Draftsmen of the Medici Court: Drawings from the Morgan

February 29 through May 11, 2008
Image of Head and Shoulders of a Bearded Man

The Morgan Library & Museum presents from its rich permanent collection a select group of related works by artists at the court of Duke Cosimo I dei Medici (1519–1574).

In addition to appointing the artist-historian Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) to manage the redecoration of Palazzo Vecchio—an icon of earlier republican Florence and home to the ducal family—Cosimo engaged leading sixteenth-century Florentine artists in a variety of projects that celebrated his rule and ancestry. Francesco dei Medici (1541–1587), Cosimo's eldest son and heir, continued this illustrious tradition of patronage.

The exhibition includes drawings by such masters as Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530), Vasari, and Francesco Salviati (1510–1563). Commanding and intense, the magnificent Head and Shoulders of a Bearded Man (1540s) by Salviati served as the basis for the figure of an apostle in the artist's painted Incredulity of St. Thomas at the Louvre. Vasari's two figure studies in black chalk and two ceiling designs in pen and ink for Palazzo Vecchio, including the elaborate ceiling design for the Sala di Lorenzo, illustrate the artist's consummate skill as a draftsman and inventor of laudatory imagery. Also featured is Macchietti's (1535–1592) stunning Allegory of Charity with Five Children (1560s/70s) on green paper, whose jewellike refinement reflects the decorative style of the paintings in the Studiolo of Francesco. A costume study by Bernardo Buontalenti (1531–1608), Giovanni Maria Butteri's (1540–1606 or 1608) Allegory of Agriculture, a rare study for part of a triumphal arch erected on the occasion of a Medici wedding (1565), and Jacopo Zucchi's (1540–1596) design for a catafalque, one of several erected throughout Italy upon the death of Cosimo in 1574, complete the selection.

The drawings are accompanied by personal letters by Vasari and Agnolo Bronzino (1503–1572) that describe their work for the Medici court. Two volumes from the 1568 edition of Vasari's Le vite de' più eccelenti pittori, scultori, e architecttori (The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects), the first written history of Italian art, frame the display thematically and visually. Viewed together, these rare examples of image and word reveal the central role that draftsmanship played in the artistic culture of the Renaissance.

This exhibition is made possible by Fay and Geoffrey Elliot.

Francesco Salviati, Head and Shoulders of a Bearded Man (1540s), black chalk. Purchased by Pierpont Morgan in 1910, acc. no I, 6b.