La Nativité avec les saints André et Laurent
Période : XVIe - XVIIe siècles
Ecole : Italienne
Plume à l’encre brune, lavis brun
25.3 x 20.2 cm
Inscrit en bas à droite, D’Alessio Baldovinetti
This elegant sheet is a study for Antoniazzo Romano’s Nativity with Saints Andrew and Lawrence painted in the second half of the 1480s and now at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Palazzo Barberini, Rome (Fig. 1). While a considerable number of paintings are associated with the name of Antoniazzo Romano, the leading Roman-born painter of the late Quattrocento, only a handful of drawings have thus far been attributed to him. Conversely to the other three sheets, however, this recently rediscovered study is the only one that can be firmly connected to a painting.
All the essential components of the painting’s central section are present in our drawing, including the respective placement of the five main figures and of the angels flying above the stable. The identities of the saints are also clearly defined by their attributes: Joseph’s staff, Lawrence’s gridiron and palm branch, and Andrew’s book. The third saint, Andrew, is only partially visible at left due to the sheet having been trimmed along the left margin. The proportions between the four kneeling figures and the stable are adjusted in the painting, to emphasize the solemn monumentality of the characters, a recurring feature of Antoniazzo Romano’s style. Further characters appear in the finished altarpiece, most notably the angel of the Annunciation at left and several shepherds. Amongst the differences between study and painting, a telling detail is the figure of a woman holding a small child swiftly outlined beyond the back wall of the stable, in the abbreviated style typical of a working drawing. The fact that, in the final composition, the group was replaced by a single shepherd leaning on the low wall further attests to the exploratory nature of our sheet.
The Barberini painting’s overall composition focuses on the theme of the saving of humanity through sacrifice. In the foreground we see two species of flowers associated with such themes: the anemones signifying the Passion and the Crucifixion, and the cyclamens standing for Mary’s sorrow. The inclusion of the two saints, acting as examples of martyrdom, may have been dictated by the destination of the altarpiece, perhaps a chapel consecrated to Andrew and Lawrence. Alternatively, they may have been chosen because of their homonymy with the Nativity’s patron.
Closely related to the Barberini panel is Antoniazzo Romano’s Nativity in Civita Castellana from the early 1480s, that anticipates the placement of the central group of Virgin, Christ Child, and Joseph, in direct response to similar compositions by Ghirlandaio and other Tuscan and Umbrian artists active in Rome. The Virgin and Child group is indebted to Ghirlandaio’s much copied Adoration of the Shepherds painted in 1483-85 for the Sassetti chapel in Santa Trinità in Florence. A notable Roman model is Pinturicchio’s 1483 Nativity in Santa Maria del Popolo, where Jesus’s head rests on a bundle of straw. The gold background of the Civita Castellana panel is replaced in the Barberini Nativity with a countryside setting and a hilltop borgo, possibly referring to an actual site in the Roman campagna. This choice of backdrop may betray Antoniazzo’s familiarity with Flemish precedents as do such naturalistic details as the group of music-making and dancing shepherds on the hills to the right.
Antoniazzo Romano’s style thus emerges as a blend of medieval and Renaissance pictorial languages, of the solemn monumentality of earlier images and the naturalism and perspectival clarity and luminous colors of late fifteenth-century central Italian art. Similarly, in the present sheet, the elegant figures, and the abbreviated manner of indicating their faces are reminiscent of Tuscan draughtsmanship, in particular Domenico Ghirlandaio’s pen and ink compositional sketches.
Born in Rome to a family of painters and artisans, Antonio Aquili, who from the 1470s signed himself Antonatius Romanus, is the only Roman painter of his generation to be mentioned by Vasari, who refers to him as “one of the best painters that were then in Rome.” Limiting his scope to the Eternal City and its close surroundings, he enjoyed a productive and intense career as painter of panels, frescoes, ephemeral decorations for feasts and ceremonies, and theatrical stage sets. Thanks to a large workshop, he was able to fulfill a high volume of commissions.
His earliest known work is the Virgin and Child in the Museo Civico, Rieti, signed Antonius de Roma and dated 1464, executed for the church of the convent of S. Antonio del Monte. His early encounter with Florentine naturalism came through exposure to the works of Benozzo Gozzoli, active in Rome in 1453-59. He also looked to Piero della Francesca, who worked in the Vatican for Pius II in 1459. Access to the paintings and drawings of Domenico Ghirlandaio probably came when Domenico and his brother Davide worked in the Sala Latina of the Vatican Library in November and December 1475, and then again in May 1476. Antoniazzo’s receptivity to Ghirlandaio’s style is particularly noticeable in the elegant beauty of his Madonnas, as attested by a series of half-length Virgin and Child compositions executed at about 1475-76.
In the following decade, a further source of influence was Melozzo da Forlì, alongside whom the Roman master worked in the Biblioteca Segreta and the Biblioteca Pontificia in 1480-81. To 1484-85 dates instead his collaboration with Pietro Perugino, which included working on ephemeral decorations for papal ceremonies and decorative projects in the Vatican apartments. Simultaneously, throughout the 1480s, Antoniazzo Romano’s thriving workshop became a catalyst for both local and itinerant artists in search of commissions, some of whom absorbed the influence of the master’s style.
The Nativity with Saints Andrew and Lawrence for which our drawing is preparatory belongs to a group of altarpieces, including the Virgin and Child with Saints Paul and Francis, also in the Palazzo Barberini, executed in the 1480s and expressing Antoniazzo Romano’s fully mature style. This consisted in a combination of elements from the Roman and Tuscan traditions, giving life to solemn, solid figures rendered with accurate naturalism and arranged in linear perspectival compositions.
In the 1490s Antoniazzo Romano and his assistants executed several pictorial cycles in Roman churches including Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and San Giovanni in Laterano. It was at this time that his fame allowed him to operate outside the confines of devotional patronage and receive commissions from the Roman curia, counting amongst his patrons Giovanni Cerretani, the then Bishop of Nocera Umbra (1476–1492). His workshop continued its activities in earnest until the early sixteenth century. It was in 1505, when Papal Rome was under the transformative influence of such figures as Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo, that the artist retreated to Rieti. There he continued to meet the demands of his primary patrons, religious confraternities. Amongst his followers were several family members, most notably his son Marcantonio who, after the artist’s death, took the helm of the Rieti workshop.
The recent lifting of the drawing from its seventeenth-century paper backing has revealed a full watermark in the center of the sheet – fleur-de-lis with two stamens in a circle, which is extremely close to three watermarks located by Charles Briquet between Venice and Palermo and dated from 1479 to 1497, and another two recorded by Gerhard Piccard in Ravenna (1492) and Como (1494).
 Inv. 4219; D. Ferrara in A. Cavallaro and S. Petrocchi (eds.), Antoniazzo Romano, 1435/1440–1508. Pictor urbis, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Barberini, Rome, 2013-2014, cat. no. 34, illustrated.
 Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden, inv. C 356, C 357; see L. Melli, I disegni italiani del Quattrocento nel Kupferstich-Kabinett di Dresda, exhibition catalogue, Florence, Istituto Universitario Olandese di Storia dell’Arte, 2006, cat. nos. 35-36, illustrated. The third sheet was sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 26 January 2005, lot 64; see C. Gardner von Teuffel, “Light on the Cross: Cardinal Pedro González de Mendoza and Antoniazzo Romano in Sta. Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome,” in From Duccio’s Maestà to Raphael’s Transfiguration: Italian Altarpieces and Their Settings, London, 2005, pp. 570-85.
 G. Vasari, Le vite de’ piu eccellenti pittori, scultori e architettori nelle redazioni del 1550 e 1568, eds. R. Bettarini and P. Barocchi, Florence, 1971, vol. 3, p. 565.
 See, for instance, Cavallaro and Petrocchi, op. cit., cat. no. 19, illustrated.
 C.-M. Briquet, Les Filigranes. Dictionnaire historique des marques du papier dés leurs apparition vers jusqu'en 1600, 4 vols., Geneva, 1907, vol. II, nos. 7312 (Venice, 1479), 7313 (Palermo, 1485), and 7314 (Venice, 1497). Piccard 13-2-946 and IT165-PO-128715.
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