Watermark: two crossed arrows (cf. Briquet 6299).
One of the most important artists in Rome at the middle of the sixteenth century, Zuccaro was regarded by his contemporaries as the spirit of Raphael reborn, according to the epitaph of his tomb in the Pantheon. Taddeo's career was relatively brief, and a number of his major works are lost or inaccessible. His artistic development is most fully documented in his extant drawings, which reveal the dominant influence of Perino del Vaga and Polidoro da Caravaggio. The Morgan is rich in holdings by Taddeo Zuccaro and his brother, Federico, and the provenance of the present drawing is particularly illustrious, its elaborate mount having been a page, probably slightly trimmed, from Giorgio Vasari's Libro dei Disegni, which the artist began in 1528-29 during his apprenticeship with Vittorio Ghiberti (ca. 1418-1496).
The kneeling figure on the verso has recently been identified by James Mundy as a study for the kneeling Saint Paul in Taddeo's fresco Martyrdom of Saint Paul of circa 1559-1565 on the center of the vault of the Frangipani Chapel in San Marcello al Corso, Rome. Taddeo was commissioned by Mario Frangipani (1506-1569) to decorate his family burial chapel with paintings illustrating the life of Saint Paul. According to a Latin inscription above the altarpiece, the chapel was dedicated in 1560 (1). The figure study on the verso may be dated to early in Taddeo's planning for the campaign on the basis of a stylistic comparison with other drawings for the same project. A finished preparatory study, in pen and brown ink, for the entire composition is in the Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum, New York, where the same position of the hands clasped in prayer was used (2).
The drawing on the recto, St. John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, is one of the artist's best-known drawings, although its original purpose remains unknown. As William M. Griswold and Linda Wolk-Simon have rightly noted, the recto's lack of pentimenti, the landscape background of the fully worked up composition, and careful attention to light and shadow suggest that it may have been made as a finished invention for a discerning collector, as suggested by its Vasarian provenance. It may also have been a presentation drawing or a design for a print.
Curatorial remarks by Laura B. Zukerman, 2006, in preparation for the catalogue Early Italian Drawings in the Collection of the Morgan Library & Museum: Artists Born Before 1550, forthcoming.
(1) Golda Balass, "Taddeo Zuccaro's Decoration for the Frangipani Chapel in S. Marcello al Corso, Rome," Assaph: Studies in Art History 6, 2001, p. 178.
(2) Inv. 1975.553; Milwaukee Art Museum, and National Academy of Design, New York, Renaissance into Baroque: Italian Master Drawings by the Zuccari 1550-1600, catalogue by E. James Mundy, 1989-90, no. 19; Cristina Acidini Luchinat, Taddeo e Federico Zuccari, fratelli pittori del Cinquecento, 2 vols., Milan and Rome, 1998-1999, vol. 1, p. 65, fig. 5.