Fra Bartolomeo

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Fra Bartolomeo
Barren Pollarded Mulberry and Small Thorn Trees. Verso: Barren Tree
ca. 1495-1508
Pen and brown ink.
11 7/16 x 8 1/2 inches (285 x 215 mm)
Thaw Collection.

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Probably from a large group of drawings left by the artist to Fra Paolino da Pistoia (ca. 1490-1547); possibly bequeathed by Fra Paolino to Suor Plautilla Nelli (1523-1588) at the convent of Santa Caterina de Siena, Florence; acquired by Cavaliere Francesco Maria Niccolò Gabburri (1676-1742) prior to or in 1730; William Kent, London by whom sold in the mid-eighteenth century to private collection, Great Britain; from where sold in 1925 to private collection, Ireland (sale, Drawings of Landscapes and Trees by Fra Bartolomeo, London, Sotheby's, 20 November 1957, lot 39; bought by Hans M. Calmann (1899-1982), London; Private collector, Switzerland; from whom purchased by Eugene V. and Claire E. Thaw, New York and Santa Fe.

According to Vasari, Fra Bartolommeo left his drawings to his pupil Fra Paolino da Pistoia (Vasari ed. Milanesi 1878-85, 4: 103; Vasari ed. Everyman 1994, 1: 680). Upon Fra Paolino’s death in 1547, the drawings passed to his pupil Suor Plautilla Nelli, a Dominican nun of the monastery of Santa Caterina in Florence. Later, Filippo Baldinucci further reports that approximately 500 of these drawings were in the collection of the painter-collector Cavaliere Gabburri in Florence (1845-47, 2: 589-90). In an unpublished manuscript, Gabburri wrote that he had placed his approximately 600 Bartolommeo drawings in two albums. These volumes have been identified as those now in at the Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam. According to the text at the beginning of the first volume, they contain drawings by Fra Bartolommeo bough in 1727 from the nuns of the convent of Santa Caterina.

The present sheet was part of a third Gabburri album, assembled in 1730 and bearing Gabburri’s coat of arms on the frontispiece. The album contained forty-one sheets of drawings of landscapes and trees by Fra Bartolommeo. The album together with Gabburri’s entire collection passed to the English art dealer William Kent who sold it in London in the mid-eighteenth century. It was later taken apart for the 1957 London sale and the drawings sold as individual lots (see also inv. 1957.18).

Fra Bartolommeo’s landscape album constitutes one of the earliest significant bodies of plein-air landscape drawings. He made these drawings during his travels in Tuscany, yet only a handful of the sketches reappear as background elements in his paintings, suggesting that the drawings were made for his own pleasure, and not as a model-book type of reference. Nonetheless, having made such drawings, the artist painted landscape backgrounds that have an understanding of tree and rock formations not seen in the more schematic depictions by his contemporaries. It is also indicative of Fra Bartomeo’s all-absorbing vision that he focused not merely on untouched nature but also on nature as affected by human artistry, as seen in his study of a heavily pollarded tree, which could be contrasted with the more naturally growing tree (probably of the same type) on the opposite side of the sheet.


Gronau 1957, lot 39; New York 1992; New York 1994-95, no. 4; London 1996-97, no. 3; New York and Williamstown 2017-18, 34-35.
The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, NY, "Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection", 2017. Exh. cat., no. 6, repr.
Denison, Cara D. et al. The Thaw Collection : Master Drawings and New Acquisitions. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1994, no. 4.


Watermark: none.
Disarming in its simplicity, this study of a wintry tree rendered with swift, delicate penstrokes and stippling reveals Fra Bartolommeo's fascination with nature. Unlike most artists of his era, Fra Bartolommeo (so called because of his years spent as a friar in the Dominican order) recorded the landscapes that he saw during his travels, apparently making the drawings outdoors rather than in the studio. Like the majority of his landscape drawings, the present sheet comes from a disbound sketchbook, the drawings in which seem to have been made for pleasure rather than as studies for specific paintings. -- Exhibition Label, from "Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection"

Associated names: 

Paolino, fra, 1488-1547, former owner.
Nelli, Plautilla, suor, 1523-1588, former owner.
Gabburri, Francesco Maria Niccolò, 1676-1742, former owner.
Kent, William, 1685-1748, former owner.
Calmann, Hans M., 1899-1982, former owner.
Thaw, Eugene Victor, former owner.
Thaw, Clare, former owner.

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