Attributed to Giovanni Contarini

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Attributed to Giovanni Contarini
1549-1604 or 1605
Adoration of the Shepherds
ca. 1595
Pen and brown ink on paper.
12 1/8 x 8 1/4 inches (309 x 209 mm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) in 1909.
I, 75b

Inscribed at lower left in pen and brown ink, "Basano"; at upper left in graphite, "822".

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), London, (Lugt 2364); 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 drawing bears an old attribution to Bassano and in 1920 Bernard Berenson put forward the name Tintoretto. Recently however, an attribution to Giovanni Contarini (1549 – 1604) was proposed by Rhoda Eitel-Porter. Though he qualified as a notary, Contarini appears not to have practiced law and instead studied the works of Titian together with Pietro Malombra. The only drawing securely attributed to him is a pen-and-ink study in Berlin (KdZ 624; Hadeln 1926, no. 102; Bristot 1980, 71, 135 no. 39; Tietze and Tietze-Conrat 1944, 161 and 3277) which is preparatory for the artist’s signed oil painting of ca. 1595 in the Sala delle Quattro Porte, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, depicting the Battle of Verona (Bristot 1980, 126, no. 12). Common to both drawings are the use of a thick-nibbed pen, vigorous, mostly parallel hatching, and a lack of clear spatial organization which leaves some of the foreground figures in a visually tangled mass. The Berlin drawing is less angular and coarse, exhibiting smoother curves, which are closer in style to Titian and Malombra than the Morgan Library sheet. In any case, Ridolfi did not consider Contarini an accomplished draughtsman, saying “il Contarini dimostrò sempre più inclinazione al colorire che al disegno, avendo imparato l’arte con i pennelli in mano” (Ridolfi 1648, 2: 100). In the early seventeenth century Contarini painted the subject of the Adoration of the Shepherds in an horizontal oil painting on the ceiling of the church of San Francesco di Paola, Venice, which however differs in composition and format from the Morgan Library sheet (Bristot 1980, 129, no. 20).

Though differing in composition a drawing of an Adoration of the Kings in the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich, there kept under the name of Palma Giovane, may well also be by Contarini (inv. Palma vol. II, no. 93). Together with the Morgan Library and Berlin sheets, it would constitute the only known compositional sketches by the artist.

Another possibility that should not be excluded, is that the drawing is by Parrasio Michieli (or Micheli) another Venetian painter (1516 - 1578). Michieli was a friend and follower of Titian, and later imitated Paolo Veronese (Ridolfi 1648, 2: 137). Notable among his painted works is the votive portrait of Doge Lorenzo Priuli accompanied by ten senators and allegorical figures representing Fortune, Virtue and Venice, commissioned in 1563 for the Sala del Collegio of the Ducal Palace (destroyed by fire in 1574).

The corpus of drawings by Michieli remains very small, with examples in the Biblioteca Reale in Turin (inv. 16080; Cat. no. 247), the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin (inv. 2369; Hadeln 1926, 19-20, no. 20 and 21) and the Museo Civico in Bassano del Grappa. Most of these are of single figures; all are drawn with quite a broad-nibbed pen, and with a similarly free line and some energetic hatching.

Finally, it must be noted that the Berlin drawing for the Battle of Verona has recently been reattributed by Bert W. Meijer to Giuseppe Alabardi, called lo Schioppo, who thus becomes an alternate possible author of the Morgan sheet.


Watermark: none visible through lining.

Associated names: 

Reynolds, Joshua, Sir, 1723-1792, former owner.
Murray, Charles Fairfax, 1849-1919, former owner.
Morgan, J. Pierpont (John Pierpont), 1837-1913, former owner.

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