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.
Fra Bartolommeo (1472–1517)
View of the Ospizio della Madonna del Lecceto from the West, ca. 1498–1504
verso: View of the Same Building from the Northwest Pen and brown ink
Purchased as the gift of the Fellows; 1957.18
The subject of the present drawing was identified in 1986 by Chris Fischer as the Dominican Ospizio della Madonna del Lecceto, near Lastra as Signa on the outskirts of Florence, and dated about 1498 to 1504 because building activities increased during these years. Unique among Fra Bartolommeo's landscape designs, it represents two views of the same site drawn form different angles: on the recto (zoomed image left) the convent is seen from the west, while on the verso (thumbnail above) the buildings are viewed from the northwest and at slightly closer range. The bell tower visible in both drawings was destroyed by lightning in 1563, but the main convent buildings are still standing, as is the well depicted at left on the recto. The drawings in the album–studies of trees and rock outcroppings and views of monasteries and hill towns–reveal Fra Bartolommeo as an artist who ventured into the landscape to recod what he saw. Such a practice was exceedingly rare at this time, as were the independent landscapes he produced. Even drawings by Leonardo, such as Storm Breaking over a Valley, the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, are more purely nature studies examined with a scientist's eye. Fra Bartolommeo's designs, by contrast, are what Chris Fischer has called "the sentimentalized topographical landscape," suffused with light and bearing the mark of man.