Alessandro Allori

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Alessandro Allori
Design for a Ceiling with the Ascension
ca. 1560-1565
Black chalk and white opaque watercolor, on laid paper.
9 7/8 x 11 5/8 inches (252 x 295 mm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) in 1909.
I, 36

Inscribed on old mount, at center, beneath drawing, in pen and brown ink: "Daniel de la Volter"; at lower center, beneath this, in pen and brown ink: "6"; on verso of mount, in pen and brown ink: "B B no 30; 5952; 40; chopt with mr Lille / this Cost of(?) 72 [2 in superscript] 1676; no [o in superscript] 2"; possibly by Roger North, Lely's executor: "Ae. 20".
Watermark: Flower or trefoil in a circle, fragment.

Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680), London (Lugt 2092); Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919), London and Florence; from whom purchased through Galerie Alexandre Imbert, Rome, in 1909 by Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), New York (no mark; see Lugt 1509); his son, J. P. Morgan, Jr. (1867-1943), New York.

The son of Cristofano di Lorenzo Allori, better known as Tofano spadaio (the swordmaker), Alessandro received his first training in the workshop of Agnolo Bronzino, who, as recorded by Vasari, loved him “not as a disciple, but as his own son, and they have lived and still live together with the same love, one for another, that there is between a good father and his son.”1 Agnolo Bronzino and Tofano Allori were close friends, and at Tofano’s passing Bronzino became the capofamiglia of the Allori family, with whom he lived until his death in 1572.2 Following a traditional Renaissance workshop practice, the young Alessandro modeled his style on his master’s example. It is therefore unsurprising that when Philip Pouncey first saw the Morgan drawing, he proposed that it might be assigned to Bronzino.3 In 1977, however, Pouncey reattributed the sheet to Alessandro Allori, noting its formal analogies with the artist’s early graphic production and with the design of the ceiling of the Montauto chapel in Santissima Annunziata in Florence that Alessandro had frescoed between 1560 and 1564.4 As in the Morgan drawing, the chapel ceiling includes several small narrative scenes as quadri riportati within an elaborate illusionistic frame decorated with two masks. The subjects of the three scenes visible in the Morgan sheet (the Ascension of Christ in the central oval, the Noli me tangere and the Incredulity of St. Thomas in the smaller lateral compartments), however, do not correspond to those painted on the ceiling of the Montauto chapel. Consequently, the design is not likely to have been destined for this commission.

More recently, Elizabeth Pilliod hypothesized that the drawing could be associated with the chapel of the Florentine banker Tommaso Cavalcanti in Santo Spirito, for which Bronzino, possibly assisted by Alessandro Allori, painted the altarpiece, a Noli me tangere now at the Louvre.5 Pilliod argued that because the two subjects represented in the design’s lateral compartments correspond to the theme of Bronzino’s painting for the altarpiece and to the subject of its drappelloni (the painted curtains that covered the picture), and because the scene with the Incredulity of St. Thomas seems to refer to the name of the patron of the chapel, the Morgan modello might be a design for the ceiling decoration. This hypothesis, however, is not convincing, as Allori’s project seems too elaborate to fit in the reduced space of the Cavalcanti chapel.

Both the style and the iconographic choices that characterize the Morgan’s design declare that the drawing was made at an early stage of Allori’s career, when he worked under the influence of Bronzino. The calligraphic, meticulous, tiny strokes of black chalk that compose the figures closely imitate the maniera of Allori’s teacher. Moreover, the Noli me tangere reproduces almost identically Bronzino’s painting for the Cavalcanti chapel, revealing Allori’s reuse of his master’s inventions. There can be little doubt, however, that the Morgan’s design also reveals the strong influence of Michelangelo and of his closest follower, Daniele da Volterra, whose works Allori had seen and carefully studied while in Rome (ca. 1554–60). The general scheme of the design seems to refer deliberately to the illusionistic architectural solutions with which Daniele was experimenting in the Eternal City at the end of the 1550s. For example, Daniele’s designs served as the basis for the vault frescoes by Pellegrino Tibaldi and Marco Pino in the della Rovere chapel at Santissima Trinità dei Monti (1553–58), where the ceiling is subdivided in small compartments surrounding a central oval and an alternation of curved and straight lines breaks the monotonous linearity of the framing. In Allori’s drawing, this sense of movement is further accentuated by the presence of the four putti that, depicted in various attitudes, seem to play with elegant vegetal garlands and ribbons in the space around the central oval.



  1. Vasari 1996, 2:876; Vasari 1878–85, 7:603.
  2. According to Simona Lecchini Giovannoni, Bronzino and his partner Lucrezia (who died in 1555) lived with the Allori family in a house located in corso degli Adimari (today via Calzaioli) even before the passing of Tofano in 1555; see Lecchini Giovannoni 1991, 33–34. At his death in 1572, Bronzino was still recorded as living with the Allori in corso degli Adimari; see Vasari 1878–85, 7:605n2.
  3. Pouncey’s annotation is in the Morgan’s curatorial file. The attribution to Bronzino was endorsed by Craig Hugh Smyth (note on the mount).
  4. Pouncey 1977, 446–47.
  5. The painting was executed about 1560–61. It remained on the altar of the Cavalcanti chapel until the early nineteenth century, when it was removed by the French army and brought to Paris. The payment register for the chapel shows that Alessandro Allori worked as Bronzino’s assistant on this project. On the Cavalcanti chapel and Bronzino’s Noli me tangere, see Pilliod 1991.

Rhoda Eitel-Porter and and John Marciari, Italian Renaissance Drawings at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2019, no. 97.
Selected references: Fairfax Murray 1905-12, 1: no. 36; Pouncey 1977, 446-47; Langdon 1989, 34-35; New York and Chicago 1994, no. 24; Pilliod 2003, 39-42.
Collection J. Pierpont Morgan : Drawings by the Old Masters Formed by C. Fairfax Murray. London : Privately printed, 1905-1912, I, 36.
Griswold, William, and Linda Wolk-Simon. Sixteenth-Century Italian Drawings in New York Collections. New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994, p. 29-30.


Formerly attributed to Daniele da Volterra (1509-1566).

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Associated names: 

Daniele, da Volterra, ca. 1509-1566, Formerly attributed to.
Lely, Peter, Sir, 1618-1680, former owner.
Murray, Charles Fairfax, 1849-1919, former owner.
Morgan, J. Pierpont (John Pierpont), 1837-1913, former owner.
Morgan, J. P. (John Pierpont), 1867-1943, former owner.

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