Italian School

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Italian School
14th century
Figures and Decorative Motifs
ca. 1350-1375
Pen and brown ink, with yellow wash, over leadpoint, on parchment
12 1/16 x 30 3/16 inches (307 x 766 mm)
Purchase with the special assistance of the Fellows Fund.
1973.46

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Inscription: 

Inscribed on verso with a deed of sale dated 1321.

Provenance: 
Private collection, Los Angeles; purchased in New York in January 1960 by János Scholz (1903-1993), New York (no mark; see Lugt Suppl. 2933b).
Description: 

In 1321, the Tuscan notary Lotto di Vanni da Legnaia used this leaf of parchment to draft the terms for a real estate transaction relative to properties in the vicinity of Florence. The document was authenticated in the small village of Panzano, about twenty kilometers south of the city.1 Little is known today about Lotto di Vanni da Legnaia except that he was active in Florence during the second and third decades of the fourteenth century, as attested by this and other legal documents authenticated by him and surviving in the Archivio di Stato in Florence.2 Subsequently, the blank verso of the parchment was used as a drawing surface, turning a standard legal document into an interesting and unique repository of sacred and profane artistic motifs. We can infer that the sketches— which are unrelated to the content of the document—were most likely drawn by a Tuscan draftsman after 1321, most likely several decades later.

It appears that the draftsman began to fill the blank side of the parchment from the upper left corner, arbitrarily arranging figures and decorative motifs next to each other.3 Progressively moving toward the center of the leaf, the scale and proportions of the figures change: the man riding a horse and the allegorical representation of Prudence, which occupy the center of the page, are larger than the other figures. The contours of some of the sketches are darker than others, as the draftsman must have retraced some of the figures with a denser layer of ink to make them more clearly legible.

The page includes an interesting collection of images: scenes of everyday life, a city view, a sleeping Apostle, and the Stoning of St. Stephen together with many real and fantastic creatures.4 The variety of these motifs recalls the inventiveness of illustrations found on the pages of illuminated manuscripts. Many images, such as the hybrid humans, the pelican in piety, and the creature playing the jawbone with tongs, are often found on the margins of English, French, and Italian manuscripts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It is likely, therefore, that the anonymous draftsman who executed these drawings had access to the richly illuminated pages of manuscript books and did not sketch from life or from his own imagination. The idea of framing the drawing surface with a simple pen-and-ink border might also have come to him from an illuminated leaf

During the Middle Ages, artists began to assemble figural and decorative motifs on the pages of parchment model books. These collections were intended as storehouses of images to be employed in finished works and to be transmitted to younger generations in the workshop. Although the haphazard juxtaposition of the wide variety of images on this parchment sheet resembles the accumulation of motifs found on the pages of medieval and early Renaissance model books, this single leaf was never part of one.5 It has been suggested that the drawings are by an amateur artist—perhaps the notary himself or one of his colleagues—and certainly not by an accomplished draftsman.6 The unusual page is therefore a rare early record of a copying exercise, likely performed by an aspiring artist determined to practice his skills in sketching with pen and ink rather than to establish models to be preserved. In 1962, Janos Scholz, one of the former owners of the drawing, described it as “one of the earliest relics of Italian draftsmanship in existence.”7 Indeed, in spite of the unremarkable quality of the figures, this leaf is an important testimony of early Italian drawing practice, exceptional both for its age and for the fact that it has survived to this day. —GD

Footnotes:

  1. For the content of the document, see Degenhart-Schmitt 1968–2010, 1: no. 27, in which the text is partially transcribed.
  2. Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Diplomatico Pergamene, Firenze, Santa Maria Nuova (Ospedale), 15 December 1319, and Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Diplomatico Pergamene, Firenze, Santa Maria del Carmine, 3 April 1325. I am grateful to Alan Stahl for his help in identifying this notary and for bringing to my attention the other archival documents.
  3. Perrig 1994, 423-24.
  4. For the interpretation of some of the images, see also Budapest and Luxembourg 2006, 81.
  5. The leaf was once believed to have come from a model book; see New York 1968–69, no. 16.
Bibliography: 

Rhoda Eitel-Porter and and John Marciari, Italian Renaissance Drawings at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2019, no. 1, repr.
Selected references: Oakland and Berkeley 1961, no. 86; Baltimore 1961, no. 34; Cologne 1963-64, no. 4; New Haven 1964, no. 1; Los Angeles and Seattle 1967, no. 1; Degenhart and Schmitt 1968-2010, 1: no. 27; London and elsewhere 1968, no. 1; New York 1968-69, no. 16; Evans 1969, 41; Krause 1969, 135; Middletown 1969, no. 1; New York 1971, no. 1; New York 1974, 42; Fellows Report 17 1976, 170; Los Angeles 1976, no. 3; Scholz 1976, no. 1; Brown 1988, no. 686; Perrig 1994, 423-24; Budapest and Luxembourg 2006, 81.
Italienische Meisterzeichnungen vom 14. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert aus amerikanischem Besitz : Die Sammlung Janos Scholz, New York. Hamburg : H. Christians, 1963, no. 1, repr.
Italian Drawings from the Collection of János Scholz : a loan exhibition, April 23-June 7, 1964, Yale University Art Gallery. New Haven : Yale University Art Gallery, 1964, no. 1.
Tuscan and Venetian Drawings of the Quattrocento from the Collection of János Scholz. Los Angeles : Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1967, no. 1, repr.
Italian Drawings from the Collection of János Scholz. London : Art Council Gallery, 1968, no. 1.
Italian Master Drawings from the Collection of János Scholz. Middletown, Conn. : Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University, 1969, no. 1.
One Hundred Italian Drawings from the 14th to the 18th Centuries from the János Scholz Collection. New York : New School Art Center, 1971, no. 1.
Pierpont Morgan Library. Gifts in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary, An Exhibition, 3 September-3 November 1974. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1974, p. 42.
Ryskamp, Charles, ed. Seventeenth Report to the Fellows of the Pierpont Morgan Library, 1972-1974. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1976, p. 170.
Scholz, Janos. Italian Master Drawings, 1350-1800, from the János Scholz Collection. New York : Dover, 1976, no. 1, repr.

Notes: 

Watermark: none.

Associated names: 

Scholz, János, former owner.

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