Inscribed at lower right, in pen and brown ink, "albordür[er]" [i.e. Alberto Dürer]; on verso, at upper center, in pen and brown ink, by Nathaniel Smith, "DIAV / [paraphe] / Barnard[superscript s] Sale / 1787"; at upper right, in pen and brown ink, by Barnard, "JB N[superscript 0]=391. / 14 by 9"; at center, in graphite, "1.11.6".
Born around the middle of the fifteenth century,1 Bartolomeo Mon- tagna became the leading painter in Renaissance Vicenza. His paintings clearly reveal the influence of Giovanni Bellini, in whose workshop Montagna is thought to have trained early in his career. The Morgan possesses two exceptional examples of the approximately thirty known drawings by Montagna: the present sheet, from the collection of Charles Fairfax Murray, and a Nude Man Standing Beside a High Pedestal, acquired in 1974 (see 1974.1).
The parchment support of the Drunkenness of Noah suggests that it was made as a collector’s item for a private patron or as a presentation piece for an important commission. The figures are outlined with a sharp nib in pen and brown ink, with a light wash in purple creating shadow and volume. The rocky landscape and the bare tree are built up entirely of diaphanous layers of blue wash applied with a brush. The yellow-brown striations are not part of Montagna’s original design but result from the darkening of a varnish.
The composition may originally have been conceived as part of a commission formally awarded in 1483 for two paintings to decorate the Sala Capitolare of the Scuola Grande di San Marco in Venice. These were to depict the Flood “with other related events” as well as the creation of the world or “other appropriate matter from the Book of Genesis as requested.”2 The present scene is indeed taken from the book of Genesis, chapter 9, which relates how, after the Flood,Noah was discovered drunk and naked by his son Ham, who reported his father’s shameful state to his brothers, Shem and Japheth. In an act of filial piety contrasting with Ham’s behavior, Shem and Japheth covered their father’s nakedness. Montagna’s drawing deviates from the biblical account in a few details. According to the text, the good sons walked backward and turned away their faces while carrying a cloth with which to cover their father.
The original commission for the Scuola di San Marco compositions went to Giovanni Bellini in 1470 but passed to Montagna after a thirteen-year hiatus.3 Montagna was first mentioned as in Venice in 1469, when he is thought to have been a member of Bellini’s workshop, but by 1474 he had returned to Vicenza. Nonetheless, he would have remained an ideal candidate to complete the work due to his assimilation of the Venetian master’s style. Just three years after their completion, however, Montagna’s paintings were lost in a fire in 1485.4
Although there is no exact correspondence in motif, the drawing’s composition is reminiscent of the four soldiers in the foreground of Bellini’s Resurrection in Berlin, datable to 1475-79, as first noted by Creighton Gilbert.5 The painting was created for the Zorzi family chapel in the church of the Camaldoli at San Michele in Isola, where Montagna might have seen it, if not in Bellini’s workshop. Noah’s unusual pose, with his arm resting on a forked branch, recalls Mantegna’s Adoration of the Shepherds, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, although it is not clear whether Montagna would have had access to this painting.6
Another version of the Drunkenness of Noah, also drawn in pen and brown ink but on paper and lacking colored washes, is in the Albertina.7 It may well be identical to the “contemporary replica of the above drawing for sale in 1907 at Mssrs. Colnaghi’s” to which Borenius refers.8 Although incorporating additional details, such as a classical temple at the far right in the background, the variant in Vienna is somewhat stiffer and less spontaneous than the Morgan version. As noted by Birke and Kertész, the main composition also recurs in a small monochrome fresco in the Scoletta di Santa Maria del Carmine in Padua, which extends the landscape slightly farther to the right.9 No documents relating to the decoration of the Scoletta survive. The frescoes are generally attributed to Giulio and Domenico Campagnola, Girolamo Tessari del Santo, and Stefano dall’Arzere, though it is not inconceivable that Montagna worked there soon after having completed a fresco in the Scuola del Santo, Padua, in 1512 and reprised his earlier Venetian composition.10 In any event, the Morgan sheet, in its complexity and finish, remains nearly unique in Montagna’s drawn oeuvre.
- For the birth date, see Nielsen 1995, 21. Lucco 2014, 25–27, supports a date of 1447. For an overview on the artist’s oeuvre, see Lucco 2014.
- Borenius 1909, 7; Puppi 1962, 76; Lucco 2014, 119, “Deluvio con altre zirconstanzie de pentura che sia al proposito,” “Creazione del mondo overamente veder in sul Genesis de farli far qualche altra chossa degna e congrua segondo li sarà ordenado.” Teleri (canvases) are mentioned in the contract, but the paintings have occasionally been incorrectly described as frescoes.
- Paoletti 1929, 132–33.
- Puppi 1962, 159.
- Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, inv. 1177A. See Gil- bert 1967, 185–86; Erich Schleier in Bock et al. 1998, 356–57.
- Noted by Genevieve Verdigel in the course of research undertaken at the Warburg Institute, London, for a PhD dissertation on Bartolomeo and Benedetto Montagna.
- Albertina, Vienna, inv. 24437. See Birke and Kertész 1992–97, 4: no. 24437.
- Borenius 1909, 7.
- Bentsik et al. 1988, 124.
- Bentsik et al. 1988, 66. Giulio Campagnola was present in Bartolomeo’s workshop in 1503; Lucco 2014, doc. 40.
Rhoda Eitel-Porter and and John Marciari, Italian Renaissance Drawings at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2019, no. 11.
Selected references: Fairfax Murray 1905-12, 1:56; Borenius 1909, 7n3, 109; Puppi 1962, 31, 42, 76, 149; Gilbert 1967, 185-86; Huse 1972, 22, 38-39; Barbieri 1982, 69-70; Turin 1990, 27; Birke and Kertész 1992-97, 4: under no. 24437; Nielsen 1995, no. 115; Schulze Altcappenberg 1995, no. 94; Galassi 1999, 105; Florence 2001, 159; Consavari 2011, 379; Lucco 2014, 28-29.
Collection J. Pierpont Morgan : Drawings by the Old Masters Formed by C. Fairfax Murray. London : Privately printed, 1905-1912, I, 56.
Barnard, John, d. 1784, former owner.
Smith, Nathaniel, former owner.
Murray, Charles Fairfax, 1849-1919, former owner.
Morgan, J. Pierpont (John Pierpont), 1837-1913, former owner.