The Morgan Library & Museum's collection of Italian old master drawings is one of the most significant in this country and functions as a cornerstone of the institution's holdings in graphic art. The nucleus of the Morgan's Italian drawings—presently numbering at nearly three thousand sheets including sketchbook and album pages—originated in Pierpont Morgan's 1909 purchase of fifteen hundred drawings from the Fairfax Murray collection, which contained exceptional examples of sixteenth- and eighteenth-century Italian draftsmanship. Since then the Morgan has acquired, through both purchases and gifts, remarkable Italian drawings and continues to grow.
The Morgan houses drawings by Italy's most prominent Renaissance artists. Florence—arguably the center of draftsmanship in Renaissance Italy—yielded a plethora of master draftsmen, such as Sandro Botticelli, Filippo Lippi, and Fra Bartolommeo, whose works reveal the central role of drawing in the artistic process. This practice is brought to a remarkable level of perfection in drawings by the canonical triumvirate of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. The succeeding generation of artists, such as Andrea del Sarto, Jacopo Pontormo, and Luca Signorelli, as well as major north Italian masters of the Renaissance, such as Correggio, Parmigianino, and Andrea Mantegna, are also well-represented in the collection.
From artists who worked for papal Rome during the seventeenth century, the Morgan owns significant works by Annibale Carracci, Gianlorenzo Bernini, and Pietro da Cortona. The breadth of the Morgan's collection of Italian Baroque drawings is due in large part to the incorporation during the second half of the twentieth century of the Janos Scholz collection, which introduced a large number of accomplished drawings by artists working in various artistic centers, such as Bologna, Naples, Genoa, and Milan.
Venetian drawings are a particularly rich component of the Morgan's Italian drawings collection. In addition to drawings by Renaissance masters such as Vittore Carpaccio, Titian, Jacopo Tintoretto, and Paolo Veronese, the Morgan's holdings comprise the best collection of Venetian eighteenth-century drawings in the United States. Sheets with elegant views of Venice by Canaletto and Giambattista Tiepolo's exquisite decorative designs are numerous and of the highest quality.
Taddeo Zuccaro (1529–1566)
St. John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness Verso: Male Figure Kneeling Toward the Left, Hands Clasped in Prayer, ca. 1558 Pen and brown ink, brown wash, heightened with white gouache, on blue paper
Gift of Janos Scholz; 1973.26
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.
The drawing on the recto (left), 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.