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.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)
Two Designs for Machines: Maritime Assault Mechanism and a Device for Bending Beams, 1487–90
Pen and brown ink, over black chalk
Gift of Otto Manley; 1986.50
Inscribed by the artist in pen and brown ink, in mirror writing (right to left script), on recto above upper design, pie[na] di
fieno bagniato; to left, Strume[n]to diurno / e da mare per i[s]calare / una to[r]re di sopra e se le / fu[s]sino due torri va
per / tale linia che l'una fa– / cci scudo all'altra ma / fa che`l mare sia con tu– / tti i segni di tranquilita.
During the Renaissance many artists produced designs for weaponry and defenses, a subject evidently of particular interest
to Leonardo, by whom nearly four hundred drawings survive. As is revealed in his characteristic reverse writing, the upper
sketch describes a device to scale a tower during a naval siege, and the lower details a mechanism to bend wooden beams.
The designs were likely executed during Leonardo's sojourn at the Sforza court in Milan, around 1487–90.