St. John the Baptist Preaching
Verso: Male Figure Kneeling Toward the Left, Hands Clasped in Prayer, ca. 1558
Inscribed on mount in a cartouche, in pen and brown ink, by Vasari, TADDEO ZUCHERO / DA S. AGNOLO. / PITTORE
Gift of Janos Scholz, 1973
According to Vasari, Taddeo's father sent him to Rome on his own when he was fourteen years old. There he was employed in various workshops and studied independently, particularly the works of Raphael. His earliest independent commission dates from 1553, when he collaborated with Prospero Fontana on the decoration (mostly destroyed) of Pope Julius III's villa outside the Porta del Popolo in Rome.
The drawing on the recto, St. John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, is one of Zuccaro's best-known drawings, although it has not been connected to a commission or extant work by the artist. As William M. Griswold and Linda Wolk-Simon have rightly noted, the recto's lack of pentimenti, fully worked up composition, landscape background, and careful attention to light and shadow suggest that it may have been intended for a discerning collector, as suggested by its Vasarian provenance. It may also have been a presentation drawing or a design for a print.
The purpose of this composition is not certain. Considering, however, that the verso relates to a fresco in San Marcello in Corso, it may represent a rejected study for one of the scenes there. The elaborate mount, which has probably been slightly trimmed, is a page from Vasari's album of drawings, the Libro dei Disegni.
The kneeling figure on the verso (right) has been identified by James Mundy as a study for the kneeling St. Paul in Taddeo's fresco Matyrdom of St. Paul of about 1559–65 on the center of the vault of the Frangipani Chapel in San Marcello al Corso, Rome.