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L.20 Adoration of the Magi

Fig. Alfani, Adoration of the Magi, Color COPY

Fig. Alfani, Adoration of the Magi, Color COPY

Late spring or summer, 1527 Cartoon made for Domenico Alfani in Perugia. Vasari, 1550, 800, in the “Life” of Rosso, following immediately upon the account of Rosso’s misfortune during the Sack of Rome: “Per il che da quelli [Tedeschi] mal condotto, si condusse appena in Perugia, dove da Domenico di Paris pittore fu molto accarezzato e rivestito; e egli disegnò per lui un cartone di una tavola de’ Magi, ilquale appresso lui si vede, cosa bellissima.”  Vasari, 1568, II, 208 (Vasari-Milanesi, V, 162-163), the same text. In the 1550 edition of the Vite, Vasari says this cartoon was still owned by Domenico Alfani, for whom Rosso made it, and this is repeated in the 1568 edition although by this time Domenico was no longer alive.1  The drawing may well have passed to his son Orazio, also a painter in Perugia.2  It is possible that it was from him that the young Cherubino Alberti obtained the cartoon to make his engraving of 1574 (Fig.E.1).3 The identification of that print with the lost cartoon is dependent upon its relation to Domenico Alfani’s altarpiece of the same subject that was formerly on the high altar of the church of the Madonna dei Miracoli in Castel Rigone, about 16 kilometers northwest of Perugia (Fig.Alfani).  The picture there now is a copy, measuring approximately 2.70 x 2.25 m,4 but in the middle of the seventeenth century Lancellotti (1593-1671) connected it to Vasari’s story, indicating that the Florentines had taken the original in 1643 and replaced it with a copy the following year.5  The composition is closely related to that of Alberti’s engraving, but in reverse.  The format of the painting is very slightly less vertical and a few of the many changes may have been made to adapt Rosso’s design to the painting’s other proportions, which may not have been firmly established by mid-1527.  But most of the alterations seem due to Alfani’s need to simplify Rosso’s complex image and to make the figures larger and hence reduce the importance of the setting.6 Consequently Alfani’s painting lacks much of the splendor and dramatic fervor evident in the print.  Like Alberti’s print (Fig.E.4a) after Rosso’s Design for an Altar in the British Museum (Fig.D.38a), the engraving of the Adoration would seem to record Rosso’s cartoon faithfully although probably with insufficient subtlety in regard to details and the effects of light and shade.  The small dog in the lower left corner of Alfani’s painting is not found in the lower right corner of the print.  This could be a detail that was in Rosso’s cartoon as a small dog does appear in one of his studies (Fig.D.28) for the Christ in Glory and in the copy of his Bishop Saint Resuscitating a Youth (Fig.D.23a). Alfani’s original painting is most likely the picture that was in the Rinuccini Collection in Florence at the end of the eighteenth century.7 It was sold in Rome in 1905, at which time a photograph of it was reproduced in the sales catalogue and the painting’s measurements were given as 2.75 x 2.21 m., approximately the same as those estimated for the copy at Castel Rigone.8 The altarpiece for Castel Rigone was recommissioned from Alfani just about the time that Rosso was in Perugia.  A document of 20 March 1528 for an altarpiece of the Adoration of the Magi by him for this church reaffirms an earlier contract of unspecified date, but now known to have been March 1515.9  The painting was to be assessed in 1534; it was evaluated and payments were made for it to Alfani in 1536.10  Confirmation of an early date of commission is probably made by the fact that its frame by Bernardino di Lazzaro da Perugia, which is still in the church, was completed by 16 May 1528.11 Given the relationships between Alfani’s painting, Alberti’s print and the documents of 1515 and 1528, it can be concluded that the painting formerly at Castel Rigone was commissioned to Domenico Alfani before Rosso arrived in Perugia in mid-1527 and that the cartoon that the latter made for Alfani was used by him for that painting.  This, of course, carries with it the conclusion that Alberti’s engraving of 1574 preserves, in reverse, that cartoon.  What is not certain is what precisely Vasari means by “cartone.”  It could have been an average size but very finished drawing, like many of Rosso’s surviving compositional drawings.  But then Vasari might have used the words “schizzetto” or “disegno” as he does in regard to the drawings that Rosso made for Lappoli’s two altarpieces (L.17 and L.21).  Franklin (see below) suggested that “cartone” means here a large “cartone”-sized sheet and not a full-scale cartoon, presumably meaning a big sheet of paper.  There are two copies of two lost nude studies by Rosso (Fig.D.21; Fig.D.22) that were probably made as independent studies and then used for the “cartone.” Since Lancellotti wrote in the middle of the seventeenth century, the copy of Alfani’s painting at Castel Rigone has frequently been identified with the lost cartoon that Rosso made in Perugia in 1527.  Barocchi, 1950, 67, thought this relationship probable.  Shearman, 1966, 171, n. 37, thought Alfani’s engraving, “somewhat indebted to the ideas of Polidoro,” might represent the cartoon that Rosso made for Alfani.  Carroll, 1967, 299-302, related the engraving to the Castel Rigone altarpiece.  This was accepted by Borea, 1980, 251-252, under no. 633, and by F.F. Mancini, in Pittura, Cinquecento, 1988, I, 372, 374, 385, n. 18.  See also Carroll, 1987, 24, 144-146, under no. 48.  Franklin, 1994, 157-160, Pls. 121-124, 285-286, ns. 3-18, thought that Rosso would have known the dimensions of the panel for Alfani’s altarpiece and hence Alberti’s print is an adaption of Rosso’s drawing of different proportions to the size and shape of Alberti’s copper plate [on which, see E.1].12 At the same time there have been several other paintings by Domenico Alfani wrongly and sometimes very confusingly identified with Vasari’s story of the cartoon that Rosso made, as briefly indicated in Carroll, 1967, 300-301, n. 23.

 


1 See Crowe and Cavalcaselle, 1909, III, 350, n. 5, where it is indicated that Domenico was still living in 1553.
2 See Walter Bombe in Thieme-Becker, I, 1907, 276-277, and Crowe and Cavalcaselle, 1909, III, 350, and n. 5.
3 Alberti was born in Borgo Sansepolcro in 1553 and hence was nineteen when he made his engraving (see Servolini, 1932, 777, n. 1).  He might well have obtained the cartoon in Perugia on the way to Rome where it was engraved.
4 The copy on the high altar of the church is in a very poor state of preservation and is only dimly visible in parts.  The Madonna wears a wine-red dress, with a red sleeve.  The kneeling magus in the right foreground is dressed in reddish pink drapery while the soldier seen from the back has a garment of dull yellow at the back and red at the knees.  The boy in the lower left corner is dressed in blue; the man above him, in red; the man in the lower right corner wears blue.  A gold star is in the upper left corner.  The elaborate frame includes a lunette above containing a painting of God-the-Father holding a book inscribed with the Alpha and Omega, and angels.  The predella contains the following pictures in the following order: St. John the Baptist, a Bishop, the Virgin Annunciate, a Male Saint, the Birth of the Virgin, a central panel without a picture, the Visitation, a Male Saint, the Angel Annunciate, a Bishop Saint, St. Bartholomew.  All of these paintings would seem to be those that Alfani was to execute as stipulated, but not specified as to subjects, in the contract of 1528, which was the remaking of a contract of 1515 (see below).
5 Ottavio Lancellotti, Scorta Sagra, II, MS, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, 125v – 126r, under 8 September.
6 The discussion here partly corrects my comments in Carroll, 1967, 299-302, Figs. 5-6.  Rosso’s lost cartoon is mentioned in Venturi, IX, 5, 1932, 195.
7 See the etching and engraving in L’Etruria pittrice ovvero storia della pittura toscana dedotta dai suoi monumenti che si esibiscono in stampa dal secolo X. fino al presente, I, Florence, 1791, Pl. XXXVI, as a Tavola in legno, alta Ba4 2/3. larga B.a 4. scarse, by Peruzzi, in casa de’Sigg. Marchesi Rinuccini.  Plate inscribed at lower left: Carlo Bozzolini dis. and at the lower right: Carlo Lasinio fece all’acqua forte Matteo Carboni terminò a bulino.  The dimensions given here in braccia equal 2.73 x 2.33 m., which are almost exactly the measurements estimated for the copy of Alfani’s painting at Castel Rigone.  See also Catalogo dei quadri ed altri oggetti della Galleria Rinuccini per comodo dei signori chi favoriscono a visitarla, Florence, Piatti, 1845, 7, no. 33, as by Peruzzi, and Catalogo della Galleria del fu Marc. Rinuccini, n.d., p.16, no. 33, as by Peruzzi.
8 Catalogo della vendita di quadri rari italiani e francesi provenienti dalla eredito del Marchese Pier Francesco Rinuccini, 29 April 1905, Galleria Sangiorgi, [Rome], Lot 9, and Pl. IV, as Peruzzi.  The catalogue of the Rinuccini sale of 24 April indicates that the collection was in Florence and that the attributions are those made in the catalogue of 1852 by Carlo Pini and Carlo Milanesi.  A copy of the 29 April 1905 catalogue in the Frick Art Reference Library has a note by Federico Zeri attributing the painting to Rosso.  Professor Zeri kindly informed me that he does not know the present whereabouts of the altarpiece and that it is likely that it left Italy soon after the Rinuccini auction.
9 Bombe, 1916, 2-3, 10-11; Bombe does not give the location of the document.  On the commission of 1515, see F.F. Mancini, in Pittura,  Cinquecento, 1988, I, 374, 385, n. 18, who thought that Rosso’s lost drawing would thus date from that period, a conclusion that unnecessarily contradicts Vasari’s account.
10 Bombe, 1916, 12; see also Mariotti, 1788, 245-246, where it is also stated that the altarpiece was taken by Ferdinando II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, in 1643, for the Gallery in Florence.  However, the painting that he claims is this altarpiece catalogued by Zacchiroli in 1783 depicts the Madonna and Child with St. Elizabeth and the Young St. John and is given to Orazio Alfani (Zacchiroli, Francesco, Description de la Galerie Royale de Florence, III, 78, Art. XXVI [French title]).
11 Adamo Rossi, “Maestri e lavori di legname in Perugia nei secoli XV e XVI,” Giornale di Erudizione Artistica, I, 1872, 187, no. 34; the document records the settlement of Bernardino’s account.  Given the large size of this frame and the fact that this document apparently accounts for other woodcarving that Bernardino made for this church, it is not possible that the project for the high altar goes back to a period before the second commission of Alfani’s painting.  But for some reason Alfani seems not to have known in mid-1527 the precise measurements or proportions of the altarpiece he was to execute, as Alberti’s print indicates a drawing by Rosso of a slightly different shape.
12 Franklin, 1994, 158, Pl. 122, illustrated an etching of Alfani’s painting from M. Lastri, L’Etruria pittrice, I, Florence, 1791, no. XXXVI.  He also noted (158, 286, n. 12) that Alfani must have shown the drawing he got from Rosso to Vasari, who borrowed from it for his own Adoration of the Magi of around 1566 for Santa Croce di Bosco (see Pio V e Santa Croce di Bosco, Aspetti di una committenza papale, exh. cat., Alessandria and Bosco Marengo, 1985, 106, with Fig.).  The symmetry of the image and a few of its details, such as the arch and the camel, suggest a knowledge of Alfani’s composition.  But it is far removed from any indication of Rosso’s invention and style that seem to be well represented by Alberti’s print.  Franklin, 1994, 285, n. 4, notes a Madonna and Child with St. Dominic and Peter Martyr in the Gesù in Perugia attributed to Rosso in the seventeenth century (G.F. Morelli, Brevi notizie delle pitture e sculture che adornano l’Augusta città di Perugia, Perugia, 1683, 103).  This would seem to be the same work “del Rosso Fiorentino” in the sacristy of this church mentioned in Cesare Crispolti, Perugia Augusta, Perugia, 1648, 160.  This appears as a “quadretto” by Rosso in a Sala of the Chiesa del Gesù in Baldassare Orsini, Guida al Forestiere per l’Augusta Città di Perugia, Perugia, 1784, 192.  In B. Orsini, Abregé…al Forestiere…di Perugia, Perugia, 1788, 88, it appears again as “Una Madonna del Rosso Fiorentino.”  This picture has not been more recently identified.