GIOVANNI ALBERTI	(BORGO SAN SEPOLCRO 1558 – 1601 ROME) Reclining Male Nude; Separate Studies of his Left Leg and Left Hand

GIOVANNI ALBERTI (BORGO SAN SEPOLCRO 1558 – 1601 ROME) Reclining Male Nude; Separate Studies of his Left Leg and Left Hand

1558 to 1601 Italy

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Pope Clement VIII Aldobrandini selected the Tuscan artist brothers, Giovanni and Cherubino Alberti (1553-1615) to fresco the Sala Clementina in 1596, the largest and most important room in the newly completed papal residence.[1] The decoration was singled out for praise by the biographer, Giovanni Baglione, who called it “one of the most beautiful works of this type carried out in our time,” and claimed that Giovanni Alberti had no rival when it came to painting illusionistic perspectives.[2] Fusing real and fictive architecture, the room’s monumental vault is distinctive for its single illusionistic opening to the sky, a technique that would inspire later ceiling painters like Pietro da Cortona. At centre, the first-century pope, Saint Clement, flanked by a ring of putti and angels, is shown kneeling and witnessing the Trinity. The real cornice of the room supports a fictive array of balustrades, consoles and broken pediments and behind, a painted loggia. Allegorical personifications of papal attributes – Clemency, Justice, Charity, Religion, Abundance, and Benignity – are painted on the balustrades and are accompanied by putti and seated ignudi, some of which bear heraldic symbols of the Aldobrandini family.
The present drawing, probably a sheet from a dispersed sketchbook, is a pose study for the ignudo reclining at the left of the standing allegorical personification of Benignity shown squeezing drops of milk from her breasts in the northeast corner of the Sala Clementina vault (Fig. 1). Drawn after a live studio model, the strongly foreshortened figure holds a baton in his right hand, later transformed into a thunderbolt in the final fresco. Alberti has also included separate studies of the model’s left foot as well as his left hand, drawn twice in red chalk and again in black chalk at the sheet’s lower edge. The drawing is en suite with another chalk study also formerly in the Ratjen collection that shows the same foreshortened nude at a steeper angle and includes exploratory pose studies of his legs.[3]
Several preparatory drawings for the Sala Clementina vault frescoes are known.[4] Relatively few, however, survive for the ignudi. In addition to the Ratjen sheets are those preserved in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan,[5] the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York [6] and the Uffizi in Florence.[7]

For discussion of paintings, see M. C. Abromson, “Clement VIII’s Patronage of the Brothers Alberti”, The Art Bulletin, September 1978, vol. 60, no. 3, pp. 531-41. Payments to the artists indicate that vault decorations were carried out between 1596 and 1599 and were certainly completed by1600, the date inscribed on the ceiling. The wall frescoes executed by Cherubino in collaboration with Baldassare Croce and Paul Bril were completed by 1602.
[2] G. Baglione, Le vite de’ pittori scultori et architetti...Rome, 1642, p. 70: “ebbe genio a far mirabili prospettive.”
[3] See K Herrmann-Fiore, op. cit., 1980, p. 52, fig. 24.
[4] K. Herrmann-Fiore, Disegni degli Alberti: il volume 2503 del Gabinetto nazionale delle stampe, 2nd ed., Rome, 1983, p. 64, under cat. no. 20.
[5] Giulio Bora, I disegni del Codice Resta, Bologna, 1976, p. 142, cat. no. 149, illustrated.
[6] Jacob Bean with the assistance of Lawrence Turčić, 15th and 16th Century Italian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1982, p. 19, cat. no. 3, illustrated.
[7] For the Uffizi drawing, a third ignudo from the Ratjen collection, and one with Lorna Lowe, see Herrmann-Fiore, op. cit., 1980, p. 51, figs. 20-22. A further nude was in the Jak Katalan collection (B. Bohn, et al., The Katalan collection of Italian drawings, exhibition catalogue, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, 14 April – 18 June 1995, and elsewhere, pp. 72-73, cat. no. 29, illustrated, cat. entry by A. Sutherland Harris) and subsequently sold (Sotheby's, London, 10 July 2002, lot 53).
Hans Calmann (1899-1982), London
Probably London, Sotheby’s, 7 December 1976, part of lot 31, not illustrated
Loriano Bertini, Prato, in 1980
Stiftung Wolfgang Ratjen (1943–1997), Vaduz (Inv. R. 912)
K. Hermann-Fiore, “Studi sui disegni di figure di Giovanni e Cherubino Alberti”, Bolletino d’Arte, 1980, 5, pp. 47-48, fig. 23.
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