Maso Finiguerra

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Maso Finiguerra
Male Nude, Standing, with Arms Positioned as if to Shoot an Arrow
ca. 1450-1460
Pen and brown ink and wash, inscribed with stylus, on laid paper.
8 x 4 3/8 inches (203 x 113 mm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) in 1909.
I, 4:1
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 Morgan holds nine sheets—two from the Fairfax Murray collection and seven from the Scholz collection (I,4:1-2; 1986.70:1-7)1—from the large body of drawings generally ascribed to Maso Finiguerra and his workshop. Nearly a hundred such sheets are in the Uffizi, and an album of twenty- three drawings is at the Louvre, but many others are scattered among public and private collections.2 Most of these drawings presumably come from the fourteen books of drawings that were still held by Finiguerra’s heirs at the beginning of the sixteenth century,3 and it was probably on this basis that Vasari was able to attribute the drawings to the artist.4 Yet by the nineteenth century, most of the drawings had been given instead to Antonio Pollaiuolo and his circle, due both to the connection of sheets like this one to Pollaiuolo’s prints and paintings and to the attributions inscribed in the Louvre album: Disegni di A. Pollaivolo (?) on the title page as well as Pollaiuolo’s name (in both Italian and Greek) on the third page of the album.5 Degenhart and Schmitt returned the group to Finiguerra and his workshop, and more recent scholars, including Lorenza Melli, have argued that many of the drawings are by Finiguerra himself.6

The linear style of the drawings— easily emulated by students and followers—makes attribution of individual sheets a difficult matter and also probably underlaid Berenson’s dismissal of the drawings as being by a “childish craftsman” influenced by Pollaiuolo and Alesso Baldovinetti.7 The extensive discussion of the attributions (and Berenson’s disdain) has, however, somewhat neglected the essential point about this group of drawings, which is that they were made neither as exploratory sketches nor as finished works, two cases in which an artist would theoretically use his own natural, recognizable manner. Instead, they were intended as a teaching tool and were therefore likely simplified deliberately in both contour and style. This use also accounts for the frequent repetition of figures and motifs in the body of drawings, which has been much discussed.8

Despite this simplification, or perhaps in their simplification, the drawings reflect the rapidly developing intellectual bent of fifteenth-century Florentine art. In his Della Pittura, for example, Leon Battista Alberti writes,

I should like youths who first come to painting to do as those who are taught to write. We teach the latter by first separating all the forms of the letters which the ancients called elements. Then we teach the syllables; next we teach how to put together all the words. Our pupils ought to follow this rule in painting. First of all they should learn how to draw the outlines of the planes well. Here they would be exercised in the elements of painting. They should learn how to join the planes together…9

While this would seem an abstraction, the Finiguerra drawings, sheets with outlines of whole figures but also of parts— legs, hands, torsos, and so forth—generally drawn at the same scale so that they might almost be cut and pasted together to form a figure, thus seem to reflect Alberti’s decree that young artists should learn parts before assembling the whole. Similarly, Alberti proposes,

it will help, when painting living creatures, first to sketch in the bones, for, as they bend very little indeed, they always occupy a certain determined position. Then add the sinews and muscles, and finally clothe the bones and muscles with flesh and skin. But at this point, I see, there will perhaps be some who will raise as an objection . . . that the painter is not concerned with things that are not visible. They would be right to do so, except that, just as for a clothed figure we first have to draw the naked body beneath and then cover it with clothes, so in painting a nude the bones and muscles must be arranged first and then covered with appropriate flesh and skin.10

Ironically, though one sees articulated bones in a drawing like the present example (see especially the lower legs of the figure), it is clear that the drawings follow Alberti’s suggested practice but without real knowledge of human anatomy beneath the flesh. Nonetheless, in reflecting modern artistic theory—accepting it as a kind of orthopraxis—the drawings mark a new era in Florentine art, one where artists began to move away from the model books of previous generations.



  1. The seven Scholz drawings are from the group of eighteen once in the Pelli-Fabbroni col- lection, Florence, which were acquired in 1946 by Leo Planiscig; they were subsequently owned by a De Sanctis before being dispersed at auction at W. S. Kundig, Geneva, 22 November 1947. Scholz acquired his drawings in 1954 from the Libraria Hoepli, Milan. Other ex–Pelli-Fabbroni drawings are in the Courtauld Gallery, London, and in a number of private collections. Two sheets formerly in the Bodmer Foundation, Geneva, were sold at Christie’s, New York, 23 January 2002, lots 142–43; the former is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. 2002.362.
  2. Melli 1995, 43–45, records that an album of “46 drawings by Pollaiuolo” was stolen from the Uffizi in 1793 and that this may have been the Louvre album, from which pages have been removed, as well as the eighteen drawings later recorded in the Pelli-Fabbroni collection.
  3. See Carl 1983, where the fourteen volumes are many times mentioned in the family documents.
  4. See, for example, Vasari 1878–85, 3:286–88.
  5. For both a facsimile and discussion of the Louvre album, see Angelucci and Cordellier 2016.
  6. See Degenhart and Schmitt 1968, 644; Oberhuber in Levenson, Oberhuber, and Sheehan 1973, 7–8; Kubiak 1974, 102; and the comprehensive treatment in Melli 1995.
  7. Berenson 1938, 1:29.
  8. See Wood 2005, Whitaker 2012.
  9. Alberti 1970, 91.
  10. Alberti 1970, 72.

Rhoda Eitel-Porter and and John Marciari, Italian Renaissance Drawings at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2019, no. 18.
Selected references: Fairfax Murray 1905-12, 1:4; Berenson 1938, 2:271, no. 1947C; Ortolani 1948, 171, no. 14; Berenson 1961, 2: no. 1947C; Fenyö 1963, 92; Degenhart and Schmitt 1968-2010, 1: under no. 620, 614; Kubiak 1974, 102, 184; Melli 1995, 53, 99, no. 147; Angelucci and Cordellier 2016, 24n34.
Collection J. Pierpont Morgan : Drawings by the Old Masters Formed by C. Fairfax Murray. London : Privately printed, 1905-1912, I, 4, repr.

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