Created at a time when most imagery was religious in nature, this drawing stands at the threshold of the new pictorial category of the genre scene. With delicate strokes of a thin-nibbed pen over a preliminary underdrawing in black chalk, the artist sketched a group of elegantly dressed men in a vaulted interior. They are gathered around a counter dispensing or consuming what is probably wine. Three customers, distinguished from the servers by their more elaborate flat-topped hats and heavy decorative chains, are deep in conversation or raising a cup. One server pours from a fiasco, the straw-covered wine flask still in use today, while another is seen bearing what looks like a covered basket containing food or drink. A monkey chained to the front of the counter to entertain the guests fiddles with the ends of the splayed cord that binds him.
The scene closely parallels representations from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval handbook on health that includes a section expounding the benefits of food and drink. Alternately, the drawing may have been conceived in the context of a cycle of the labors of the months. Rather than signifying the grape harvest or winemaking, an occupation usually reserved for September, the scene could have illustrated January or February, when indoor activities predominated. The sheet has been carefully cut at left, probably to remove a damaged area. It is intact at right, where an arch is drawn with a pen line, possibly indicating an architectural setting for the composition.
Charles Fairfax Murray believed the sheet to be by Pisanello, whose light, feathery touch it approximates; the fifteenth-century costume, with caps and thigh-length tunics over leggings, is also characteristic of Pisanello’s work. Although this attribution has since been discredited, the drawing continues to be associated with several figurative studies from Pisanello’s orbit. Fossi Todorow compared it with a pen-and-ink study in the British Museum of two elaborately dressed young men, which may be a copy of a lost drawing by Pisanello or Stefano da Verona and is now classified as the work of an anonymous Veronese artist of the second quarter of the fifteenth century.1 A drawing of a man hawking in the Lugt collection, Paris, has been linked in style to the British Museum study and has also been associated with frescoes of the months of February, March, and April decorating the salone of the Palazzo della Ragione, Padua.2 In style, both the Morgan and Lugt collection drawings resemble a miniature in the Historia Angliae, a manuscript in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, which depicts Galasso, Count of Correggio, presenting his book to Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan.3 The duke died in 1447, providing a likely terminus ante quem for the illumination, which has been attributed to the little-known Pavian painter and illuminator Giovanni da Vaprio.4 The Morgan drawing and the Paris illumination share an emphasis on decorative surface texture and such details as faces with small features and long necks, underscoring the debt owed by the Morgan study to the courtly style of northern Italy in the second quarter of the fifteenth century.
In 1949 Degenhart proposed that the sheet in the British Museum was close in style to paintings by the early-fifteenth-century Ferrarese painter Antonio Alberti, and in 1985 Bellosi suggested the Morgan’s drawing might also be by him, followed by Sara Bartolucci in 2004.5 This suggestion has much to commend it. Active primarily in Umbria and the Marche, Alberti’s first documented activity was the decoration from 1420 to 1423 of the house of the condottiere Braccio Fortebraccio in Montone (near Perugia, now destroyed). Although there are no other known drawings by Alberti, passages in the scenes from the life of St. Anthony Abbot that he executed in the church of San Domenico, Città di Castello, and the frescoes he signed in about 1437 in the cemetery church at Talamello bear a significant resemblance to the Morgan scene. The two standing magi in the Talamello Adoration of the Magi are particularly close in costume, pose, proportion, and gesture to the Morgan figures, whose delicate profiles may also usefully be compared to those in the few surviving fragments of the cycle of frescoes that Alberti executed a few years later, probably about 1437–42, in the church of San Domenico, Urbino (now Museo Diocesano Albani).6
- British Museum, London, inv. 1895,0915.793. See Popham and Pouncey 1950, no. 305.
- See Dominique Cordellier in Verona 1996, 109, no. 58, who also mentions the Historia Angliae miniature discussed below.
- Historia Angliae, sive potiùs historia Britonum ab Aenea et Bruto, ad mortem Arturii Regis, ex Galfredo Monemuthensi potissimùm concin- nata: authore Galasio, Corrigiae Comite, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, Ms. Lat. 6041 D.
- Cipriani 1957, 50. For the attribution of the manuscript illumination to Giovanni da Vaprio, who has also on occasion been considered the author of the frescoes in the Palazzo Borromeo, Milan, for which see Buganza 2008, 173–74.
- Bartolucci 2004, 32n6.
- Cleri 2001 and Bartolucci 2004, passim.
Rhoda Eitel-Porter and and John Marciari, Italian Renaissance Drawings at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2019, no. 7.
Selected references: Fairfax Murray 1905-12, 2:75 (as Pisanello), Degenhart 1949, no. 11 (as Parmese- Cremonese school, between 1430 and 1460); Fossi Todorow 1966, no. 348; Fossi Todorow 1970, 16, 90; Stockholm 1970, no. 28 (as Italian school, Verona, mid- fifteenth century); Bellosi 1985, 37, 41-42 (as Antonio Alberti da Ferrara); Verona 1996, under no. 58; Bartolucci 2004, 32n6.
Collection J. Pierpont Morgan : Drawings by the Old Masters Formed by C. Fairfax Murray. London : Privately printed, 1905-1912, II, 75.
Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 1927, Vol. XXII, No. 5, p. 137.