of Philadelphia’s Italian drawings today. His collection included spectacular sheets by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Elisabetta Sirani, Domenico Maria Canuti, Pompeo Batoni, and Giuseppe Cades that are illustrated by Percy but not subsequently catalogued. Both Lea and Phillips bequeathed their collections to the Pennsylvania Academy. After the Academy decided in 1956 to focus exclusively on American art, it transferred these collections to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Anthony Morris Clark (1923–76) was the third major collector in the formation of Philadelphia’s holdings of Italian drawings, and Percy does a wonderful job of bringing this colorful art historian to life. Clark worked at several US museums as a restorer, and he published extensively on eighteenth-century Roman art. A brilliant scholar, restorer, and collector who purchased drawings in Europe and New York, Clark died at age fifty-three, leaving three hundred-and-fifty Italian drawings, in addition to prints, coins, medals, and sculptures. His executors chose the Philadelphia Museum of Art as the appropriate home for his collection, based largely on the already significant holdings from the Phillips and Lea legacies. Consistent with Clark’s scholarly interests, his collection focused on Roman drawings, including sheets by Carlo Maratta, Pompeo Batoni, Antonio Cavallucci, and Giuseppe Bottani that are illustrated with Percy’s essay.

Mimi Cazort’s catalogue entries for eighty Italian drawings provide a representative sampling of Philadelphia’s collection, strongest in Roman (24) and eighteenth-century works (36), but also featuring many Florentine, Emilian, seicento, and ottocento examples. The small group of twentieth- and twenty-first-century sheets struck this reviewer as a scant and somewhat disconnected afterthought, and the inclusion of one drawing ascribed to Angelika Kauffmann (cat. no. 63), a Swiss artist, is mysterious. Sixty-five drawings from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, representing all the major regional schools, constitute the majority of catalogued works. Cazort’s entries are thorough, including artistic biographies, full information on the drawings, and general features of the artists’ design practices and the state of research. Regrettably, neither the versos of two-sided drawings nor the paintings for which drawings were preparatory are illustrated.

The six sixteenth-century drawings are finished compositions, apart from a chalk sketch by Raffaellino da Reggio (cat. no. 5). A Christ Disputing with the Doctors in the Temple (cat. no. 1) is convincingly attributed to Francesco Salviati, whose draftsmanship has been much studied recently. Cazort ascribes a Virgin and Child Appearing to Saints Michael and Francis (cat. no. 3) to Orazio Samacchini, comparing this work to another sheet by the artist in the Metropolitan Museum. The comparison was not convincing to this reviewer, and Samacchini’s authorship seems doubtful. A better candidate is Denys Calvaert (1540?–1619), whose painting of the Virgin and Child with Saints Michael Archangel, executed with Lorenzo Sabbatini (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna), features similar figures and compositional principles. Calvaert’s drawings frequently employ abundant white heightening and squaring in black chalk, as in the Philadelphia sheet.

The fifteen catalogued seventeenth-century drawings are diverse in regional origins, style, and function. Two splendid sheets by Lodovico Cigoli, the prolific Florentine whose works have been extensively studied by Miles Chappell, initiate this section. A composition (cat. no. 7) with the English king and queen adoring the cross is unusual in its superimposition of a secular coat of arms on the center of an otherwise empty cross. What exactly is being worshipped here? This drawing, which employs Cigoli’s signature blue wash, is quite different from the vigorous working study for a festive chariot (cat. no. 8), illustrating the diversity of this gifted draftsman.

Two sheets are ascribed to Guercino, by whom roughly a thousand drawings are still known today. The first is a characteristically dynamic pen drawing of a genre subject (cat. no. 10), but the second—a pen drawing of Samson and Delilah (cat. no. 11)—seems too weak to be by Guercino, and is probably the product of his studio. It is perhaps significant that David Stone includes no. 10 but not no. 11 in his selective checklist of Guercino drawings in North America, in Guercino Master Draftsman: Works from North American Collections (Bologna: Nuova Alfa Editoriale, 1991).

Other sheets represent the Genoese school. Two drawings by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione illustrate his unusual drawing technique utilizing a brush and oil-based paint. Also included are drawings by Domenico Piola (cat. no. 17) and his son, Paolo Gerolamo Piola, whose lunette design with an allegory of winter were preparatory for a ceiling decoration in the Palazzo Rosso in Genoa (cat. no. 19). A composition by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (cat. no. 21) rounds out this group.

The thirty-six eighteenth-century drawings include a superb nucleus of Roman drawings from Clark’s collection. A study by Camillo Rusconi for the Tomb of Pope Gregory XIII in St. Peter’s (cat. no. 26) is the catalogue’s only design for a sculpture. A breathtakingly detailed pen drawing by Girolamo Odam prepared an engraving after a famous gem known as the Strozzi Medusa, then in the collection of Cardinal Alessandro Albani (cat. no. 27). Pompeo Batoni’s two male nudes illustrate his use of red chalk in a figure study for a painting (cat. no. 40) and black-and-white chalk in an academy (cat. no. 41), the same media employed for another academy by Domenico Corvi (cat. no. 46). The Neoclassicists Felice Giani, a Piedmontese artist, and the Roman Giuseppe Cades are the only artists represented by three sheets apiece, all but one from Clark’s collection.

The eighteenth-century group is also strong in other schools. One of the few Neapolitan drawings in the catalogue is a stunning compositional study by Francesco Solimena for an altarpiece of 1718 (cat. no. 29). The Venetian drawings include sheets by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Canaletto, Jacopo Amigoni, and Giovanni Antonio Guardi. Bolognese eighteenth-century drawings are a specialty of Cazort, who has published extensively on the Gandolfi, and the entries on this group are especially illuminating. Bolognese examples include a characteristically economical pen and ink sketch by Donato Creti (cat. no. 24), a study for a painting by Vittorio Maria Bigari (cat. no. 34), and preparatory studies for paintings by both Gaetano Gandolfi (cat. no. 48) and his brother Ubaldo (cat. no. 50). The latter is particularly interesting, both iconographically (it invents a historically inaccurate martyrdom for St. Eusebius) and practically (Ubaldo’s drawing was employed by Gaetano, uniquely, for a painting).

Fourteen nineteenth-century drawings date primarily from the first half of the century. Several portray subjects from earlier Italian literature. Andrea Appiani’s pen sketch (cat. no. 60) probably represents Paolo and Francesca from Dante’s Inferno. Luigi Sabatelli portrays a subject from Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (cat. no. 62), and Tommaso Minardi illustrates Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata (cat. no. 70). Other sheets demonstrate the continuation of traditional religious subjects, like Pietro Benvenuti’s Judith with the Head of Holofernes (cat. no. 64) and Tommaso Maria Conca’s spectacular Finding of Moses (cat. no. 67), a finished composition with watercolor on blue paper. Cazort convincingly suggests that it was made as an autonomous work, rather than as a preparatory study, an equally plausible hypothesis for Minardi’s Erminia. Although drawings had been made as autonomous works since the sixteenth century in Italy, the practice became increasingly common later, and these two sheets testify to a growing market of collectors with an interest in such productions.

In publishing some important Italian drawings, the Philadelphia catalogue will be useful to scholars. Cazort’s exemplary entries provide reliable information on eighty works, and Percy’s detailed essay sheds light on three fascinating collectors.

Museums in the United States have tended to produce handsome catalogues like this one, with large black-and-white and color illustrations. Many European museums, including the Louvre and Albertina, have chosen another route for their drawings, reproducing more works, in smaller, black-and-white illustrations. For scholars, such inclusiveness may be more useful. With skyrocketing prices for photographs and reproduction rights, access to images can be problematic. A few museums, such as the Louvre and Ambrosiana, have also put their drawings online. Although websites do not replace handsome catalogues, they facilitate scholarship by making a large corpus of images available without cost.

Babette Bohn
Professor of Art History, School of Art, Texas Christian University