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Renaissance Venice: Drawings from the Morgan
May 18 through September 23, 2012

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Attributed to Francesco Colonna (1433–1527)
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream)
Printed by Aldus Manutius in Venice, 1499
Opening: Nymph Discovered by a Satyr
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan with the library of Theodore Irwin, 1900; PML 373

Because of its elegant page layout, roman typeface, and refined woodcut illustrations, this famous example of early printing has been called the most beautiful illustrated book printed in Italy in the fifteenth century. The woodcuts are thought to have been designed by Benedetto Bordone, a successful miniaturist who turned to new artistic activities in the age of printing.

Written as an allegorical romance, the Hypnerotomachia tells of Poliphilo, who pursues his love, Polia, through a dreamlike landscape. The nymph discovered by a satyr shown here is thought to have inspired Giorgione's painting of around 1510, Venus Reclining (Dresden), considered the first painting of a female nude since antiquity.

Giovanni Antonio da Pordenone (ca. 1483–1539)
Crucifixion, 1520–21
Red chalk
7 1/8 x 8 inches (180 x 204 mm.)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909; IV, 69

Pordenone used this quick exploratory sketch to map out the initial design for his fresco of the Crucifixion painted in 1520–21 on the inner wall of the facade of Cremona cathedral. In order to incorporate changes to the composition, the sheet was cut at the right, where the artist inserted the rectangular piece with the horseman.

The Cremona frescoes are remarkable for their violent expressivity, which borrowed elements from northern painting and prints.

Printed on vellum by Vindelinus de Spira in Venice, 1 August 1471
Translated into Italian by Niccolò Malermi.
Opening, Volume 2: Shooting of the Father's Corpse
Purchased in 1929; PML 26984

This is the frontispiece to the second volume of the 1471 bible. The text appears to have been printed on a frayed piece of parchment suspended from an architectural monument—one of the most ambitious pictorial illusions in a Venetian book created during the Renaissance.

The framed picture at top illustrates the Shooting of the Father's Corpse, one of the apocryphal judgments of Solomon. In an inheritance dispute between the true son of a recently deceased man and an impostor, the actual son kneels before the suspended corpse, while the impostor reveals his counterfeit status by following King Solomon's command to shoot at the corpse.

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528)
Kneeling Donor, 1506
Brush and black ink, gray wash, heightened with white bodycolor, with accents in pen and dark ink, on blue Venetian paper
Signed with the artist's monogram and dated, at lower left, in brown ink, 1506.
12 3/4 x 7 11/16 inches (323 x 198 mm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1910; I, 257c

Dürer's interest in proportion and portraiture unite in this religious subject. This study is for one of his most prestigious commissions, the Feast of the Rose Garlands, an altarpiece now in the National Gallery, Prague. Created for the German Confraternity of the Rosary in Venice, it originally stood in the church of San Bartolomeo. While this figure corresponds to one of the donors flanking the Virgin and Child in the painting, the drawing is not merely a preparatory sketch but a highly finished work of art. Dürer chose a rich blue paper—the Venetian carta azzurra that he adopted during his 1505–7 sojourn in Italy—and used black and white heightening to achieve a full range of tonal effects.

Battista Franco (ca. 1510–1561)
Ceiling Design with the Story of the Slave Girls of Smyrna, ca. 1548
Pen and brown ink, brown wash; on a mount made for the Dukes of Devonshire, Chatsworth House
Inscribed above or below each scene, in pen and brown ink, with descriptions of the episodes depicted
14 3/4 x 9 7/8 (375 x 252 mm.)
Purchased as a gift of the Fellows, 1984; 1984.30

Seven episodes recount the victory, through female initiative, of the ancient city of Smyrna over the inhabitants of Sardis. When the Sardians offered to end their siege in return for the wives of Smyrna (1), a beautiful slave girl proposed that she and her companions go instead (2). The girls dressed the part and were welcomed by the Sardians (3, 4), who were later taken prisoner when they were overcome by sleep (5) and held captive in Smyrna (6). From then on a festival to Venus was held every year in honor of the slave girls and their victory (7).

The drawing may have served as the design for the decoration of a villa.

Lattanzio Gambara (1530–1574)
Massacre of the Innocents, 1567–71
Black and white chalk; incised with stylus, on two pieces of blue paper, faded to gray green
18 7/8 x 31 3/8 inches (478 x 797 mm.)
Gift of Janos Scholz, 1980; 1980.60

With the death of his teacher and father-in-law, Girolamo Romanino, in 1560, Gambara became the leading artist in Brescia. Completed in 1573, the frescoes in the nave arcade and internal facade of Parma cathedral depicting scenes from the life of Christ were his most prestigious commission. This is a late compositional study for one of those scenes, Massacre of the Innocents, which includes The Flight into Egypt as a vignette at upper left. The daringly foreshortened horse and rider at right reveal the influence of Pordenone.

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Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.