New York

Drawings From New York Collections

Morgan Library

The second of the exhibitions of Drawings from New York Collections, organized jointly by the Metropolitan Museum and the Pierpont Morgan Library, is now at the latter of these institutions, and represents very well indeed The 17th Century in Italy. The preceding exhibition, that of Italian Renaissance drawings (held at the Met), had dealt exceptionally well with a field made extremely problematic both by the rarity of the material and the consequent limitations of local collections whether public or private. With 17th-century Italian drawings, there is a happy abundance of material and a well-established tradition of connoisseurship and collection over the very wide range of riches the period has to offer.

The 17th century is marked in the history of Italian draftsmanship by several features that give it an almost unparalleled interest from all points of view. The very range of materials and techniques is astonishing for variety and originality, the types of drawings increase from those almost always connected with the preparation of some other work of art to include various “free” kinds, the caricature, scherzi and invenzioni, the landscape, portraits of an intimacy and psychological penetration hitherto unknown, gratuitous life studies, and the like. Also, of course, the now more numerous preparations for prints, and the immense series of drawings connected with the large-scale painting enterprises of the age contribute greatly to the large number of very great masterworks produced by Italian draftsmen.

The emergence of Rome, Naples, Genoa, and Bologna as centers of the highest artistic quality made for the formation of points of view peculiar to each, which then cross-fertilized one another most fruitfully in various ways, not the least of which was through the collections of drawings which the early great amateurs were coming to form. Travels of renowned masters, reproductive prints, and the formations of the academies did the rest. The specific manner of individual masters came to be prized highly, particularly when the touch, the “hand” transcribed not just a specific kind of vision, but extremely personal nuances of feeling and inventiveness. Contrast and synthesis were watchwords of the age, and varied manners were cultivated to be practiced simultaneously, both with an eye to the “decorum” of the project at hand, and as facets of the individuality testifying to a largeness of essential being. All of the great masters of the era drew, with the significant exception of Caravaggio, whose remarkable originality in all things was considered exceptional even in an age of grandiose exceptions. The fantastic and recherché were appreciated along with the full, pneumatic classicizing Baroque forms which the great Roman decorators formulated relatively early in the century.

In the exhibition itself, it is most fitting that the entrance hall of the Morgan celebrates the Carracci, in a number of works whose glory is only matched by their importance. The best known of the family, Annibale, is represented with a gigantesque whirling black and white chalk drawing of The Monster Cacus, whose serpentine vigor had until recently caused it to be given to Rubens, an early idea for part of the great Farnese ceiling which Annibale finished in 1604, and several other works, the most striking of which is certainly Janos Scholz’s Flying Putto in black chalk. Agostino and Lodovico Carracci are seen in varied works like the former’s impressive red chalk Portrait of a Woman, and the latter’s vivacious working out of a Last Communion of St. Jerome.

A marvelous spread of Guercino drawings provides a look at the Bolognese master’s celebrated pen and wash drawings of flickering and nervous animation along with several restrained and grand chalk drawings, the most unusual of which is certainly a Holy Family in colored chalks and wash. Its impressive provenance and repeated mention in art literature over the past two centuries testifies to the enduring attraction of this impressive kind of presentation drawing which Guercino did as independent works of art.

Pietro da Cortona makes his appearance in an extensive group of animated composition studies in pen, magnificent chalk form-and-figure studies for paintings, and chalk and wash studies for prints and even for a mosaic. That the facility and rhythmic impulse of his hand came to such a variety of media with equal energetic aplomb over his longish career is responsible for his resounding influence and remarkable success. The preeminent universal genius of the century, Bernini, is still relatively unfamiliar to the general public as a draftsman, but the three superb portraits, particularly the one of Bernini’s great patron Cardinal Scipione Borghese, along with an intriguing study for a wall tomb and a devastating caricature, provide an excellent introduction to the master’s graphic work.

Many of the most beautiful and powerful works in the exhibition are by artists who are certain to be unfamiliar to all but scholars in the field, and even to the savants a few figures remain a bit mysterious. A glorious stumped red chalk drawing of a Young Man seen from the Back, given to the Florentine Jacopo da Empoli, is a case in point, as is Tanzio da Varallo’s chalk Group of Soldiers with Pikes, and Bernardo Cavallino’s rare Virgin Immaculate.

The heroes of the show, after the artists, and along with the lenders who have cooperated with the sponsoring institutions, are certainly Felice Stampfle of the Morgan Library, and Jacob Bean of the Metropolitan Museum. Not only have these two scholars selected the one hundred and forty works shown, a task requiring diplomacy no less than a superb eye, but also they are jointly authors of the excellent catalog, which in addition to an illuminating entry for each item, reproduces each one full page. The catalog is in itself a significant contribution to the scholarly literature and should be of inestimable pedagogical value.

––Dennis Adrian