D.31 (COPY) Allegory of the Immaculate Conception

D. 31 (COPY) Allegory of the Immaculate Conception

For an Unexecuted Fresco at S. Maria delle Lagrime, Arezzo


Paris, Louvre, Inv. 34939.


Red chalk on transparent yellow paper (papier huilé), 21.6 x 18.8, laid down; wm., see Hercenberg below.

PROVENANCE: Comte d’Orsay (Lugt 2239, pseudo Robert Strange, on which see Hercenberg, 1975, 140, 144).


Hercenberg, 1975, 164-165, no. 365, Pl.CXXXXII, Fig. 211, as from the shop of Nicolas Vleughels (1668-1737), as before 1729 because of the watermark, the lower part of the drawing inspired, according to Sylvie Béguin, by Rosso’s Allegory of the Immaculate Conception planned for S. Maria delle Lagrime in Arezzo.

Daragon, 1983, 54-55, n. 8, as after Rosso’s Lagrime Allegory of the Immaculate Conception.

Comte d’Orsay, 1983, 180, Ors. 792.


As recognized by Béguin, Hercenberg, and Daragon, this drawing is related to the composition of the same subject designed for S. Maria delle Lagrime in Arezzo and known from a drawing by Rosso in the Uffizi (D.32).  In the Louvre drawing the Virgin’s breasts, shoulders, and left arm are bare, and her left hand is bent upward.  Adam’s pose is slightly different, he is bald, and his genitals are visible.  Eve’s pose is very different.  She is bent over to the right, and her head is in profile and looking down.  Her left arm is held against her body.  There is no clear indication of a serpent, although what seems to be an only very lightly indicated creature appears crouching between Adam’s hanging arm and the Virgin’s covered legs.  Most of the tree in the Uffizi drawing is missing from the Louvre drawing, as are also the figures of Diana and Apollo.

The drawing appears to be a copy of a lost drawing by Rosso for the Allegory of the Immaculate Conception planned for S. Maria delle Lagrime in Arezzo.  It could be thought that the copy crops Rosso’s composition, hence the absence of Diana and Apollo.  But I am inclined to believe that this is not the case and that the copy is complete, except possibly for an area cut from the top, and that the composition is an early version of Rosso’s composition.  This is primarily indicated by the pose of Eve, which is very confined with the left arm held against her torso.  The body is bent forward to the right with the head facing down.  In the Uffizi drawing, Eve’s body and head are turned in response to the large figures of Diana and Apollo, and Eve’s raised left arm is linked compositionally to Diana’s downwardly extended left arm.  The differences of Eve’s pose in the other drawing are compositionally dependent upon the addition of the figures of Diana and Apollo high up and to the right.

This seeming to be the case, the position of the Virgin in the Louvre copy marks the right limit of the scene, making it narrower than the one in the Uffizi drawing.  This would mean that the composition of the Louvre copy was not planned for the same half-lunette that was to receive the other composition with five full figures.  The half-lunettes of the façade wall of S. Maria delle Lagrime are narrower than those at the north and south of the central bay of the atrium that is the site of Rosso’s project.  Hence, the Allegory of the Immaculate Conception known from the copy in the Louvre, would, with its curved edge at the left, have been planned for the area to the left of the window in the façade wall.  The fall of the light in the Louvre drawing is from the direction of this window.  The subject of Rosso’s scene can be seen as meaningful next to Marcillat’s window of the Annunciation.  It is not known what subject would have been planned for the half-lunette to its right.

The composition that Vasari described, and which, he said, reached the stage of a cartoon, is represented by the larger scene in Florence.  Consequently, the composition of the Louvre copy would most likely have preceded the other, indicating with the latter a change of plan of the overall scheme of the project.  It is possible that originally Soggi’s already existing Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl was to be destroyed, although what would have replaced it and what would have been in the lunette to its left are not known.  Then it was decided to keep Soggi’s fresco and reassign the Allegory of the Immaculate Conception to the space to its left even if this location was iconographically not quite so appropriate.

The emphatic influence of Michelangelo’s style in this copy, and in particular of what Michelangelo had very recently invented for the Medici Chapel, points to the lost original drawing having been invented shortly after Rosso received the Lagrime commission on 24 November 1528 and shortly after a trip to Florence that he took after completing the Borgo Sansepolcro Pietà and before beginning work on the Christ in Glory in Città di Castello.  The original lost drawing should probably be dated 1528-1529, at the beginning of his work on the Lagrime project (see also D.32).

It might be argued that the Louvre copy is incomplete and what would have filled the top of it and an area behind the Virgin is simply missing.  But the top of the scene was probably empty, as is the case in Rosso’s Throne of Solomon (Fig.D.34), also made for this project.  Furthermore, the pose and placement of the Virgin appear more fitting to the narrower composition than to the other, where, in retrospect, it may be possible to see that additions have been made at the top and right to enlarge it.  It is in the added areas that the composition received, in the figures of Diana and Apollo, the iconographical details, from the “bello ingegno di M. Giovan Pollastra,” that appear so extraordinary.

The copy in the Louvre seems to be by the same hand as the pen and ink copy, also in the Louvre and also assigned by Hercenberg to the shop of Vleughels, of Rosso’s Throne of Solomon (see under D.34).  That copy also cuts off the top of Rosso’s composition where, however, as stated above, nothing appears.  Like that copy on transparent paper, the copy of the lost Allegory of the Immaculate Conception could have been traced from Rosso’s drawing.